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FLASHBACK: Deidre Hall's Red Ribbon Controversy

Back in the early 1980s, very few entertainers would publicly acknowledge AIDS as a global health crisis. When Rock Hudson courageously came out as HIV positive in 1985, an inspiring new bravery was demonstrated by Elizabeth Taylor, Whoopi Goldberg, and several other public figures who jeopardized their careers and reputations advocating for compassionate treatment of people with AIDS.

However, by the early 1990s, celebrity declarations of support were frequently reduced to superficial and meaningless gestures. It became trendy and expected to see a celebrity donning a red ribbon at an award ceremony. A very small group of AIDS activists challenged this norm, citing the red ribbon as a symbol of shallow compassion and hollow activism. Deidre Hall was one of the few public figures at that time to denounce this practice, and stand up for real changes that would improve the lives of people with HIV.

When she refused to wear a red ribbon at the 1993 Daytime Emmy Awards, a hailstorm of controversy and criticism followed.  She responded by declaring this personal statement in Soap Opera Digest defending her decisions.  Here is her exact quote from the June 8, 1993, issue of SOD:


I believe that televised awards shows are not a forum for expressing personal religious, social or political views. However, I have not objected when fellow performers have worn red ribbon to express their support for AIDS research; that's their choice. My choice is NOT to wear a ribbon.

Soap Opera Digest readers should know wearing a red ribbon is no longer entirely voluntary. Those who began by offering ribbons to performers now resort to extreme tactics in pursuit of their express goal of 100 percent conformity. When performers arrive at an award show, individuals who attempt to pin ribbons on them accost them. A performer who declines may be accosted at the pre-show reception, again while waiting backstage and again at the press conference after the show.

Offering these ribbons to celebrities was, in my view, a benign and pro-social act. On the other hand, aggressively badgering performers to compel the wearing of ribbons is no only demeaning to AIDS victims and to the desperate need for an all-out research war against the disease, but an offense against personal freedom.

By attempting to force 100 percent conformity, these activists are now attempting to make the red ribbon a visible litmus test for separating those individuals who empathize with AIDS victims and support AIDS research from those who do not. This is a misguided and dangerous notion.

First, it misguidedly politicizes human tragedy. These red ribbons provide a means by which public figures can appear to make a 'politically correct' statement in favor of a cause they do not support. A prime example was Barbara Bush wearing a red ribbon while seated among the audience at the Republican National Convention but removing it before joining the president on the podium.

Second, any attempt to force conformity to a single social agenda attacks the freedom of expression. The extreme activities that resort to harassment to compel actors and actresses to wear these ribbons are practicing a '90s brand of McCarthyism – and their behavior is deplorable. Our community was devastated by political extremists in the 1950s and again became a target during the last presidential campaign. It surpasses belief that men and women in the entertainment field would resort to shameful practices that the enemies of artistic freedom have used against us.

Sadly, it falls to some of us who ardently support AIDS victims and AIDS research to resist these tactics by personal example. Believe me, the easy way out would be to pin the ribbon on and keep silent. But I won't, because I don't want these appalling tactics to succeed.

What do you think? Do you agree with Ms. Hall's stance on symbolic gestures of support? Or do you think she would have been better off conforming to industry pressures? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist in New York City who specializes in treating depression, stress management, HIV/AIDS issues, and grief/loss.  He is also the author of the popular book "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve," currently available at Amazon.com. He is currently helping thousands get through the holidays stress-free at http://www.shouldless.com/.  To learn about schedule a session or speaking engagement, write him at Shouldless@gmail.com

20 comments:

  1. I agree with her.

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  2. I agree with her and I would also add that she has personally cared for AIDS patients herself. She has a track record of supporting causes such as this, a record which speaks much louder than a small piece of red fabric does. And I believe that's really the point of her statement.

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  3. After explaining her reason for declining to wear it, I totally understand. The badgering that she speaks of is actually something I see in a lot of forms of activism, including Black, and gay activism, which is why I separate myself from dealing with most activists. For it slows down the progress we could have made by now in many branches of activism. Especially when one's Freedom of Speech is infringed upon by them being more like puppeteered on the where, when, and how to show their support for a cause when they are already doing so in other ways on their own time. Now, hopefully she was and still is showing her support of AIDS research on her own time. Otherwise, her stands means nothing.

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  4. Agree with her. I also remember hearing several years back about her friend that she nursed from when his health started deteriorating until his passing.

    I'm all for being supportive, but I'd rather give money directly to the cause instead of buying a ribbon that says I bought something where 10% of the income goes to the cause.

    This whole ribbon thing has become a trend again it seems, with the Breast Cancer Awareness ribbon. It's fantastic that it raises awareness, but what it also does is tell you that you need to buy a ribbon to show you care. I wish we lived in a world where we could just assume that everybody gave a bit of their extra money to help those who need it, instead of needing a ribbon to tell us.

    I sometimes only have 10 dollars a month extra, but it's 10 dollars more than they had before. It matters either way. I don't need a ribbon to tell me to care, I just need to know it makes a difference.

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  5. It takes balls to do what she did. I could see why some people might have been upset, but I also don't see the point of forcing people to do something as it takes away the meaning for me. I love that Seinfeld had Kramer do the same thing based on this incident. Kramer won't wear ribbon

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  6. For me it is simple, the end never justifies the means.

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  7. I agree with her. Once I was a member of the Gay chorus and was forced to were even though at the time I had no friends with HIV or lost to AIDS it should be those who have lost loved ones Like the Pick for Breast cancer. Not everyone is forced to wear.

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  8. I tried to find where Hall ever supported funding for AIDS. I could not. Maybe it exists. She supports breast cancer awareness, Operation Smile, and Revlon Red. I could find nothing regarding her ever supporting AIDS research or victims. I did find that Tea Baggers love her and included her with Palin among people they admire. Interesting. BTW her refusal to wear the ribbon resulted in much bad press for AIDS awareness, funding, victims and gays. It's her choice but it appears there may be more to the story. I read her response elsewhere and it appears she feels you should NEVER wear a ribbon for a cause you do NOT agree with... and that is the ONE thing I agree with her on!

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  9. Addendum to my previous post: Deidre Hall has attended AIDS Awareness events. She is a caring person. My only beef was that by refusing to wear the ribbon the resulting bad press was horrendous and came at a time when funding for AIDS research was critical. The media twisted the facts re: Hall's refusal and showed undeniable insensitivity with headlines calling Gays "Bully Boys". This was at a time when so many were dying of AIDS (many of our beloved soap stars, among others). As for Tea Baggers, they apparently have only a distorted view of who Hall really is and that in itself is belittling to her. I apologize if my previous post was harsh. It's just that the press coverage of early AIDS victims and funding was shameful. I hope we have moved pass that. Certainly Deidre Hall has. Kudos to her for doing the right thing -- ribbon or not! I still agree with her that anyone who does not support a cause, should not wear a ribbon -- to do so is at least mockery and at worst complete insensitivity.

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  10. The media used her refusal to vilify the AIDS cause, awareness and funding. Props to DH for spending the last nearly 20 years proving them wrong . . .

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  11. Choose your gods wisely ... it's possible they're just ... human beings.

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  12. FYI - the term "AIDS victims" is dated and offensive. The words "patients" and "survivors" have been the proper and more respectful terms since the late 1980s. Anyone who is in touch with the HIV community knows this.

    Call me politically correct, but to me it's like using obsolescent words like "preference," "Negro" or "Oriental" rather than "orientation," "African American" or "Asian".

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  13. There weren't any "survivors" of AIDS in the 1980s/1990s. The posts reference that time period. Now,
    thank God, there are survivors. At that time there truly were "victims" and funding was desperately needed...

    No offense intended to anyone.

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  14. The term "AIDS victims" is still being used to reference those who perished. Ceremonies honoring those who died from AIDS or from AIDS-related complications still use the term.

    PC run amuck: To my knowledge it's not offensive to use the term Negro; I guess it's up to the individual to decide.

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  15. "Person (or People) with AIDS" is the most accepted term. I believe that has been in use for quite a while.

    As for "Negro" - During the American Civil Rights movement many African-American leaders, notably Malcolm X, objected to the word "Negro" because they associated the word with the long history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination that treated African Americans as second class citizens.

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  16. For starters, I just saw an announcement 2 hrs ago for a Ceremony for Remembering Aids "Victims". This was just posted on an AIDS advocacy site. So apparently opinions differ. People who died of AIDS are still referred to as "AIDS victims". AIDS advocacy groups STILL USE the term "AIDS victims" in reference to those who have died of AIDS or AIDS-related complications.

    Malcolm X aside, recently on the local TV station here several African-Americans objected to Negro while others said they preferred Negro to the term "black". So I guess it is an individual preference. BTW this is OT and has no bearing on anything I originally posted. No offense to anyone.

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  17. "People living with HIV" is preferred when referring to people who are, in fact, survivors living with the disease, but people who have died of AIDS are referred to as AIDS victims.

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  18. Yes, this is correct: "People living with HIV" (from an AIDS Protocol Bulletin)

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  19. Like most of those posting, I did not know the correct usage is: "People living with HIV". Something important to remember.

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