AIDS advocates have said that former President Reagan, who died on Saturday, largely ignored the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic during his two terms as president in the 1980s. Although the federal government first appropriated funding for AIDS research in 1982, the Reagan administration regarded the disease for several years as a state and local problem. Even as HHS officials privately sought increased funding for research in the early 1980s, Reagan did not view the situation as a national problem until the disease hit him personally in 1985 with the AIDS-related death of his friend Rock Hudson, according to some advocates. In addition, Reagan did not publicly say the word "AIDS" until a 1987 speech at the Third International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/7/01). Two newspapers on Tuesday published opinion pieces on Reagan's AIDS policies. Summaries of the pieces appear below:
- Matt Foreman, New York Daily News: Even after Reagan's death, "I'm not able to set aside the shaking anger I feel over his nonresponse to the AIDS epidemic," Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, writes in a Daily News opinion piece. Although AIDS was first reported in 1981, Reagan did not publicly address the disease until 1987, when 60,000 people were living with AIDS and 30,000 already had died, Foreman writes. The Reagan administration's response to the disease was not due to "ignorance or bureaucratic ineptitude" but was "deliberate" and "dictated by evangelical Christian conservatives who saw gay people as sinners and AIDS as God's just punishment," Foreman says, concluding, "I do not presume to judge Ronald Reagan's soul or heart. But I do know his policies resulted in despair and death" (Foreman, New York Daily News, 6/8).
- Allen White, San Francisco Chronicle: As the United States mourns the death of Reagan, "it must never forget his shameful abdication of leadership in the fight against AIDS," White, a San Francisco writer, says in a Chronicle opinion piece. The Reagan administration expressed "indifference" as "death and suffering increased at a frightening rate," White says. AIDS "became the tool, and gay men the target, for the politics of fear, hate and discrimination," White says, adding, "How profoundly different might have been the outcome if his leadership had generated compassion rather than hostility." White concludes, "Researchers, historians and AIDS experts who know the truth must not remain silent. Too many have died for that" (White, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/8).
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Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at www.kaisernetwork.org/dailyreports/hiv. The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, by The Advisory Board Company. © 2004 by The Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.