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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Rock Hudson, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Aids

My family knew Rock Hudson was gay before there rest of the world. We knew this because he would park his little Mercedes on our street in the Fairfax district and walk a few blocks down to visit his young lover. 

We were kids. I wanted to be a spy. My sister wanted to be a newspaper reporter. We followed Hudson and saw him go in and saw the two men embrace. We were too little to understand that this might mess up his career. We only knew it was secret. We loved knowing that we were the only ones who knew a secret. 

AIDS first showed up around 1981, though it didn't have a name until 1982. In 1981, Hilary Clinton's husband was running for Governor of Arkansas. In 1981, AIDS in the U.S. was confined to New York and San Francisco. 
Celebrating Bill's victory in Democratic Run-off for Governor of Arkansas. Wasn't she pretty?
The Reagans, meanwhile, knew what was going on, but did not take it seriously. 

Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Feb, 1982
At a press briefing that fall, reporter Lester Kinsolving asked Press Secretary Larry Speakes about a horrifying new disease that was ravaging the gay community. 
"What's AIDS?" asked Speakes. 
"It's known as the 'gay plague," said Kinsolving.
Everybody laughed. 
"I don't have it," said Speakes. "Do you?" More laughter. And then Speakes suggested that Kinsolving might be gay himself--because he knew about the disease. 
"There's been no personal experience here," said Speakes, deadpan. The room erupted in laughter. 

Nancy and Ronald's son, Ron, points out that Gay men and intravenous drug users weren't your ordinary Republican constituents. The Reagans could and did ignore it, until Rock Hudson publicly acknowledged that he had AIDS.

Rock Hudson, Nancy and Ronald Reagan, 1984

Even then, they did not speak out about it, and when their friend came out, they denied him help gaining access to specialists in France in 1985. He died shortly after. 

So. 1985. Bill Clinton was still Arkansas' governor. Hillary was working--breaking ground as the first female partner at Rose Law Firm--a tough job. As Arkansas' first lady, she was also promoting HIPPY (Home Instructions Program for Preschool Youth) that trained parents to help their  
You can tell she was stuck in Little Rock by her inaugural ball gown. 
little ones learn to read. She was likely the only woman on the executive boards of TCBY and Walmart. And she had a five-year-old. I'm certain she had her hands full. 

Plus, she was stuck in Little Rock, which had only had one AIDS death by 1983. 

C. Everett Koop. Love that Amish Beard!
I can understand how she didn't know how passionately Surgeon General C. Everett Koop was struggling to get the word out about ways to prevent AIDS from spreading, like needle exchanges and using condoms during sex. Stuck in Little Rock, maybe she didn't know that Nancy and Ronald Reagan were actively blockading Koop, who, despite his own strong conservatism was still doing his very best to practice real medicine and protect the health of all Americans. 

So that's the history Ms. Clinton got wrong when she thanked Nancy Reagan for her support in the fight against AIDS. 

Look, we all mess up. Sometimes, I yell at my kids. Today, we showed up at a birthday party that, it turns out, is tomorrow. (What day is this again?) And when the dog chewed my one comfortable good shoe, I whacked her with it. Not hard. And no, I know this is not good doggy discipline.) I'll cut Ms. Clinton a lot of slack. 

What I'd like to hear, though, what I always want to hear from politicians, is a real, not a political apology. "I misspoke" is not a real apology. A real apology would be: "I messed up. I got the history dead wrong. It turns out countless Americans lost their loved ones due to the Reagan's years of inaction on AIDS. I'm so sorry. I am passionate in my support of LGBT causes. Next time, I will make sure to get my history right before I open my mouth." 

Come on, Hilary. You can do it!

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