Fact: A local blog hears of it and exploits the LGBT community with this headline: “What Happens When You Let Gay Philly Activists Into the White House: They pose for pics giving Ronald Reagan’s portrait the finger.”
It goes viral. And we do mean viral. This was the headline in London’s Daily Mail: “Gay activists travel all the way to the White House for first gay pride event to SWEAR at Ronald Reagan’s portrait.”
And The Washington Times: “Gay activists make obscene gesture at Reagan White House portrait.”
It’s even the top headline — across all three columns — on the Drudge Report. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and even the White House issued a statement.
But its biggest play was on conservative websites and news outlets like Fox News, where it was the leading story — even after the verdict in the Sandusky case came down. The response is a little out of the park, including obscene emails, voicemails and even death threats.
I was at the same reception and was quoted in the article. And even though I didn’t photograph myself with the Reagan portrait (mine was with W. and it was a thumbs-up with a smirk on my face), my staff and I also got some nasty treatment.
Let’s get real. They didn’t vandalize or steal the portrait. However inappropriate their actions were, ultimately, they gave their views of a president who basically did that same thing to the gay community when it was dying from AIDS.
I’ll leave the wrong place, wrong time debate to others, but what I learned from this is how misinformed the public is regarding Reagan. And an appreciation for LGBT media, who understood those activist feelings and (for the most part) ignored this silly blog. But maybe it should be looked at and maybe it gives us a cause of action.
Reagan might be remembered as the president who suggested that ketchup might be substituted for vegetables to save money in school-lunch programs or the president who exchanged arms for hostages, but in the gay community he will always be remembered as the president who failed to take action on the emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic when thousands of his citizens were dying from it — not even saying the word “AIDS” publicly until his second term, some four years after the CDC identified the disease.
Think of it this way: The president of the United States refuses to give funds for cancer research, refuses to mention the word, meet with patients or even acknowledge its existence. If all that were not enough, when the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights occurred in 1987 — which also marked the first time the AIDS Quilt was displayed at the National Mall — the White House staff gave instructions that the blinds be closed so when the marchers passed by, the first family wouldn’t have to see or hear them.
Thanks to that behavior by President Reagan, research that ultimately led to treatments such as inhibitors was delayed by years. Literally, tens of thousands of lives were lost.
There’s a whole cottage industry out there dedicated to making Ronald Reagan godlike. But in the end, it will be historians who will write the final story. Most likely, those giving his portrait the finger will not be in those books, but the thousands of deaths on his watch will be.
Consider this. When President Lyndon Johnson is mentioned, many immediately think of Vietnam. Well, my good Americans, shouldn’t the same be true for Ronald Reagan and AIDS? We started with facts, let’s end with facts. During the entire Vietnam War, there were 58,193 American deaths. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, 61,857 Americans died from AIDS.
Reagan failed in his foremost duty as president of the United State — to protect its citizens.
Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at email@example.com.