Filmmaker Scott Calonico’s new documentary short, When AIDS Was Funny releases new audio that shows the Reagan administration chilling and despicable reaction to the mounting problem and deaths during the AIDS crisis.
Using never-before-heard audio tapes from three separate press conferences, in 1982, 1983, and 1984, When AIDS Was Funny illustrates how the reporter Lester Kinsolving, a conservative (and not at all gay-friendly) fixture in the White House press corps, was consistently scoffed at when he posed urgent questions about the AIDS epidemic. With snickering, homophobic jokes and a disturbing air of uninterest, Speakes dismisses Kinsolving’s concerns about the escalating problem. “Lester was known as somewhat of a kook and a crank (many people still feel the same way),” says Calonico. “But, at the time, he was just a journalist asking questions only to be mocked by both the White House and his peers.”
This disturbing audio puts a face on the homophobic Regan administration and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that because AIDS affected mostly gay men that the Regan administration could not be bothered and did not care that American citizens were dying just becase they were gay.
It would not be until 1986 that Reagan requested $85 million for AIDS research, but Congress horrified at the low number bumped that figure up to $244 million only to have Reagan try to unsuccessfully rescind $50 million of that figure, but he ultimately agreed to Congress’ figure. In 1987, Reagan proposed cutting the research budget for AIDS down to $214 million. Congress again responded dramatically against Reagen by raising it to about $400 million.
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.”
One of the most memorable and disgusting Reagan AIDS moments happened at the 1986 centenary re dedication of the Statue of Liberty. The Reagan’s were there sitting next to the French Prime Minister and his wife, Francois and Danielle Mitterrand. 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 Mitterrand’s looked appalled. The Reagan’s were laughing.
By the end of 1989, 115,786 women and men had been diagnosed with AIDS in the United States—more then 70,000 of them had died.
Watch and listen blow. WARNING: You will be appalled and angry.