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1982: While Gay Men Lay Dying The Reagan White House Laughed At AIDS


David Mixner posted a transcript today of the first time that AIDS was mentioned in the White House during a press briefing.  If you want to know the barriers people with HIV/AIDS faced in the early 1980’s just read this transcript between White House Press Secretary Larry Speckes (Reagan was President) and the media, notably Lester Kinsolving, who is still alive,  still hateful, refers to gay rights groups as “the sodomy lobby. and work’s for Wingnut World Net Daily.  At this time over six hundred Americans had died from HIV/AIDS.

But to the White House because the victims were gay it was a laughing matter.

Question: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement — the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?


Question: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?

MR. SPEAKES: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.)

Question: No, I don’t.

MR. SPEAKES: You didn’t answer my question.

Question: Well, I just wondered, does the President—

MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)

Question: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?

MR. SPEAKES: No, I don’t know anything about it, Lester.

Questoin: Does the President, does anybody in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?

MR. SPEAKES: I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s been any—

Question: Nobody knows?

MR. SPEAKES: There has been no personal experience here, Lester.

Question: No, I mean, I thought you were keeping—

MR. SPEAKES: I checked thoroughly with Dr. Ruge this morning and he’s had no—(laughter)—no patients suffering from AIDS or whatever it is.

Question: The President doesn’t have gay plague, is that what you’re saying or what?

MR. SPEAKES: No, I didn’t say that.

Question: Didn’t say that?

MR. SPEAKES: I thought I heard you on the State Department over there. Why didn’t you stay there? (Laughter.)

Question: Because I love you, Larry, that’s why. (Laughter.)

MR. SPEAKES: Oh, I see. Just don’t put it in those terms, Lester. (Laughter.)

Question: Oh, I retract that.

It would not for another FIVE YEARS until September 1987, when Ronald Reagan would make his his first public mention of the word “AIDS” in response to a reporter’s question. The death toll at that time was over 21,000.


Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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