As Republicans remember and celebrate the revisionist life history of Ronald Reagan let us, the friends, the family, and the loved ones of the victims of Reagan’s bigotry and homophobia remember the REAL legacy of genocide, war-mongering, and poverty that he left behind all in the name of “God”.
Ronald Reagan was and always should be remembered as the President who helped bring back poverty to the masses, the President who changed American foreign policy, by selling arms to Iran and forwarding the profits to right-wing Central American dictators to help fund their death squads, and most of all as the President who is personally responsible for the deaths of thousands who died of AIDS and wiped out almost an entire generation of gay men.
Ronald Reagan deliberately ignored one of the deadliest diseases in the history of the world which is now affecting over 70 million people around the globe all in the name of God, bigotry, and homophobia.
In 1981 with the emergence of the AIDS epidemic also came the emergence of the Christian Right, which Reagan ushered into power and seized the moment that AIDS was a sign of God’s abhorrence for gay men. Reagan, saw the first signs of the AIDS epidemic in 1981, his first year in office, and said “Maybe the Lord brought down the plague because illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments.”
Ronald Reagan may have done laudable things but he was also a monster and, in my estimation, responsible for more deaths than Adolf Hitler. He is one of the persons most responsible for allowing the plague of AIDS to grow from 41 cases in 1981 to over 70 million today. He refused to even say the word out loud for the first seven years of his presidency and when he did speak about it it was with disdain. He was, in the words of his domestic policy adviser, Gary Bauer, “irrevocably opposed to anything having to do with homosexuality” (personal communication from the White House office in April of 1983). The Tragedy of Today’s Gays (Penguin, 2005),
“I can locate no work of any urgency, or indeed, much work at all, on AIDS” during his entire presidency, thus allowing many millions of gay men all over the world to be exposed to the virus without so much as a warning from anyone in his government. Those of us on the front lines can attest to this stone wall that was unbreachable. – Larry Kramer.”
AIDS research was chronically underfunded at the beginning of the outbreak when money for research and treatment was most needed. 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. 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.
Newly unearthed audio of Ronald Reagan’s White House Press Secretary in daily meetings with the Press Corps from that period 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 Regan administration could not be bothered and did could care less that American citizens dying because of their homophobic bigotry.
It would not be until October 1987 when pushed that Reagan would publicly speak about the AIDS epidemic in a major policy address. By the end of that year, 59,572 AIDS cases had been reported and 27,909 of those women and men had died. He and his administration did almost nothing during the first seven years of the epidemic.
In 1986, Reagan ordered Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to prepare a major government report on AIDS. Critics attacked Reagan for ordering the report on the same day he submitted requests to reduce the AIDS budget, according to the Globe. Koop’s report called for mandatory sex education for children as early as elementary school, but Reagan’s education secretary, William Bennett, and his undersecretary of education, Gary Bauer, strenuously opposed those efforts, calling for abstinence-oriented education.
With AIDS research being underfunded community education and prevention programs were routinely denied federal funding and would have been even more so if Regan had had his way. Only when pushed did Reagan offer any assistance.
Finally, in 1986 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 then unsuccessfully try to rescind $50 million of that figure, according to the Boston Globe, 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.
The Boston Globe reported that in 1986 – 1987 that AIDS patients were dying at a rate of about 80 per week.
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, 115,786 women and men had been diagnosed with AIDS in the United States—more than 70,000 of them had died.
This is Ronald Reagan’s TRUE legacy to America. And every day may we never forget it and remember those who died because of it.