Title: Ronald Reagan: Don't wear black Credit: Craig Young Comment Tuesday 8th June 2004 - 12:00pm1086652800 Article: 278 Rights
During the weekend, former US President Ronald Reagan died, after a long battle with Alzheimers. Should we mourn his death? US lesbian and gay opinion appears divided on the subject. According to the libertarian Independent Gay Forum, Reagan was more liberal when he was Californian Republican Governor. In 1978, he urged voters to reject Proposition 22, a pro-discrimination citizens initiated referendum that would have curtailed anti-discrimination efforts on behalf of lesbians and gay men. IGF also notes that Reagan wasn't personally homophobic, although opinion differs on that account. The Advocate appears to be less hesitant about the legacy of the fortieth president, and it is not as laudatory as its centre-right counterpart. According to its assessment of his legacy, Reagan became president with the connivance of the US Christian Right, and his two-term tenure enabled the network of its organisations to consolidate and institutionalise its gains, through lax broadcasting regulations and decentralisation of higher education, as well as inadequate taxation status scrutiny. Worse still, fundamentalists became an integral and active Republican constituency, offsetting libertarian influences from New England and the West Coast within that party. During his tenure, Reagan appointed four US Supreme Court justices. Two of them, Antonian Scalia and William Rehnquist, are shrill and obnoxious social conservatives, and the court decided Bowers v Hardwick in 1986. This seriously flawed case led to retention of criminal penalties for homosexuality through the eighties and nineties, until Lawrence v Texas overturned this piece of junk judicial policy on June 24, 2003. HIV/AIDs was Reagan's most damning legacy. After the emergence and rapid escalation of the epidemic in the early eighties, it took until almost the end of Reagan's second term (1987) to finally address the existence of this epidemic. Without a coherent public health sector, or federal funding for targeted gay health promotion efforts, HIV/AIDS wiped out an entire generation of gay men within the United States. Shamefully, Reagan took a direct role in the latter, when Jesse Helms, his rabid North Carolina Senatorial ally, showed him some early efforts. As New Zealanders remember all too well, one of the US Christian Right's organisations, California's Traditional Values Coalition, tried to import this brand of militant fundamentalist discourse, tactics and strategy to New Zealand during our own homosexual law reform debate in the mid-eighties. It failed. However, that hasn't stopped US Christian Right organisations like Stopping Promoting Homosexuality, TVC and Focus on the Family New Zealand with trying to foist their undesirable exports off on us. Now, they're targeting our Civil Unions Bill. To be sure, Alzheimers is a tragic and lingering way to go. My own family lost our paternal grandmother to that illness, and I commend Nancy Reagan and their children for their love and loyalty towards their ailing husband and father. And he did end the Cold War in his second term. And our own Topp Twins got a hit anti-nuke single out of his presidency! However, it must be asked why Reagan didn't show similar basic human decency toward those who mourned the loss of partners, lovers and family members due to his negligent and obstructionist stance toward a devastating epidemic. Sorry. I don't think we should wear black. Recommended Reading: C.James Bacon: The Social Effects of Homosexuality: Christchurch: Coalition of Concerned Citizens: 1985. Douglas Crimp: "How to Have Promiscuity in an Epidemic" in D.Crimp et al (eds) AIDS: Cultural Activism, Cultural Analysis: Cambridge: Massachuesetts Institute Technology Press: 1987. Lisa Duggan and Nan Hunter (ed) Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture: New York: Routledge: 1995. Randy Shilts: And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic: New York: Penguin: 1988. For two contrasting Reagan obituaries, see: The Advocate: Independent Gay Forum: Craig Young - 8th June 2004    
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