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Hating Reagan

“Good riddance to Reagan,” Virginian Jared Hermann told me hours before the 40th president’s death. “He deserves what he gets and more.” Fellow demonstrator Ian Roberts opined, “You just wish the worst on him that you can possibly wish.” A strange man named David Barrows pronounced, “We need to clap when he dies.”

On June 5, 2004, I spoke to these International ANSWER protestors outside of the house Reagan once called home. Eight years later, the crackpots cheering a president’s death have been let inside the White House.

To celebrate Gay Pride Month, the Obama Administration recently hosted a reception for homosexual activists complete with a dance accompanied by the conscripted sonic stylings of the Marine Corps Band. During the festivities, several of the current president’s guests photographed themselves giving the middle finger to a portrait of the former president.

“Yeah, f!<# Reagan,” a finger-gesturing Matty Hart subsequently explained. “Ronald Reagan has blood on his hands. The man was in the White House as AIDS exploded, and he was happy to see plenty of gay men and queer people die. He was a murderous fool.”

Haters give themselves away by obsessing over the supposed hatefulness of the people they hate. This act of projection provides a ready-made excuse to indulge in the darkest malevolence. A dim brain often accompanies a black soul. Hatred and ignorance are familiar bedfellows.

This double-act is certainly present in the enduring mythology surrounding Reagan and AIDS.

Ronald Reagan didn’t sue to stop Abbott Laboratories from making the first HIV-screening test available. The National Gay Task Force and the Lambda Legal Defense Fund sued Reagan’s government to block it.

Theoretic privacy concerns trumped matters of life and death. In addition to two of the most prominent homosexual organizations attempting to stifle the most useful tool in the fight against AIDS, New York City initially banned the test.

Ronald Reagan didn’t fight to keep the bathhouses open. Gay activists did.

When New York’s leading homosexual doctor suggested that the city’s bathhouses post warning signs, a la cigarette packets, detractors condemned him as a “monogamist”“stirring panic.”

In San Francisco, just one homosexual group supported Mayor Dianne Feinstein’s decision to close the disease incubators. “The basic reason for bathhouses is to enable activity that results in the spread of the diseases,” Feinstein said in 1985. “Unfortunately, some have chosen to make this a civil rights issue, which it is not. It is hard to understand how people can have the right to spread a disease that is 100 percent fatal.”

Towel-clad protestors carried placards reading “Out of the Baths and Into the Ovens.” New York Native publisher Charles Ortleb wrote to Charles Curran, a researcher at Reagan’s CDC, , “Now that you’ve succeeded in closing down the baths, are you preparing the boxcars for relocation?”

Ronald Reagan didn’t deny that promiscuity increased the chances of catching the deadly venereal disease. Homosexual activists did.

Nathan Fain, who wrote in the Advocate in 1984 that “there is no proof that even one of the 3,775 cases of AIDS tallied by the Centers for Disease Control had involved sexual transmission,” rebutted his own argument by appearing on the AIDS Quilt a few years later.

Charles Jurrist’s “In Defense of Promiscuity” in the New York Native posited that sex transmitting the deadly disease was pure conjecture, “that’s all it is—a theory. It is far from scientifically demonstrated. It therefore seems a little premature to be calling for an end to sexual freedom in the name of physical health.” The “theory” withstood Jurrist’s challenge to it. Jurrist did not.

Konstantin Berlandt, co-chair of San Francisco’s gay pride parade, maintained, “I didn’t become a homosexual so I could use condoms.” Berlandt, too, became a martyr of sexual liberation.

So much of this information comes via Randy Shilts’ amazing 1987 book And the Band Played On. The author, like so many of the talented artists and writers that he portrayed, died of AIDS. And the Band Played On helped spread the meme blaming Reagan for the spread of AIDS. But, ironically, a careful reading of the book shows that the people who recklessly spread that falsehood embraced recklessness of a far more consequential sort, too. The book’s claims do not always mesh with its information.

AIDS changed everything. Seventies self-gratification became eighties self-destruction. The government that gay activists wanted out of their affairs during the seventies they demanded in their affairs during the eighties. Reagan, who in 1978 vocally opposed California’s Proposition 6 that targeted homosexual teachers for firing, meshed with the live-and-let-live outlook of pre-AIDS gay activists. But that outlook became one of the first casualties of AIDS, and former allies of the gay community became, in the eyes of the activists, its enemies.

Ronald Reagan, a smiling actor who encouraged his son’s interest in ballet, came from Hollywood, not Hate.

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