Beginning in the early 1980s, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) began to sweep minority populations throughout the United States. During the early years of this crisis, the Reagan presidential administration did little to promote accelerated research to help control and eradicate HIV/AIDS. However, in 1992, Mary Fisher delivered a speech to the Republican National Convention (RNC) to address the stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS and the lack of political action towards the health crisis. This was a significant event, as Fisher spoke as a straight, white woman living with HIV, projecting an image that was not aligned with society’s expected profile of people with HIV/AIDS. Fisher’s address to the RNC became a nationally recognized speech due to her stark contrast in messaging and values compared to the Republican political party at that time. In this paper, I employ neo-Aristotelian and feminist lenses to analyze Fisher’s rhetoric, the political impact of her communication, and the social significance of her speech within the timeline of the HIV/AIDS crisis. This rhetorical analysis addresses themes on countering the stigma of HIV/AIDS, political action before and after the speech, and Fisher’s ethos as an established figure of the Republican party and as a person living with HIV/AIDS. This critique also addresses larger implications for understanding the context for breaking disease stigmas and progressing epidemiological agendas through communication-based strategies within public health initiatives.
In the early years of the HIV/AIDS crisis, the Reagan administration did little to promote accelerated research to control and eradicate the diseases. During this time period, Mary Fisher, who had been diagnosed as HIV-positive, delivered a speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention (RNC) to address stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS and the lack of political action towards the health crisis. To understand the significance of Fisher’s speech, I will critique her rhetoric by using feminist and neo-Aristotelian frameworks. Themes in the analysis include reducing the stigma of HIV/AIDS, Fisher’s ethos in the RNC, and her influence on political action and social perceptions of HIV/AIDS. This critique has implications for understanding the context of disease stigmas and progressing public health agendas regarding current and future illnesses.