Hillary Clinton came under fire this week after praising Nancy Reagan for her record on HIV and AIDS in the early 1980s, and now the Democratic front-runner is issuing a full apology.
After Reagan’s funeral last week, Clinton praised Nancy and Ronald Reagan for “starting a conversation” on the disease at a time when it was surrounded by fear and misconception.
Hillary Clinton: The Reagans, particularly Nancy, helped start "a national conversation" about HIV and AIDS. https://t.co/7sZp8X53fb— MSNBC (@MSNBC) March 11, 2016
“It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about H.I.V./AIDS back in the 1980s,” Clinton told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan – in particular, Mrs. Reagan – we started a national conversation, when before nobody would talk about it. Nobody wanted anything to do with it.”
The statement was immediately attacked by many who noted that the Reagans actually held back both research and progress on AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first identified AIDS in 1981, but Ronald Reagan did not acknowledge it publicly until four years later and did not make his first major speech on the epidemic until 1987. By then, an estimated 40,000 people had died of the disease, The New York Times noted.
As the report added, many activists blame Ronald Reagan for spreading misconceptions and stunting progress on the disease.
“Indeed, the activist-author Larry Kramer, who chronicled the early years of the epidemic in his play ‘The Normal Heart,’ called Mr. Reagan ‘Adolf Reagan’ and wrote that he ‘murdered more gay people than anyone in the entire history of the world.’
“And in 1985, after the C.D.C. said the AIDS virus could not be spread through casual person-to-person contact, Mr. Reagan expressed skepticism about whether children with AIDS should be allowed to attend school.”
Many in the gay community attacked Hillary Clinton this week, even after she issued a brief apology for her remarks.
“This is shameful, idiotic, false – and heartbreaking,” Charles Kaiser, author of The Gay Metropolis, told The New York Times. “There is nothing else to say about it. And she has been my candidate.”
Now, Hillary Clinton has issued a full and in-depth apology, noting that the Reagans did not start a national conversation on HIV and AIDS, instead crediting that to “generations of brave lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, along with straight allies, who started not just a conversation but a movement that continues to this day.”
“If not for those advocates, activists, and ordinary, heroic people, we would not be where we are in preventing and treating HIV and AIDS. Their courage — and their refusal to accept silence as the status quo — saved lives,” Clinton wrote. “We’ve come a long way. But we still have work to do to eradicate this disease for good and to erase the stigma that is an echo of a shameful and painful period in our country’s history.”
But, the damage may be done for Hillary Clinton, who was already viewed with skepticism by many within the LGBT community for her late support of gay marriage. Clinton, who once had a stranglehold on the Democratic race, suddenly finds herself in a much closer contest with Bernie Sanders who just pulled off a major victory in Michigan. Though Clinton still holds a significant delegate lead and will likely continue on to the nomination, last week’s loss means that she will have much more work to do and could be susceptible to attacks on the LGBT record.
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