Reagan's AIDSGATE

 

1987

41,027 persons are dead and
71,176 persons diagnosed with AIDS in the US.


After years of negligent silence, President Ronald Reagan finally uses the word "AIDS" in public. He sided with his Education Secretary William Bennett and other conservatives who said the Government should not provide sex education information. 
 (They are still saying it!)

On April 2, 1987, Reagan said: "How that information is used must be up to schools and parents, not government. But let's be honest with ourselves, AIDS information can not be what some call 'value neutral.' After all, when it comes to preventing AIDS, don't medicine and morality teach the same lessons."


audio clip on quicktime.

< larger image



excerpts from  The Truth About Reagan and AIDS  by Michael Bronski, November 2003:

For the past two months I've been teaching a course entitled "Plagues and Politics: The Impact of AIDS on U.S. Culture" at Dartmouth College and have spent an enormous amount of time thinking about the AIDS pandemic.

...

As we read about and discuss the history of the American AIDS epidemic in class, my students — all Reagan babies, born between 1981 and 1985 — are often dumbfounded when faced with simple facts. Although AIDS was first reported in the medical and popular press in 1981, it was only in October of 1987 that President Reagan publicly spoke about the epidemic. By the end of that year 59,572 AIDS cases had been reported and 27,909 of those women and men had died. How could this happen, they ask? Didn't he see that this was an ever-expanding epidemic? How could he not say anything? Do anything?

But the public scandal over the Reagan administration's reaction to AIDS is complex and goes much deeper, far beyond the commander-in-chief's refusal to speak out about the epidemic. Reagan understood that a great deal of his power resided in a broad base of born-again Christian Republican conservatives who embraced a deeply reactionary social agenda of which a virulent, demonizing homophobia was a central tenet. In the media men such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell articulated these sentiments that portrayed gay people as diseased sinners and promoted the idea that AIDS was a punishment from God and that the gay rights movement had to be stopped. In the Republican Party, zealous right-wingers such as Rep. William Dannemeyer of California and Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina hammered home this message. In the Reagan White House, people such as Secretary of Education William Bennett and Gary Bauer, Reagan's domestic policy adviser, worked to enact it in the administration's policies.

What did this mean in practical terms? Most importantly, AIDS research was chronically under-funded. When doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health asked for more funding for their work on AIDS, they were routinely denied it. Between June 1981 and May 1982 the CDC spent less than $1 million on AIDS and $9 million on Legionnaire's Disease. At that point more than 1,000 of the 2,000 reported AIDS cases resulted in death; there were fewer than 50 deaths from Legionnaire's Disease. This drastic lack of funding would continue through the Reagan years.

When health and support groups in the gay community were beginning to initiate education and prevention programs, they were denied federal funding. In October 1987 Senator Helms amended a federal appropriations bill to prohibit AIDS education efforts that "encourage or promote homosexual activity" — that is, efforts that tell gay men how to have safe sex.

...

When Rock Hudson, a friend and colleague of the Reagans, was diagnosed with AIDS and died in 1985 (one of the 20,740 cases reported that year), Reagan still did not speak out as president. When family friend William F. Buckley, in a March 18, 1986, New York Times opinion article, called for mandatory testing for HIV and said that HIV-positive gay men should have this information forcibly tattooed on their buttocks (and IV-drug users on their arms) Reagan said nothing. In 1986 (after five years of complete silence), when Surgeon General C. Everett Koop released a report calling for AIDS education in schools, Bennett and Bauer did everything possible to undercut and prevent funding for Koop's too-little-too-late initiative. Reagan, again, said and did nothing. By the end of 1986, 37,061 AIDS cases had been reported; 16,301 people had died.

...

I told one of my students that the most memorable Reagan AIDS moment for me was at the 1986 centenary rededication of the Statue of Liberty. The Reagans were there sitting next to French President Francois Mitterand and his wife, Danielle. Bob Hope was on stage entertaining the all-star audience. In the middle of a series of one-liners Hope quipped, "I just heard that the Statue of Liberty has AIDS but she doesn't know if she got it from the mouth of the Hudson or the Staten Island Fairy." As the television camera panned the audience, the Mitterands looked appalled. The Reagans were laughing. By the end of 1989 and the Reagan years, 115,786 women and men had been diagnosed with AIDS in the United States, and more than 70,000 of them had died.

excerpts from  The Truth About Reagan and AIDS  by Michael Bronski, November 2003



A headline you won't see in the butt-kissing revisionist mainstream press:

Ronald Reagan, Apologist for Apartheid, Champion of the Rich and Big Business, Ignorer of AIDS, and Funder of Death Squads, Dead at 93.


from jameswagner.com blog

Reagan, more dead[ly] as president than now


Donald Moffett He Kills Me (installation detail), 1987
[Image from Richard F. Brush Gallery, St. Lawrence University]

He's dead, but as the encomiums pile up he's not going to look dead enough.

Reagan virtually spat on people with AIDS throughout his presidency. The epidemic began under his watch, and he ensured that it would ultimately kill millions. For that responsibility alone, he didn't deserve the relief alzheimers must have brought to his memory.

Ah, wait, Barry just turned on Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real." The magical musical legend Sylvester died of AIDS in 1988, so that ecstatic, triumphant shout of delight seems very real around here today. We're dancing on his grave tonight. Maybe me especially. I'm still talking, and now that monster/fool is not. I'm one of the lucky ones. I've been HIV+ for decades, and I'm not leaving yet.

Oh yes, and my memory's just fine     
Posted by james at June 6, 2004  08:50 PM.


and one more:

New York Times erases AIDS

The NYTimes begins its obituary of Ronald Reagan today with a three-column headline on the front page and it continues inside for a total of four more full-page sheets uninterrrupted by advertising. The size of this death notice may be unprecedented, but the most newsworthy item is what's missing.

The words AIDS or HIV do not appear once.

This is beyond politics; it's criminal neglect, if not part of a deliberate agenda, from the newspaper which was itself so guilty in ignoring or mishandling accounts of the plague during the Reagan years. Now that same newspaper would have us regard as serious journalism its account of the life of our second-most-disastrous president, the man whose administration, in surviving its general malfeasance and treasons, marked the final disintegration of American democracy.

We won't buy it.      
Posted by james at June 6, 2004 11:23 AM



from bloggy.com

AIDS? What's that?

OK. One more Reagan post and then I'm going to ignore everything about him.

I recommend writing to the Public Editor of the New York Times and ask why their huge obituary fails to mention AIDS. If you're feeling particularly ambitious, ask about a few other items:

* No mention of the illegal mining of Nicaraguan harbors during the Contra/Sandinista period [On The Issues]

* No mention of Reagan's support for the apartheid regime of South Africa. In 1985, Reagan one day announced that the vicious apartheid regime of P.W. Botha had already "eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country." [The Nation]

* His support of military death squads in El Salvador (try googling the El Mozote Massacre) is simply "In El Salvador, the Reagan administration supported the government against a Marxist insurgency." [ibid.]




Towering he wasn't

Peter Preston, Monday June 7, 2004   The Guardian

  He was a "truly great American", a "towering figure" of our age. And so on and so forth from Lady Thatcher, Michael Howard, George W and all who scurried yesterday to bury Ronald Reagan in an oleaginous ocean of tribute. How deep is that ocean? It's amazing how fast your feet touch rocky bottom.

 Reagan, for the moment, has a particular niche in American folklore. He came after poor careworn Jimmy Carter; he was sunshine after rain. He made deft jokes and read an autocue better than any president before or since. He smiled and aw-shucked easily, a man for picket fences and pecan pie, a Frank Capra hero picnicking on the White House lawn. The good times rolled through his eight years of power. And - oh yes! - he was that strong guy who "won" the cold war.

 Is this enough for towering greatness? Aw shucks! It barely stands straight, let alone tall. There was one hero of Ronnie's two terms, one really strong fellow who held everything together: but his name was Jim Baker, the brilliant political manager and mate of Vice-President George Bush, who became chief of staff when a crisis of competence threatened everything, when Donald Regan bailed out and the Oval Office turned pear-shaped. James A Baker III was, for a while, the best president America never had; and Ronnie, upstairs snoozing or watching TV, was a passenger riding his luck.

 There is no point, simply no point, in turning Ronald Reagan into some mythic master now that he's gone. I travelled campaign trails with him and laughed at his jokes. He pressed flesh and political buttons better than most. He was Hollywood on a smalltown visit. Maybe, post-Carter, the US psyche did need bathing in such balm for a while. But the reputation which flows from there is hokum squared.

 A champion of individual freedom? See how Reagan, the boss of the Screen Actors Guild, kept his head well down when McCarthy started firing poisonous darts. An ideal family man? Only if you like your families dysfunctional (and your Christianity stillborn again). A man of action? When the going got rough in Beirut then (to use the jargon) he cut and ran. A warrior? Only if you reckon invading Grenada was tougher than a friendly against Iceland. A wizard of detail? He didn't understand Iran-contra from start to finish: a non-plotter who couldn't follow the plot.

 Wasn't he, though, a true ideologue of the conservative way? That was a rubbish claim even Mrs T found hard to make with a straight face. Ronald Reagan's sunlit years of prosperity were built from the straw of ballooning deficits. Live now, let old George Bush pay later. He believed in tax cuts, but not hard choices. There was no pain to his gain, no structural reform, no reality of change to be battled through. He let others pick up his tabs.

 And as for "winning" that last war but two, the cold one before drugs and terrorism ... did Reagan, piling cruise missiles into Europe, dreaming star satellite dreams of zapping bad hats, truly win anything? Didn't he just watch the Soviet Union self-destruct on his watch? Was Reagan around for the Prague spring which told the first story of an empire's disintegration? Did he choose the moribund gerontocracy of Brezhnev and Chernenko?

 The plain fact, which nobody discerned, is that everything the west said about unsustainable economic systems and ramshackle bureaucracies was right: the plain fact was that Soviet hegemony couldn't last - and the "war" was mostly one of mutual incomprehension. Give Ronnie credit for not dropping the ball near the basket, but don't make him FDR in the process.

 No, the towering lesson of Reagan's tenure was rather different. It was about what the job amounted to and how you needed to do it. Since the Warren Harding and Coolidge disasters 30 or more years ago, America had expected and wanted more: a Roosevelt to be revered, a Truman to be sustained, an Ike of experience and Kennedy filled with hope, a cute LBJ and clever (if tricky) Dicky. Some of those choices went well and some were lousy, but the hurdle of effort and expertise was set ever higher. Could the system keep on producing?

 And then, ambling out of Sacramento as his 70s neared, came Ronnie and Nancy in matching check shirts. Their record may, on examination, have been scratched and fuzzy, their friends too fat and nest-feathered for comfort. But they talked the talk, seemed to walk the walk, and made the White House manageable again. You didn't need to engage brain if you could hire it for the duration. You didn't need to be bright or brilliant. Aw, shucks! They made George W possible.



Gay about Reagan's death    07/06/2004 - (SA)  from News24.com

Los Angeles - As America mourned Ronald Reagan, gay activists struck a discordant note on Sunday, lamenting his alleged insensitivity to Aids when it struck devastatingly during his presidency.

Ironically, they noted, Reagan died on Saturday aged 93 of Alzheimer's disease on the 21st anniversary of the first official report of five gay men in Los Angeles who were suffering from a rare form of pneumonia - the first recognised cases of what would later be called the deadly Aids virus.

The report was issued on June 5, 1981 by the US Centres for Disease Control.

"That is ironic, it certainly will forever tie those two issues together," said Jeffrey Prang, a city councillor in West Hollywood, a gay-dominated Los Angeles-area city.

Jon Beaupre, a gay journalist and Los Angeles radio talk show host who is HIV-positive, said Reagan's death "brought mixed feelings".

"The fact that he reflected the values of a lot of people was unmistakable. Clearly, Ronald Reagan was a man of principle and integrity," the 51-year old said.

Held back social progress

"But he did as much as any man on the planet to hold back social progress for lesbians and gay men.

"We wonder today how far we would be in solving the Aids crisis if Reagan had both recognised the scope of the tragedy and had more respect for the plight of gay men who were dying by the thousands from Aids," he said.

The broadcaster and journalism lecturer warned that other members of the gay community would be a lot less kind to Reagan's memory.

Ding-dong!

"I have a feeling that an awful lot of gay people are going to be cheering, that 'Ding-dong! The wicked witch is dead,'" he said.

Reagan, president from 1981 to 1989, came under intense fire from gay activists in the early 1980s for not allocating major federal funding to combat Aids as it disease spread dramatically, first among gay men.

The issue became a gay rallying cry that inspired gay political activism in the United States.

Despite huge progress in Aids and HIV research and broader social acceptance of gays and lesbians in the 21st century, Reagan's death brought back painful memories in the community.


What Do We Do with the Rage and the Fury This Time?

By Eric Rofes

It is easy for some to see the few sensible voices refusing to jump on the bandwagon that is dramatically rewriting the Reagan years as cantankerous malcontents raining on our nation’s patriotic parade honoring this “national hero,” “great leader” and “greatest president.”

Call it a grudge steadfastly maintained by old timers who never learned know how to forgive and forget. Criticize it as a lack of respect for the dead. Condemn it as simply more Reagan-bashing from the Left.

Or identify it for what it really is: bold truth-telling amidst a nation wrapping itself in the worst kind of denial masquerading as ultra-patriotic zeal. Finger it as an attempt to puncture the Bush administration opportunistic efforts to utilize Reagan’s death to revive a failing campaign for re-election.

For the surviving victims of the conservative social and economic policies of the Reagan-Bush era, the past few days of all-Reagan-all-the-time television coverage by Stepford journalists have seemed oddly and horribly familiar. They remind us of the stark cultural divide that emerged ever more powerfully during the Reagan years between the privileged classes holding power and those who were marginalized, oppressed, and silenced.

For queers, they hearken back to the first seven years of the Reagan administration, when the tidal waves of AIDS began washing over the shores of the U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. Those of us who were out and involved in queer community life during the 1980s, watched as our friends and lovers dropped dead around us while America looked the other way. Reagan’s disgraceful and willful failure to speak out on AIDS and take action for those seven years mirrored much of the nation’s failure to acknowledge the terror visited on our communities.

Like many gay men during these years, I felt a profound disconnect between the world I inhabited and mainstream America. I was working as director of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Community Center during these years as terrified gay men poured into our clinics, support groups, and counseling center. As our small and under-resourced communities struggled to educate the public, initiate the first prevention campaigns, care for our friends, and bury our dead, Reagan said nothing and did nothing. His medical and health leaders did nothing. His budget directors, attorney generals, and legal experts did nothing. While gay men wiped drool and shit off our lovers, read mounting obituaries in gay papers, and funneled into the ranks of volunteer caregiver organizations, mainstream America marched forward to the Reagan priorities of making money, protecting privilege, and creating a culture of greed.

Am I the only one who is experiencing the current media love-fest of Reagan as a revisiting of the trauma of those early AIDS years? Am I the only one raging at the television screen, ripping the newspaper to shreds, cursing at my car radio? Am I the only one hungering for community leaders to create activism and rituals to disrupt and puncture this outrageous and insulting cultural amnesia?

Just as our queer community was abandoned and left on our own to create the early responses to AIDS, I encourage us to immediately initiate community-based opportunities to express our outrage at the dishonest reinvention of the Reagan legacy and to link up with all the other communities that are experiencing similar fury. In particular I suggest we:

Reagan could only bring his lips to form the word “AIDS” when hundreds of queer community leaders converged on Washington D.C. on June 1st, 1987, sat in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, and got arrested and taken off to jail. I remember that day well. We organized this national direct action event at the moment our terror and exhaustion morphed into outrage and fury. Today, after just a few days of hearing repeated voices in the media discuss Reagan as “the best president we ever had,” “a man who loved all Americans,” and “the man who brought the nation together and restored unity and pride,” my outrage and fury are back. I’m ready to take action.



Sunday, June 6, 2004

A Letter to My Best Friend, Steven Powsner
On the Death of Former President Ronald Reagan


By Matt Foreman, Executive Director National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

June 6, 2004

Dear Steven,

I so much wish you were here today to tell me what to do. You would know if it's right to comment on the death of former President Reagan, or if I should just let pass the endless paeans to his greatness. But you're not here. The policies of the Reagan administration saw to that.

Yes, Steven, I do feel for the family and friends of the former President. The death of a loved one is always a profoundly sad occasion, and Mr. Reagan was loved by many. I have tremendous empathy and respect for Mrs. Reagan, who lovingly cared for him through excruciating years of Alzheimer's.

Sorry, Steven, but even on this day I'm not able to set aside the shaking anger I feel over Reagan's non-response to the AIDS epidemic or for the continuing anti-gay legacy of his administration. Is it personal? Of course. AIDS was first reported in 1981, but President Reagan could not bring himself to address the plague until March 31, 1987, at which time there were 60,000 reported cases of full-blown AIDS and 30,000 deaths. I remember that day, Steven - you were staying round-the-clock in Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital caring for your dying partner of over 15 years, Bruce Cooper. It was another 41 days of utter agony for both of you before Bruce died. During those years of White House silence and inaction, how many other dear friends did we see sicken and die
hideous deaths?

Is it personal? Yes, Steven. I know for a fact that you would be alive today if the Reagan administration had mounted even a tepid response to the epidemic. If protease inhibitors been available in July of 1995 instead of December, you'd still be here.

I wouldn't feel so angry if the Reagan administration's failing was due to ignorance or bureaucratic ineptitude. No, Steven, we knew then it was deliberate. The government's response was dictated by the grip of evangelical Christian conservatives who saw gay people as sinners and AIDS as God's well-deserved punishment. Remember? The White House Director of Communications, Patrick Buchanan, once argued in print that AIDS is nature's revenge on gay men. Reagan's Secretary of Education, William Bennett, and his domestic policy adviser, Gary Bauer, made sure that science (and basic tenets of Christianity, for that matter) never got in the way of politics or what they saw as "God's" work.

Even so, I think I could let go of this anger if this was just another overwhelmingly sad chapter in our nation's past. It is not. Steven, can you believe that the unholy pact President Reagan and the Republican Party entered with the forces of religious intolerance have not weakened, but grown exponentially stronger? Can you believe that the U.S. government is still bowing to right wing extremists and fighting condom distribution and explicit HIV education, even while AIDS is killing millions across the world? Or that "devout" Christians have forced the scrapping of AIDS prevention programs targeted at HIV-negative gay and bisexual men in favor of bullshit "abstinence only until marriage" initiatives? Or the shameless duplicity of these same forces seeking to forever outlaw even the hope of marriage for gay people? Or that Reagan stalwarts like Buchanan, Bennett and Bauer are still grinding their homophobic axes?

No, Steven, I do not presume to judge Ronald Reagan's soul or heart. He may very well have been a nice guy. In fact, I don't think that Reagan hated gay people -- I'm sure some of his and Nancy's best friends were gay. But I do know that the Reagan administration's policies on AIDS and anything gay-related resulted - and continue to result - in despair and death.

Oh, Steven, how much I wish so much you were here.  -- Matt

(On November 20, 1995, Steven Powsner, died of complications from AIDS at age 40. He had been President of the New York City Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center from 1992-1994.)



from buggery.org

There are alternative viewpoints out there (but there aren't too many).  The quality of the pages linked here varies (as does the viewpoint, not all of them are 'anti-Reagan') but they are worth a visit if, like me, you're somewhat sickened by the mass hysteria of revisionist butt-kissing that passes for the mainstream media's 'analysis'.


The man whose administration spearheaded class warfare on behalf of the rich, dragged American politics to the right, and rebuilt US imperialism after the Vietnam debacle, is dead. Good riddance.

    [Bela Ciao Collective, France]

He had the economic engine powering very nicely, but little of this was reaching the poorest, with them further marginalised and living on the streets, in an age when Reagan could not bring himself to say AIDS. (Incidentally, I'd urge you to see Angels in America on the ABC this week (Tues, Wed and Thurs 8.30) to witness tour de force in story and performances. That's unless there's succesful pressure on the ABC to reschedule what contains a searing indictment of the Reagan Administration).

    [Crikey, Australia]

Getting cozy with Argentine fascist generals, tax credits for segregated schools, disinformation campaigns, "homeless by choice," Manuel Noriega, falling wages, the HUD scandal, air raids on Libya, "constructive engagement" with apartheid South Africa, United States Information Agency blacklists of liberal speakers, attacks on OSHA and workplace safety, the invasion of Grenada, assassination manuals, Nancy's astrologer.

    ["66 (Unflattering) Things About Ronald Reagan", Alternet, US]

The New York Times today, in its canned obit, wrote that Reagan projected, "faith in small town America" and "old-time values." "Values" my ass. It was union busting and a declaration of war on the poor and anyone who couldn't buy designer dresses. It was the New Meanness, bringing starvation back to America so that every millionaire could get another million.

    [Greg Palast, Axis of Logic, US]

I owe him this: Ronald Reagan made me the scratchy, anarchistic malcontent I am today. Without his influence I might have subsided into the decent-minded futility of the party-line Democrat. It took the Great Communicator to communicate to me the real message of the modern conservative: fuck you.

So here's to Ronald Reagan, our fortieth president, on the occasion of your passing from this life: fuck you back.

    [Ben Tripp, Counterpunch, US]


from the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz Media Notes:

For those tired of all the plaudits, Christopher Hitchens serves up some anti-Reagan red meat in Slate:

"I only saw him once up close, which happened to be when he got a question he didn't like. Was it true that his staff in the 1980 debates had stolen President Carter's briefing book? (They had.) The famously genial grin turned into a rictus of senile fury: I was looking at a cruel and stupid lizard. His reply was that maybe his staff had, and maybe they hadn't, but what about the leak of the Pentagon Papers? Thus, a secret theft of presidential documents was equated with the public disclosure of needful information. This was a man never short of a cheap jibe or the sort of falsehood that would, however laughable, buy him some time.

"The fox, as has been pointed out by more than one philosopher, knows many small things, whereas the hedgehog knows one big thing. Ronald Reagan was neither a fox nor a hedgehog. He was as dumb as a stump. He could have had anyone in the world to dinner, any night of the week, but took most of his meals on a White House TV tray. He had no friends, only cronies. His children didn't like him all that much. He met his second wife -- the one that you remember -- because she needed to get off a Hollywood blacklist and he was the man to see. Year in and year out in Washington, I could not believe that such a man had even been a poor governor of California in a bad year, let alone that such a smart country would put up with such an obvious phony and loon."


Not exactly pulling his punches. Nation writer David Corn, meanwhile, recycles a piece titled "66 Things to Think About When Flying Into Reagan National Airport":

"The firing of the air traffic controllers, winnable nuclear war, recallable nuclear missiles, trees that cause pollution, Elliott Abrams lying to Congress, ketchup as a vegetable, colluding with Guatemalan thugs, pardons for F.B.I. lawbreakers, voodoo economics, budget deficits, toasts to Ferdinand Marcos, public housing cutbacks, redbaiting the nuclear freeze movement, James Watt.

"Getting cozy with Argentine fascist generals, tax credits for segregated schools, disinformation campaigns, 'homeless by choice,' Manuel Noriega, falling wages, the HUD scandal, air raids on Libya, 'constructive engagement' with apartheid South Africa, United States Information Agency blacklists of liberal speakers, attacks on OSHA and workplace safety, the invasion of Grenada, assassination manuals, Nancy's astrologer.

"Drug tests, lie detector tests, Fawn Hall, female appointees (8 percent), mining harbors, the S&L scandal, 239 dead U.S. troops in Beirut, Al Haig 'in control,' silence on AIDS, food-stamp reductions, Debategate, White House shredding, Jonas Savimbi, tax cuts for the rich, 'mistakes were made.' "

The list goes on.

Despite some balanced editorials, says Editor & Publsher's Joe Strupp, "the overwhelming praise for a president who plunged the nation into its worst deficit ever, ignored and cut public money for the poor, while also ignoring the AIDS crisis, is a bit tough to take. During my years at Brooklyn College, between 1984 and 1988, countless classmates had to drop out or find other ways to pay for school because of Reagan's policies, which included slashing federal grants for poor students and cutting survivor benefits for families of the disabled. . . .

"Paying respect is one thing, and well deserved, but the way the press is gushing over Reagan is too much to take, sparking renewed talk of putting him on the $10 bill or Mount Rushmore."



Ronald Reagan remembered   Windy City Times
by REX WOCKNER   2004-06-09

I've written news for the gay press since 1985, for around 350 newspapers and magazines. The day after Ronald Reagan died, I sat in my home office and scanned through the backup CDs of my oldest floppy disks and long-dead hard drives to get a sense of how we gays and lesbians viewed Reagan during and after his presidency.

Perhaps the most surprising thing was how seldom Reagan's name came up in my news writing apart from newsmakers' references to his apparent silence on gays and AIDS.

As Barbra Streisand put it in an address to an AIDS Project Los Angeles fundraiser in 1992: "I will never forgive my fellow actor Ronald Reagan for his genocidal denial of the illness' existence, for his refusal to even utter the word AIDS for seven years, and for blocking adequate funding for research and education which could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives."

The most sensational thing to appear on my backup CDs was my first-hand report from the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans. I wrote:

A crowd of Republicans listening to a speech by President Ronald Reagan turned on a group of 15 protestors from the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) during the Republican National Convention in New Orleans Aug. 14. Five ACT UP members were arrested in the ensuing mêlée. All 15 of the protestors were punched and kicked by the angry mob.

"If we had stayed there one minute longer, we would have been killed," said ACT UP's Neil Broome. "These people were rabid. ... They wanted to beat the living shit out of us. In all my time with ACT UP, I've never seen anything like this."

The fight broke out at the New Orleans Convention Center as Reagan addressed thousands of convention delegates and other supporters during official opening ceremonies. All three major TV networks and the Cable News Network carried the outbreak live.

"All we were doing was standing there with our 'AIDSGATE' signs," said ACT UP's Heidi Dorow. "Suddenly this group of young men in suits started shouting things like, 'Let's get the faggots' and 'Queers go home.' We responded by chanting, 'History will recall, Reagan and Bush did nothing at all.'"

"At that point," said ACT UP's Frank Smithson, "the crowd became really ugly. They started grabbing our signs and ripping them up and then punching us."

The activists attempted to retreat, but were surrounded by hundreds of Republicans. "They had the most intense looks of hatred," said Broome. "They were calling us commies, faggots and queers. At one point, several of them began chanting, 'You deserve to die.' I was literally afraid for my life."

*****

On Aug. 2, 1988, Reagan prohibited federal agencies from discriminating against employees infected with HIV, but refused to seek a law banning such discrimination nationwide, as recommended by his AIDS commission. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., commented: "The Reagan administration has done its best to avoid making even a single helpful AIDS decision in the eight years of the Reagan presidency. They handpick a commission and then don't even have the courage to accept its recommendations."

*****

An analysis I wrote on Oct. 18, 1988, of the positions of presidential candidates George Bush and Michael Dukakis stated: "The Reagan administration has indicated it may support collecting statistics on crimes against gays and lesbians. ... The Reagan administration has left issues of HIV testing confidentiality and availability to the states. ... Under the Reagan administration, a nationwide AIDS education mailing, originally conceived in the mid-1980's, was not sent until June of 1988 due to political in-fighting over content. The administration refuses to provide explicit information on sex and drug use."

*****

My archives provided notable outbursts from veteran gay activists.

"Fuck you and fuck your father," actor Harvey Fierstein shouted at Michael Reagan during the May 20, 1997, episode of TV's Politically Incorrect when the topic turned to Ronald Reagan's handling of AIDS. In February of 1989, author Larry Kramer outed Reagan's son Ron on CNN's Larry King show.

"The irony is Nancy's best friends are gay and their son Ron Reagan is gay -- the essence is that Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan have sold their son down the river," Kramer said. "Ron Reagan could have been the biggest hero in the world if he had the courage to come forth and say he was gay, to shame and encourage his parents to do something about this epidemic, but because he didn't, more of us are dead."

Confronted on his own TV show by outing inventor Michelangelo Signorile in 1991, Ron Reagan described himself as "straight."

"It's [saying I'm gay] insulting to my wife of 11 years because it says she's living a lie, and I don't like that," Ron said.

Signorile responded that he'd heard Ron's wife was a lesbian. In August of 1992, Reagan daughter Patti Davis told The Advocate: "They [my parents] think it's abnormal. I certainly don't think they feel that whatever someone's sexual preference is, is OK. They think that God made men and women to make love and any variation on that theme is in some way blasphemous."

*****

On April 11, 1990, Reagan published a tribute to hemophiliac AIDS victim Ryan White in the Washington Post.

"Sadly, Ryan's is not the only life to have been cut short by AIDS," Reagan said. "In a most poignant way, he told us of a health crisis in our country that has claimed too many victims. There have been too many funerals like his. There are too many patches in the quilt. We owe it to Ryan to make sure that the fear and ignorance that chased him from his home and his school will be eliminated. We owe it to Ryan to open our hearts and our minds to those with AIDS. We owe it to Ryan to be compassionate, caring and tolerant toward those with AIDS, their families and friends. It's the disease that's frightening, not the people who have it."

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Robert Bray was wholly unimpressed.

"We urge our leaders to take action while they hold positions of power, not after they reach the safety of retirement and are outside the spotlight of public scrutiny," Bray said. "Some will salute Mr. Reagan for his post-presidential words on AIDS. But for all the children alienated from their schools because they had HIV, and all the families bombed out of their homes by hysterical neighbors, and all the IV drug users, Black, Hispanic and Asian people with AIDS, and all the gay men who died alone in some anonymous hospital room, for all these people there was no editorial. There was no PSA. There was no Great Communicator offering compassion or action. There was only presidential negligence and a legacy of shame."

In February of 1990, Reagan visited children with AIDS at the University of California Medical Center in Los Angeles. He said, "I hope my visit will bring more attention to the need to do something about this horrible disease."

On his way into the hospital, Reagan was confronted by ACT UP/Los Angeles' John Fall, who screamed: "You are a murderer and a hypocrite. If you had done something eight years ago these children wouldn't be dying."

A 1987 entry in a history of AIDS on the respected Web site Aegis.com states, "After a six year silence, U.S. President Ronald Reagan uses the word 'AIDS' in public for the first time." Other sources, including the University of California at San Francisco digital library, say that happened in 1986.

ACT UP/New York's Web site quotes him as saying: "AIDS information cannot be what some call 'value neutral.' After all, when it comes to preventing AIDS, don't medicine and morality teach the same lessons?"

References by Aegis, Streisand and others to the first time Reagan discussed AIDS may be references to the first time he addressed the topic voluntarily. In fact, Reagan talked about AIDS as early as Sept. 17, 1985, during a nationally televised press conference, when asked about the disease by reporters, according to a transcript located June 8 by longtime AIDS activist and blogger Michael Petrelis.

Reagan was asked: "Mr. President, the nation's best-known AIDS scientist says the time has come now to boost existing research into what he called a minor moonshot program to attack this AIDS epidemic that has struck fear into the nation's health workers and even its schoolchildren. Would you support a massive government research program against AIDS like the one that President Nixon launched against cancer?"

Reagan replied: "I have been supporting it for more than four years now. It's been one of the top priorities with us, and over the last four years, and including what we have in the budget for '86, it will amount to over a half a billion dollars that we have provided for research on AIDS in addition to what I'm sure other medical groups are doing. And we have $100 million in the budget this year; it'll be $126 million next year. So, this is a top priority with us. Yes, there's no question about the seriousness of this and the need to find an answer."

The questioner continued: "If I could follow up, sir. The scientist who talked about this, who does work for the government, is in the National Cancer Institute. He was referring to your program and the increase that you proposed as being not nearly enough at this stage to go forward and really attack the problem."

Reagan replied, "I think with our budgetary constraints and all, it seems to me that $126 million in a single year for research has got to be something of a vital contribution."

Another reporter asked, "If you had younger children, would you send them to a school with a child who had AIDS?"

Regan replied: "I'm glad I'm not faced with that problem today. And I can well understand the plight of the parents and how they feel about it. I also have compassion, as I think we all do, for the child that has this, and doesn't know, and can't have it explained to him why somehow he is now an outcast and can no longer associate with his playmates and schoolmates. On the other hand, I can understand the problem with the parents. It is true that some medical sources had said that this cannot be communicated in any way other than the ones we already know and which would not involve a child being in the school. And yet medicine has not come forth unequivocally and said, 'This we know for a fact, that it is safe.' And until they do, I think we just have to do the best we can with this problem. I can understand both sides of it."

*****

In 1990, Reagan made a public-service announcement for the Pediatric AIDS Foundation which the San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle said amounted to an apology for his neglect of the epidemic while in office.

Reagan said, "We can all grow and learn in our lives and I've learned all kinds of people can get AIDS, even children. ... I'm not asking you to send money. I'm asking for something more important. Your understanding. Maybe it's time we all learned something new."

Numerous Web sites offer an identical AIDS timeline that contains the sentence, "1990: Ronald Reagan apologizes for his neglect of the epidemic while he was president."

None of them quotes what he said and the quotation does not appear in the thorough "Quote Unquote" column I've written monthly or biweekly since 1988.

A lengthy search of the Washington Post and The New York Times archives for "Reagan apologizes AIDS", "Reagan apologized AIDS", "Reagan apology AIDS", "Reagan sorry AIDS" and "Reagan AIDS" turned up nothing.

Veteran AIDS activists Larry Kramer, the writer who founded ACT UP, and Sean Strub, who founded POZ magazine, have no recollection of the apology. Neither does veteran New York City AIDS journalist Andy Humm.

Journalist Andrew Miller said: "That's a lot of bullshit. Reagan said no such thing. I was editor of Outweek at the time."




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Graphics for the Gipper


see also Destructive Disengagement  
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