Each day the response from LGBTQ people and their allies gets more furious. First, on Friday, March 11, 2016, two days ago, Hillary Clinton complimented Nancy Reagan on her “low-key” AIDS advocacy in the early eighties, which, she says, started a national conversation. This led to articles everywhere that called Clinton on the facts. The Reagans had not only not advocated for AIDS research or services, they had actually refused to help, and their administration had turned the whole idea of AIDS services and research into a joke. It is an appalling moment in the nation’s history. Clinton apparently realized immediately that she had stepped in it, and issued, first, a 30 word apology, which was received everywhere with general derision, and then, this morning, she issued a new apology, this time 858 words long, which was less an apology than a statement on AIDS policy today, along with a synoptic history of the disease. It’s little, it’s late, it has the wrong tone, and it’s unacceptable.
The question which remains seems to be, if Hillary Clinton could so misunderstand the LGBTQ history of the eighties, can we trust her to know anything about our lives? This is harsh because we’re considering a successor to Barack Obama, who does seem to understand the important things. The question of Clinton’s knowledge about AIDS history is not merely a question of her agreeing with us on paths to the future. It goes also to the question, Does she know enough about us to have an instinctive understanding of our place in this country, and an understanding of where things need improving? LGBTQ people have been out in the streets and in the courts for the last forty-seven years, and it is high time this woman absorbed enough of what we have been screaming about in our demonstrations and in our court filings to be able to remember it when the reporter sticks a microphone in her face and says, “Tell us what you believe.” If she could fumble so badly—“Why, I think Nancy Reagan is one of our greatest heroes!”—when it is just a reporter she is talking to, then we should be really scared shitless when she is in the situation room at the WH and under real pressure and real need to have access to everything she knows.
C said, this morning, “What could have made her say that?” And that’s the point. I don’t believe she believes what she said. Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton are very different people. Reagan has been noted for being a vapid clothes horse who consulted astrologers on national business. Clinton, we thought we understood, was intelligent. She handled the Benghazi committee with ease. But now? Oh, boy. What a mess she has created. Larry Kramer has said he doesn’t think he’ll vote for her, now. I don’t know. That depends on our options on the day we vote. But what makes me angry is why the Clintons do these things—why was he so sloppy with his sexual shit as to make himself vulnerable to the Republicans? Why did she use a private email server, even if it is legal and OK, since she must have known it was going to make her vulnerable to the Republicans? Hasn’t she learned anything from twenty-five years of continuous campaigning, that a person can’t just let her mind idle in neutral while a national reporter is wielding a microphone in her face?
Well, LGBTQ people are pissed. See here and here, from today. Check out these links. What these links tell us is that AIDS is not over. The carelessness of Clinton’s language on Friday brought back, front and center, everybody’s memories of the AIDS years, when people were dying and nobody, not even the medical profession, knew what was killing them or how it was transmitted. We didn’t know how to save the lives of Americans. We remembered that the whole point of government is to do for citizens what they can’t do for themselves, in this case, save their lives with a massive infusion of federal money into the healthcare system and seriously address prevention efforts. What we got instead was giggling in the White House press room, jokes about who was gay and who not, jokes about male-male sex—cruel, immature, ignorant refusal to engage. We got no sense out of the Reagan White House that they understood the urgency of all this and its importance to the nation. Now what we get is revisionist history. Does Clinton think that so many of us are dead that there is no one still alive who remembers how it was?
Read this and this to see Rock Hudson’s telegrams asking the Reagans for help dealing with hospitals in Paris when he was dying. Their response—their refusal—is galling. Scroll down from this link, to read the comments of LGBTQ men and women who lived through those years and who remember the people who suffered and died and who know that AIDS is not over yet.
Even Clinton’s longer statement, released this morning, doesn’t begin to suggest that she understands what she has done or even understands what AIDS has done to America. It is going to be very hard, in November, if we are forced to choose between Clinton and Trump. It would be great, with Hillary Clinton, if sometimes she could put aside the policy wonk attitude and instead showed that she can remember how things felt. It would be easier to connect with her if she did.