Filmmaker Scott Calonico’s documentary short, When AIDS Was Funny released audio a few years ago that showed the Reagan administrations chilling and despicable reaction to the mounting problem and deaths of gay men 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 Reagan administration and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that because AIDS affected mostly gay men that the Reagan and his cronies could not be bothered and did not care that American citizens were dying just because 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.”
By the end of 1989 when Reagan left office over 115,786 Americans, mostly gay men had been diagnosed with AIDS in the United States—more then 70,000 of them had died.
Watch and listen below.