Reagan’s Real AIDS Legacy

“Ronald Reagan has blood on his hands. The man was in the White House as AIDS exploded, and he was happy to see plenty of gay men and queer people die. He was a murderous fool, and I have no problem saying so.”  — Matthew Hart, national director of public engagement at Solutions for Progress

You’ve probably seen the headlines: “Gay Activists Flip Off Reagan at White House”, or something to that effect. Yeah, it’s sad (though not really surprising) that certain people would do such a thing — and at the White House’s first-ever gay pride reception. I know, it’s just a painting. And, yes, they are covered under First Amendment rights. But, to have such disrespect for the man and the office…. At the very least, the gestures made by Matthew Hart and Zoe Strauss were extremely rude and inappropriate.

gay activists in White House -- Phillymag com

Gay activists in White House (photo from Phillymag com)

But, it makes you wonder where the venom against Reagan comes from. Sure, Reagan was very conservative and “traditional” in his principles and policies, so a certain amount of disagreement and antagonism is expected from the Left. But, as reflected in the above quote, Reagan was somehow stuck with an anti-gay stereotype. In fact, many in the LGBT community seem to harbor a palpable loathing & hostility towards the man. Hit pieces from the likes of Daily Variety and The Advocate (and made-up scenes in the CBS mini-series, The Reagans) have perpetuated the image of Reagan as a callous, religious jerk who hated homosexuals and could have wiped out AIDS, if only he’d addressed it sooner and thrown more money into research.

While pondering this, I remembered a FB/email exchange I had with a gay friend last year. We were discussing same-sex marriage and related issues. When the subject of Obama/Holder refusing to defend DOMA came up, he threw this out:

“Bottom line, if an administration feels laws are stupid and unfair then I’m fine with them ignoring them. Reagan couldn’t say AIDS for the entire time he was in office while thousands of people died so when a president fails to do something sometimes people die, other times people get to pursue happiness and hate filled laws depriving people of rights can just go ahead and rot.”

The focus of the discussion at that point was “stupid” laws and when it’s OK to disobey them, but I didn’t want to let the comment about Reagan get lost without response. So, I went back to it a bit later, did a little research, and this is what I found from a 2004 article by Brent Bozell:

“The real Reagan record on AIDS is different. AIDS funding skyrocketed in the 1980s, almost doubling each year from 1983 -– when the media started blaring headlines -– from $44 million to $103 million, $205 million, $508 million, $922 million, and then $1.6 billion in 1988. Reagan’s secretary of Health and Human Services in 1983, Margaret Heckler, declared AIDS her department’s ‘number one priority.’ While the House of Representatives was Democrat-dominated throughout the 1980s, which Democrats would quickly explain was the source of that skyrocketing AIDS funding, Reagan clearly signed the spending bills that funded the war on AIDS. It’s also wrong that Reagan didn’t utter the word ‘AIDS’ until 1987. Any reporter who bothered to check facts would find that Reagan discussed AIDS funding in a 1985 press conference, just for starters.”

Fortunately, my friend was at least somewhat mollified. His response:

“Yes, Reagan mentioned AIDs as you noted, thanks.  And yes, the budget for AIDS funding grew greatly in the ’80s, it had to if we were to remain a civilized society and treat people with some manner of decency instead of having AIDS colonies akin to leper colonies where we just let them die.”

Still, even if these facts and others about Reagan’s true feelings regarding homosexuals and AIDS were brought to the attention of Mr. Hart and Ms. Strauss, could they find it in themselves to publicly admit they were wrong about Reagan? Somehow, I doubt it. The animus is too deeply rooted through socialization and serves their radicalizing purposes.

By the way, here’s an article from the Independent Gay Forum that also takes a more reasoned approach and tries to set the record, er, straight.

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