April 5, 2016 at 12:00 pm EDT | by Michael Petrelis
Hillary’s Arkansas HIV history = Nancy Reagan’s silence
Hillary Clinton, gay news, Washington Blade, Hillary Clinton AIDS

Hillary Clinton recently criticized HIV disclosure laws, but she was silent when her husband signed one. (Photo by Gino Santa Maria; courtesy Bigstock)

It cannot be said that during her nine years as first lady of Arkansas that Hillary Clinton started a local conversation about AIDS — her advocacy had such a low-key volume that no one heard it.

Now that the dust-up over her grossly uninformed statement about Nancy Reagan starting a national discussion about AIDS has subsided, it’s relevant to examine her HIV record, such as it is, from her Little Rock years.

Remarkably, during the 1980s when their husbands held power and the AIDS epidemic created crises at every level of government, as thousands of gay men and others suffered and died, neither first lady left a paper trail of actions or statements addressing the grief, tremendous fear and stigma we lived with.

As a member of the ACT UP/Presidential Project from late 1991 to the November 1992 election, I kept thick files on Gov. Bill Clinton’s campaign and reporting on his HIV record. Nothing in my archive includes any reference to Hillary’s HIV record and online searches fail to locate any relevant source materials.

If she took action or spoke up prior to campaigning against George H. W. Bush, it went unreported or duly noted.

Hillary held no elective office while her husband served as governor but she was no shrinking violet when it came to injecting herself into public policy matters and state government, and fighting for causes she believed in.

In 1977, then-attorney general Bill Clinton endorsed modernization of the state’s homosexual and bestial anti-sodomy statute and as governor made no public comments calling for repeal of the law. Same goes for Hillary. When in 1991 courageous local Democratic politician Vic Snyder, who eventually served as a representative in Congress, attempted to erase the law from the books, neither Clinton offered him support.

Newspaper accounts from 1991 offer details on how police entrapped men cruising for sex at highway rest stops and other locations, and after they were arrested and charged under the sodomy law, their names and home addresses were published for all to read.

Arkansas’s sodomy statue was in effect until the Supreme Court struck down such laws across the land, but while it was on the books it was vigorously used by prosecutors against LGBT persons.

Compounding the stigma and fear of gays and our sexual relations, and the added burden of HIV transmission stemming from outrageous neglect of prevention and education programs, Gov. Clinton in November 1989 signed one of the worst criminal transmission laws in the nation.

The law made it a Class A felony for a poz person to have penetrative sex with another person without first disclosing their HIV status. If convicted, sentences required no less than six years and a maximum of 30 years in prison.

This law is still on the books and an unknown number of persons convicted under it currently are inmates in penitentiaries serving time.

Public records obtained from Arkansas prosecutors by advocates affiliated with Sero, a nonprofit of HIV poz folks and allies fighting stigma and injustice, while limited in scope because several prosecutors refused to release responsive records citing state sunshine law allowing officials to deny access to public records if the requester lives out of state.

The Sero organization is based in Pennsylvania.

Of caseloads made public for about a dozen persons, the average sentence meted out was 10 years and three people got 20 years while only one received six years in prison. I believe these cases represent a mere fraction of all convictions in Arkansas.

After extensive searching, I’ve come across nothing showing Hillary opposed the HIV criminalization law before her husband signed it or after going into effect.

Over the course of their final nine years of holding the reins of power in Little Rock and of widespread HIV and sodomy criminal enforcement, Hillary expended no political capital on us or our concerns.

Just how missing-in-action on AIDS were the Clintons up to September 1990?

An extended editorial at the time in Little Rock’s alternative weekly The Spectrum headlined “Time For An AIDS Policy” completely omits the Clintons, indicating they weren’t known for doing the right thing on HIV matters.

It noted: “The incidence of reported AIDS in Arkansas is up 158 percent over last year … by the end of September, there will be 147 cases on the books as compared to 57 this same time last year. … The Department of Health Services just completely cut Medicaid benefits to 10 of 13 Arkansans who take AZT … The Arkansas Department of Corrections simply failed to reapply for its grants that paid for a full-time AIDS education coordinator … Blacks in Arkansas have an alarmingly disproportionate incidence of AIDS; about 23 percent of AIDS cases are among blacks who make up 16.3 percent of the population.”

With primaries underway, the Clinton for President Committee in early March 1992 issued a one-page position paper on AIDS that is noteworthy because it lacks any compelling achievement on his part directly assisting people with AIDS or those at-risk.

It reads: “As chairman of the National Governor’s Association, he formed the first working group of governors to develop a policy on AIDS … In 1986, under Governor Clinton’s leadership, the Arkansas State Board of Education adoption a resolution calling for the ‘development of AIDS educations skills … to be integrated into the Health Education Course Content Guide’. “

Granted, a panel and a resolution connected to Bill during the first five years of the plague are something, they’re exceedingly underwhelming and pitiful and force me to wonder where was Hillary and did she do a damn thing about HIV in Little Rock?

In her apology after her erroneous Nancy Reagan comment generated pain, Hillary wrote:

“I’ve always tried to do my part in the fight against this disease, and the stigma and pain that accompanies it. At the 1992 Democratic National Convention, when my husband accepted the nomination for president, we marked a break with the past by having two HIV-positive speakers — the first time that ever happened at a national convention.”

Echoes of Bill’s 1992 campaign AIDS position paper — long on platitudes, short on substance. Given how abysmal her HIV Arkansas record is, Hillary’s apology omitting anything she may have done prior to the presidential campaign is quite telling.

A four-page policy assessment paper from the Arkansas Gay and Lesbian Task Force in February 1992 to the Human Rights Campaign about the state’s AIDS legislation and response to the epidemic offers more on the issue.

On top of the bad laws, sodomy arrests and prosecutions and lack of initiative from the Clintons, the task force shed light regarding no state funds appropriated for AIDS: “[O]nly federal money was spent here until 1991 [when three HIV educators for community-based organizations for the entire state were hired] . . . $30,000 in 1992 was money to be used for testing and counseling that the federal government quit sending and it came from the Governor’s Emergency Release Fund.”

Most galling, Hillary said: “We should call on states to reform outdated and stigmatizing HIV criminalization laws.”

If only Bill hadn’t signed Arkansas’s criminalization law she would have one less state to call on to amend, maybe even repeal, these lock-’em-up laws.

What’s needed now, just as we’ve weighed Mrs. Reagan’s HIV resume, is to apply the same degree of accountability to Mrs. Clinton especially during her Little Rock years.

Michael Petrelis is a longtime San Francisco-based blogger focused on AIDS and LGBT issues.

  • Quick summary: “My Google search for online information from 40 years ago didn’t turn up anything positive or negative, so I’m going to characterize her record as ‘abysmal’ because I’m a hack.”

    • FYI, Michael Petrellis did considerable research on AIDS policy and gay rights in Arkansas in 1992 during Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign for part of ACT UP Presidential Project . Anyone reading his research about the Clintons then would not have been surprised by the Clintons betrayal of gay voters in 1993 and 1996 with their support for the ban on travel for people with HIV , Don’t Ask, and DOMA.

      Disagree with Michael Petrellis analysis and conclusions about Hillary Clinton, if you like, but you cannot fault the depth of his research unless you want to look foolish.

      • Actually, the person who looks foolish is the one who characterizes Hillary Clinton’s record as “abysmal” based on the following: “Nothing in my archive includes any reference to Hillary’s HIV record and online searches fail to locate any relevant source materials.”

        Absence of evidence doesn’t even establish that she was silent, let alone that she had an “absymal” record.

        Hack piece.

        • With the Clintons, it always depends on what the meaning of the word is is.

          The lack any record of Hillary speaking out for relief for AIDS in the 1980a and early 1990s is indeed evidence she said and did nothing. Petrellis was there. People who spoke out were few and far between. They were noticed because of their courage. No public official spoke in public about AIDS without being noticed for it.

          • The present election campaign amounts to a war for the future of this country. We can lose it to the intolerant, nihilistic right if we spend our time re-fighting old battles. There are no perfect choices, but Hillary is best suited to win and to work effectively as president. The Kochs and others on the right want Bernie to get the nomination because they know he would be easier to beat.

          • So the Koch brothers are responsible for Bernie being able to connect with voters?

            Rick, I didn’t know you had a tinfoil hat.

          • I agree, this campaign is about the future of our country. The Clintons history of chronic lying, supporting wars, deregulating banks, supporting trade agreements that export jobs, and jumping onto the anti-gay bandwagon, gives us a fair idea of what to expect from them in the future.

          • That is not an honest summary of the Clintons’ history, but propaganda to justify your prior conclusion. If you want to convince me, insist on giving her credit for the good she has done, and explain why the negatives outweigh the positives. You don’t even try.

          • Can’t wait for summer— when Dems kiss and make up… and focus on greater dangers.

          • This is what passes for serious argument in some quarters: I make one statement, and you tendentiously extrapolate from it something I did not say. Of course Bernie has tapped into voter frustration. But that is not a plan. For months he has been saying we need to break up the big banks, yet he doesn’t know how he would do it.

          • This is actually a rare Blade op ed worth reading. Most are sadly boring regurgitated Democrat press releases. It’s affirmative action for retarded gays.

          • The Koch brothers were for gay marriage a decade before the Clintons.

        • Please share with me articles and such showing Hillary was against the sodomy and HIV laws in Arkansas or that she initiated a local discussion on our issues as First Lady of the state?

      • As for DADT and DOMA, do you have a link to a picture of the magic wand that Bill Clinton refused to wave and make veto-proof congressional majorities disappear?

        Oh, never mind. Far-left activists also think Bernie Sanders can snap his fingers and conjure up a magic unicorn for everyone, so there’s clearly a reality gap.

        • A president can vigorously oppose legislation. He can also allow to become law without his signature. The Clintons endorsed the ban on travel for people with HIV, Don’t Ask, and DOMA.

          The only thing the Clintons have ever fought for is their own access to power. They really did put up a good fight during the impeachment.

        • Obama seems to have raised debt limits and signed omnibus spending bills even when Republicans controlled both House and Senate. I guess the Clintons aren’t competent at being executives. Maybe that’s why State Department employees get murdered on Hillary’s watch and then she forgets it happened when she makes a speech.

      • Much appreciate your comment, JackNasty. Here’s hoping Hillary fans inform us any steps she took against the Arkansas queer-specific sodomy law or the HIV criminalization statute. Did she do or say anything prior to 1992 on our issues in Little Rock?

    • Happy to read any info you have online regarding Hillary’s HIV and gay record from her years in Little Rock. It may be out there and not turning up in Google searches.

    • As a rather unthinking off the shelf Democrat Hillary Clinton couldn’t offer a solution to the AIDS crisis since the main solution was to eliminate FDA regulations that prevent new drugs and treatments from coming to market quickly, and the regulatory state is the proudest achievement of Democrats. Without the regulatory state, the Clinton Foundation couldn’t get bribes for selling regulatory waivers or punitive new regulations aimed at the donors’ competitors .

      • If you’ve decided at the outset that you will do nothing but heap scorn on someone, you can cherry pick and tendentiously interpret as you like. I suppose it’s as good a pastime as playing bridge or watching baseball.

  • Mikey, considering that I saw you proudly wearing an “Impeach Clinton” button on Election Night in 1992, I do not consider you amenable to reason on the Clintons. In any case, Hillary is running for her own first term, not Bill’s third. She has been a two-term senator and Secretary of State since then. Regarding Nancy Reagan, I am happy to be an officer of the group (Mattachine) that brought to light the evidence of her refusal to help Rock Hudson when he was in extremis 31 years ago; but I cannot get exercised over Hillary having been overgenerous to a dead lady at a funeral. And let’s not get into a macabre competition over who has a longer list of dead friends who were stolen from us by that disease. As Tony Kushner said, the world only spins forward. We have new challenges and threats to face. Among other things, Hillary launched a global LGBT initiative as Sec. of State. That is being built on, including by our openly gay ambassador to the Dominican Republic, notwithstanding the crude bigotry being hurled at him by the Catholic cardinal there. It’s always something. If it’s any comfort, I don’t think you’re a hack. Sometimes you are a zealot. But you have done much useful work.

  • One cannot deny that her recent apology and explanation after her Nancy Reagan remarks starts with her stating her views form 1992 onward. What, if anything, did she do to help LGBT people and HIV poz folks in Little Rock?

    • Bernie fans may want to research another piece of Hillary 80s history. People who were there say Hillary was the tie breaking vote on the WalMart board to end WalMart’s policy to buy American and to shift to Chinese imports.

  • Hillary is also not a generous tipper.

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