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Title: Reagan was pro-gay and HIV-aware Credit: Jim Peron Comment Thursday 10th June 2004 - 12:00pm1086825600 Article: 285 Rights
 
There are times that the dominant Left in the gay community really irritate me. And right now is one of them. Ronald Reagan has just died. Many Americans, myself included, still have some fond feelings for the man. But some of the more radical elements within the gay community refuse to see any good in Reagan just as they refuse to see any problems with their anointed candidates. Witness how the gay Left praises Clinton to the hilt yet he was the President that signed "the Defence of Marriage" act into federal law which banned the federal government from recognising gay relationships in any way. It reminds me of when Franklin Roosevelt was conducting his shameful attack on Japanese-Americans. About 15 years ago I read a book by Richard Drinnon entitled "Keeper of Concentration Camps" which looked at the career of Dillon S. Myer. Myer ran the concentration camp system set up by Roosevelt and later went on to run "Indian reservations". When Roosevelt started incarcerating American citizens merely for having Japanese ancestry there was little outcry. Racism was taken for granted within the Roosevelt Administration. The American Civil Liberties Union was founded by hard-core Lefties (though it has improved dramatically in recent years). And the founder of the ACLU, Roger Baldwin, was almost as hard-core Left as one can get. If I remember Drinnon's book correctly Baldwin, when asked if the ACLU would fight the incarcerations responded, "But the man in the White House is our friend." The ACLU did nothing. The "blind eye" syndrome of the gay Left is not unique to just the gay Left. It's endemic in Leftism. Witness how the Left, all over the world, pretended that Stalin was not a monster. Witness how they ignored the imposed famine of Mao or the crimes of Pol Pot. I'm not arguing that the Right is necessarily any more consistent either. I'm just pointing out the hypocrisy. CELEBRATING A DEATH As far as Reagan goes lets look at some responses to his death by gay pundits. Jay Beaupre is a gay journalist. He said, "I have a feeling that an awful lot of gay people are going to be cheering, that 'Ding-dong! The wicked witch is dead." What a vile thing to say! THE ORIGINS OF THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT Michelangelo Signorile, one of the loudest voices for the PC Left in the gay community twists and distorts history to make his case against Reagan. He says that the "right-wing monster" that opposes gay rights was created by Reagan, "It was he who brought religious conservatives into the party as a sort of quick fix for a party that needed some fresh energy... before the Reagan machine opened its arms to such people, the Bible-thumping crowd saw politics as unpure and dirty, something they didn't want to get involved in." Signorile doesn't know his facts. First, the Bible-thumpers were not non-voters prior to Reagan. They voted. In fact they voted for Signorile's preferred Democratic Party in such numbers that the so-called Bible-belt was known as the Solid South, meaning solidly in favour of Democrats. Second, the first campaign to recruit and encourage "born againers" into politics in modern history was that of Democrat Jimmy Carter not Ronald Reagan. Carter was the first modern politician to wear his "born again" label on his sleeve. Carter's inspiration to fundamentalists at the time was big enough that Newsweek magazine called 1976 "The Year of the Evangelical". That's four years prior to Reagan's election! Fundamentalists in America were not organised as a political forced when Carter was elected. Signorile is right when he says that born-agains stayed out of organised politics - though they did vote. This wasn't always so. It was the populist Left in America that was closely tied to the fundamentalist vote. The first successful born-again candidate was the "Progressive" William Jennings Bryan. But fundamentalists retreated from politics after their anti-evolution campaign backfired making them look foolish and after their much touted Prohibition created organised crime without stopping drinking. So what brought these backwoods yokels out of their revival tents and into the voting booths? It wasn't Ronald Reagan. The born-again crowd had retreated into the safety of their churches and they put their children into their own schools safely away from the "influence of the world". But Left politicians were so used to trying to run everything that they sent the state into this private world of the fundamentalist. Private schools were important to the born-again crowd because government schools had removed mandated prayer - in keeping with the Constitution - and because state schools implemented sex education courses. In the South the Christians were also rather insistent that they didn't want racially integrated schooling either. (A more thorough analysis of the history of born-again politics will be posted before June 15th in our essay section.) The political Left decided to wage war on these schools. Most such schools were tax-exempt and the Left tried to strip their tax exemptions from them. Then they started claiming that student loans to university students meant that any university where the student went could be regulated and controlled by the federal government. This effectively meant that students at Christian universities could no longer take out student loans for their education. In 1977 the born-again movement got a shot in the arm from the political Left. A "gay rights ordinance" was passed in Dade County, Florida (Miami). The ordinance was an odd one in that it said that schools could not discriminate against homosexuals. The oddity was that the ordinance didn't actually apply to government schools at all - which is where almost all the students and teachers were actually located. It applied only to private schools. But the majority of the private schools were Christian oriented and had real problems with being forced into hiring openly gay men and women as teachers. Into this firestorm stepped Anita Bryant who promised, ""What these people really want, hidden behind obscure legal phrases, is the legal right to propose to our children that their's is an acceptable alternate way of life. I will lead such a crusade to stop it as this country has not seen before." And she did. The fundamentalists had retreated from the world and the secular Left pursued them into their caves. When you corner a wild animal against the back wall of it's cave it fights back. And that is what these fundamentalists did. It was the school issue that started the so-called Religious Right. A major organiser was Robert Billings. For years Billings only worked on starting Christian schools. But now he felt the schools were under attack and he happily joined the fledgling political movement. He was instrumental in persuading Jerry Falwell to get involved and helped him start the Moral Majority and the rest is history. But all this was done before Reagan. Of course these fundamentalists went to the Republican Party. Where else would they go? It was the Democrats who decided to use social engineering against the born-again crowd. They saw these people, perhaps justifiable so, as unsophisticated yokels who didn't know better. And they felt it was their job to drag them, kicking and screaming, into the modern world. Instead they encouraged them to defend themselves and the so-called Religious Right was born. REAGAN AND GAYS And what was Reagan doing in 1978? Well, he wasn't joining any antigay campaigns. Anita Bryant succeeded in repealing the gay rights ordinance in Miami. And in short order the fundamentalists lead the repeal, or rejection, of gay rights laws in St. Paul, Wichita and Eugene. Oregon. Arkansas and Oklahoma banned gay teachers. In Indiana the born-again crowd organised a campaign to make homosexuality a felony and brought Bryant and Falwell in to appear at a rally. At this point the campaign for gay rights seemed to be in retreat. Worse yet in California an extreme Right state legislator named John Briggs was pushing a ballot initiative which, as he described it, "would defend your children from homosexual teachers." The newly elected city supervisor in San Francisco, Dan White, was leading the campaign against the Briggs Initiative. But why? Why was a newly elected local official the highest ranking politicians to take on Briggs? Simple: everyone else could see the trend. And in politics principles often give way to vote counting. Riding the anti-gay wave seemed a sure recipe for success. One poll showed voters inclined to support Briggs by a two to one margin. Ronald Reagan had been California's governor from 1966 to 1974. He was seen as the leading voice of the "conservative" movement because of his brilliant speech during the 1964 Goldwater campaign (Goldwater was a critic of the religious Right who later became notorious for saying "Jerry Falwell can kiss my ass." Goldwater also was supportive of gay rights. Interestingly both Reagan and Milk were involved in the Goldwater campaign in 1964.) Reagan had tried to run for the presidency but the Republican Party shunned him, first in 1968 for Nixon and then later for Gerald Ford. But from the time he left the governor's mansion in 1974 he was campaigning with the White House in mind. So Reagan was an unlikely candidate to come out against the Briggs Initiative. But he did. He risked a lot in his campaign. The Religious Right was just rising to prominence and it clearly had not yet crested. In spite of that Reagan opposed Briggs and helped turn the tide. In the end the Briggs Initiative was defeated by over 1 million votes. Even Briggs' home territory, the conservative Orange County, rejected the measure. Without Reagan's personal, forceful opposition to Briggs it's likely the measure would have passed. Andrew Sullivan notes that Reagan "barely mentioned abortion in his eight terms of office, and never addressed a pro-life rally in person. He rarely went to church as president and was the first president to have an openly gay couple sleep over in the White House. He and his wife were no strangers to male homosexual company. Reagan also appointed the first woman to the Supreme Court, and in Anthony Kennedy, gave birth to the judicial father of the gay rights revolution." Kennedy's writing the Supreme Court's majority opinion overturning sodomy laws might be seen as one of Reagan's parting gifts to gay Americans. Deroy Murdock quotes Reagan's daughter, Patti as saying that when she was eight or nine: "My father and I were watching an old Rock Hudson and Doris Day movie. At the moment when Hudson and Doris Day kissed, I said to my father, ‘That looks weird.' ...All I knew was that something about this particular man and woman was, to me, strange. My father gently explained that Mr. Hudson didn't really have a lot of experience kissing women; in fact, he would much prefer to be kissing a man. This was said in the same tone that would be used if he had been telling me about people with different coloured eyes, and I accepted without question that this whole kissing thing wasn't reserved just for men and women." Two different Reagan biographers also noted that the President was strongly opposed to antigay campaigns. Kenneth Walsh, author of the 1997 biography "Ronald Reagan" said: "Despite the urging of some of his conservative supporters, he never made fighting homosexuality a cause. In the final analysis, Reagan that what people do in private is their own business, not the government's." Biographer Lou Cannon put it more strongly. He said Reagan was "repelled by the aggressive public crusades against homosexual life styles which became a staple of right wing politics in the late 1970s." A Washington Post story from March 18, 1984 noted: " The Reagans are also tolerant about homosexual men. Their interior decorator, Ted Graber, who oversaw the redecoration of the White House, spent a night in the Reagans' private White House quarters with his male lover, Archie Case, when they came to Washington for Nancy Reagan's 60th birthday party - a fact confirmed for the press by Mrs. Reagan's press secretary. Indeed, all the available evidence suggests that Ronald Reagan is a closet tolerant." THE “DIDN'T SAY IT UNTIL 1987” URBAN LEGEND But when Reagan's stand against the Briggs Initiative is acknowledged it's dismissed by gay Left or ignored. They have other complaints. Christopher Seely, in the gay newspaper Washington Blade chided Reagan claiming "In reality, despite protest from activists, Reagan didn't utter the word "AIDS" in a public speech until 1987. " Even that's not true. People tend to forget that AIDS was basically a new disease that had previously been unknown. It was only in 1981 that the Centers for Disease Control identified the first cases of what eventually was called AIDS. The disease itself didn't even have a name until July 1982 and no one really knew the magnitude or the nature of what they were dealing with. Reagan's 1982 federal budget contained $8 million to begin research on this disease even though AIDS was not a major problem in the United States at that time. It's magnitude was unknown which is why even the gay community didn't respond to the crisis until then. The Gay Men's Health Crisis organisation was only founded in 1982 itself. And that was in New York City where the first cases were discovered. Elsewhere it was ignored. The activist group ACT-UP was only founded in 1987 while the AIDS research group AmFAR was only founded in 1985. As the magnitude of the disease became known federal spending under Reagan on this issue increased and it increased substantially. After the first allocations in 1982 the budget on AIDS issues increased more than five fold in 1983 to $44 million. In 1984 it doubled again to $103 million, doubled again in 1985 to $205 million, then to $508 million in 1986, $922 million in 1987 and in Reagan's last budget it climbed to over $1.6 billion. From the year it was identified to his last year in office Reagan signed into law AIDS spending totalling over $5.7 billion. So what is the gay Left complaining about? The argument comes down to when Reagan first said the world "AIDS" in public. Some note that in 1985 he mentioned the word in a press conference. Of course by that time his administration had already spent $868 million on the issue but people were quibbling over who said the word when. If you read Seeley carefully you'll see his complaint is that Reagan didn't use the word AIDS in a proper speech until 1987. Even that is not true. In early 1986 Reagan gave "A Message to Congress on America's Agenda for the Future" and mentioned AIDS five times. He pledged, "We will continue, as a high priority, the fight against Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)." That's at least a full year before Seeley claims. In addition Reagan mentioned it in writing a year earlier. The New York Times ran an article on September 18, 1985 which quotes Reagan as saying that his administration had funded AIDS research for the last four years and that it was a "top priority". How did Reagan tell the New York Times in 1985 if he never used the word until 1987? But I've noticed that the 1987 claim has taken on something of the status of an urban legend. It also appears that the Los Angeles Times ran an article about Reagan's comments on AIDS on September 19, 1985. In that article well-known San Francisco AIDS researcher Dr. Paul Volberding is quoted as saying: "He [Reagan] is actually commenting on it publicly - that's a start. I had been concerned that there has been no comment at all from his office, given the seriousness of the epidemic." Two years before the Urban Legend says Reagan mentioned AIDS we have documented proof that AIDS researchers were commending Reagan for doing what the Urban Legend says he didn't do. The gay AIDS publication POZ, in 1997, claimed that on June 1, 1987 "At an AmFAR benefit that evening, President Reagan uttered the word AIDS in public for the first time..." Left activist Larry Kramer used the occasion as an excuse for charging Reagan with "genocide" against gay people. The remnant of ACT-UP still claims that in 1987, "After years of negligent silence, President Ronald Reagan finally uses the word "AIDS" in public." The Washington Post claimed that Reagan didn't use the word until May, 1988 (after he left office and after he spent $1.6 billion on the issue). The New York Times changes the accusation saying he "did not make extensive public comment on AIDS until 1987." Well between no comment and extensive comment there is a lot of territory. The Kaiser Health Network says that Reagan used the word in a 1987 speech to the Third International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC. Kramer claims it was at an AmFAR fund raiser. The transcript of the Message to Congress shows he said it in early 1986 but most on the gay Left claim it wasn't until over a year later and the Washington Post comes up with the idea that Reagan went through two terms as President without ever mentioning it. THE GENOCIDAL PRESIDENT? Another accusation that is making the rounds with gay web sites is that Reagan was somehow responsible for the deaths of many gay men. One gay author said: “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.” Well-known Leftist Larry Kramer, in the world's leading gay news magazine The Advocate emits a shrill and vicious attack. He writes: “Our murderer is dead. The man who murdered more gay people than anyone in the entire history of the world, is dead. More people than Hitler even.” Hitler! Reagan's policies wiped out an entire generation of gay men! All of it hyperbole at best and slander at worst. None of it true. The fact remains that during Reagan's term of office AIDS was first identified. The first cases were only noticed during 1981. There was no name for this ‘gay plague' until 1982 and the role that HIV played in the disease wasn't even discovered until 1983. But consider the claims. The first author says Reagan was responsible for the death of an entire generation of gay men. Absurd. From 1983 to the end of Reagan's term in office a total of about 45,000 people died from AIDS. By no means were they all gay men. Many of the victims were women. Many had contracted the disease from sharing needles or having sex with men who used IV drugs. Many were haemophiliacs and others who contracted the disease through blood transfusions. The 45,000 is the total number of deaths. The total of gay men who were victims was significantly lower. During the 1980s there were approximately 250 million people in America. Just under half, or about 120 million of these people were men. About 5% of them would be gay which is around 6 million men. Even if every one of the 45,000 deaths were of gay men this hardly comes anywhere near “wiping out an entire generation of gay men.” We are not even talking 1% of the total population of gay men. Kramer's accusation is equally bizarre. Reagan didn't murder any gay men. Murder implies he went out and infected them personally or in some other manner disposed of them. Of course that didn't happen. It's merely an example of the rabid Left being more rabid than usual. No doubt in a more sane moment Kramer would admit that Reagan didn't actually infect people with AIDS. So how was Reagan responsible for the men and women who died from AIDS during his term in office? The argument basically is that he gave an inadequate response. The Advocate, in a highly inaccurate appraisal of Reagan quotes Dr. Marcus Conant about Reagan. Conant, who lost scores of friends and patients to the disease, is still deeply angry--one of many Americans who view Reagan's legacy in a harsh light. "Ronald Reagan and his administration could have made a substantial difference, but for ideological reasons, political reasons, moral reasons, they didn't do it," said the San Francisco dermatologist, who now deals with a new generation of AIDS patients. “President Reagan and his administration committed a crime, not just a sin.” But one can only respond to crisis when one knows what is the actual crisis. Second one responds according to the magnitude of the crisis. In the case of AIDS in the early 80s no one actually knew with what they were dealing. The Reagan administration did spend money on the issue and they spent a substantial sum. That sum rose as the magnitude of the problem was revealed by the facts. The administration did respond and it responded according to the facts as they were known when they were known. What response was possible at this time? In not one of the virulent attacks have I seen someone actually state what options there were. Even at this time, some 20 years later, our options are still very limited. The first option is prevention of infection. The second option, today at least, is keeping the disease under control via medication. But this second option didn't exist for Reagan or anyone else in the 80s. That only leaves the first option. There are two ways of achieving the first method. One is through state control and the second is through individual effort. The government could have stepped in and outlawed homosexuality, arresting all gay men and incarcerating them in solitary confinement. That surely would have stopped gay men from becoming infected. Extreme and absurd but all the other state options are merely less rabid variations of this. The government could not stop men from having risky sex. If it had tried the entire gay community would have responded very negatively to the suggestion. The government did warn people about AIDS but government warnings beyond the initial ones have very little impact. Many of the initial victims of AIDS, and thus many of the 45,000 who died while Reagan was president, were infected before anyone, including Reagan, knew of the disease or how it was transmitted. There was simply nothing that anyone could do - including those men themselves - to change that. Once it became known how the disease was spread it became almost universally known very rapidly. Very few of the men who have been infected since were not aware of the risks they were taking. Short of stepping in and preventing gay men from having sex there appears little that the Reagan administration could have done to prevent more infections. These accusations seem to presume a omniscient knowledge of AIDS and HIV on Reagan's part which was denied to everyone else. If Reagan didn't do enough how about the gay community? The very PC named “Encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered   
 
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