Ronald Reagan and his administration were infamously indifferent to AIDS. The virus was ravaging the LGBTQ community for years before the conservative icon cared to address it. His administration recommended cutting AIDS spending in the mid-’80s, after thousands had already died. Reagan’s press secretary was caught on tape a few years earlier joking with the media about what they called the “gay plague.” First Lady Nancy Reagan was there for all of it.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the family isn’t very popular within the LGBTQ community — which didn’t stop the White House from announcing on Wednesday, the first day of Pride month, that it will be honoring Nancy Reagan with a stamp unveiling ceremony next week. First Lady Jill Biden will be there. So will Louis DeJoy, the scandal-ridden postmaster general appointed by former President Trump.
— Andrew Feinberg (@AndrewFeinberg) June 1, 2022
The Reagans were very much a team over the course of the eight years they were in the White House, and though Nancy may have been more attuned to the severity of AIDS than her husband, Ronald’s failure to take it seriously — he didn’t give a speech on the crisis until it had already killed tens of thousands of Americans — falls on the first lady, as well. Nancy also abandoned her longtime friend Rock Hudson as he was seeking treatment for the virus. Hudson’s publicist sent a plea to the White House asking for help getting the dying actor into a hospital that could treat him. Nancy turned down the request.
Establishment Democrats venerating the Reagans is nothing new. Hillary Clinton apologized in 2016 after saying that they, and in particular Nancy, helped “start a national conversation” about AIDS, and that her “low-key advocacy” spurred action. Clinton walked back her comments hours later. “While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, I misspoke about their record on HIV and AIDS,” she wrote in a statement. “For that, I am sorry.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about its decision to honor Reagan during Pride Month. It has, however, put a rainbow-accented “Happy Pride Month” banner at the top of its Twitter page.