Hillary Clinton has apologized for remarks praising President Reagan and Nancy Reagan for starting a “national conversation” on HIV/AIDS — a recollection she made earlier on Friday deemed untrue and offensive by those who remember the height of the epidemic.
The Democratic presidential candidate issued the apology on Twitter hours after she made her controversial remarks, which generated backlash among HIV activists.
“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,” Clinton said. “For that, I am sorry.”
Clinton stirred controversy — and even anger — among HIV activists for her remarks on MSNBC as part of coverage of the funeral for the former first lady, which took place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Los Angeles.
“It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s,” Clinton said. “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 to do anything about it. And that too is something that I really appreciate with her very effective low-key advocacy, but it penetrated the public conscience and people began to say, ‘Hey, we have to do something about this, too.'”
Hillary Clinton: The Reagans, particularly Nancy, helped start “a national conversation” about HIV and AIDS. https://t.co/7sZp8X53fb
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) March 11, 2016
Among those criticizing Clinton on Twitter was New York-based gay rights and HIV activist Peter Staley, who said on Facebook Clinton would have lost his vote based on those remarks if he were a single-issue voter.
“Thank god I’m not a single issue voter, or she would have lost my vote with this insulting and farcical view of early AIDS history,” Staley said.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, took the rare step of criticizing Clinton’s remarks on Twitter — although he didn’t explicitly name the candidate.
While I respect her advocacy on issues like stem cell & Parkinson’s research, Nancy Reagan was, sadly, no hero in the fight against HIV/AIDS — Chad Griffin (@ChadHGriffin) March 11, 2016
David Mixner, a longtime gay Democratic activist, also voiced objection on Twitter and was succinct in his criticism in an e-mail to the Washington Blade.
Of Clinton’s recollection a “national conversation” was started by Nancy Reagan, Mixner said, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Sorry Hillary,You mean well but nothing could be further from the truth than Nancy Reagan (RIP) started a national conversation on AIDS
— David Mixner (@DavidMixner) March 11, 2016
HIV/AIDS ravaged the gay community throughout the 1980s until medications were found and distributed to treat the disease in the 1990s. A report in the Associated Press published in the aftermath Nancy Reagan’s death at 94 found HIV activists remain angry about President Reagan’s response to HIV/AIDS. Although perception of Nancy Reagan’s role is mixed, many are angry at her as well for inaction as the epidemic raged.
According to the AP, Reagan didn’t make an early push to fund expanded medical research and didn’t make his first public comments about AIDS until 1987. By that more time, more than 20,000 Americans had died. Meanwhile, although Nancy Reagan had gay friends, she didn’t speak out publicly about AIDS, nor did she leave a documented record of pressing her husband on the issue early in the crisis, the AP reported.
In an April 1987 speech, Reagan’s solution to addressing the AIDS crisis was to urge young people to abstain from sex in a speech to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. In the same speech, Reagan said he was determined to find a cure for HIV/AIDS, comparing efforts to find a cure to the Carthaginians in antiquity finding a way to cross the Alps to invade Rome.
“But let’s be honest with ourselves,” Reagan said. “AIDS information cannot be what some call value neutral. After all, when it comes to preventing AIDS, don’t medicine and morality teach the same lessons?”
A widely circulated report by Buzzfeed reveals that Nancy Reagan offered no help to closeted actor Rock Hudson when he was dying of AIDS in Paris in 1985 and requested assistance from the first lady to get access to treatment. She responded she felt the White House shouldn’t get involved and referred Hudson to the U.S. embassy.
Clinton, during her tenure as secretary of state, called for achieving an “AIDS-free generation.” During her speech before the 2012 International AIDS Conference in D.C., Clinton announced her plans for a blueprint to stop the disease across the globe, and said the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, was a success.