Saturday, August 23, 2014
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The (horrible) way we were

Just 31 years ago, a plague that was killing gay people was a laughing matter at the White House.

The (horrible) way we were

Who knows why something goes viral on the Internet? That's not a rhetorical question...seriously, who knows? I don't. I'm still a little baffled that my various Twitter feeds. etc., filled up today with an artifact from 1982, as reported in a book that was published in 2001. Maybe because it  is just so unbelievable to our modern ears -- the remarkably callous reaction of then-President Ronald Reagan's press secretary, Larry Speakes, and to a lesser extent the White House press corps to news of "a gay plague"...the then-newly-discovered disease called AIDS,

Here's a mind-boggling excerpt:

MR. SPEAKES: What’s AIDS?
Q: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?
MR. SPEAKES: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.)
Q: No, I don’t.
MR. SPEAKES: You didn’t answer my question.
Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President—
MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)
Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?
MR. SPEAKES: No, I don’t know anything about it, Lester.

It would be another four years -- when some 20,000 Americans had died  of the disease -- before the Reagan administration showed signs of taking the epidemic seriously. (Maybe today's media would have called it "Reagan's Katrina" -- except of course the death toll was many multiples higher.) The Gipper didn't mention "AIDS" until a 1985 news conference -- and not in a prepared speech until 1987.

But we already knew that. What's stunning about this 1982 press briefing (and a few others) is how such blatant, over-the-top homophobia -- at the White House, no less -- did not raise a single eyebrow at the time. Just 31 years later, homophobia still exists (although I'm sure the GOP will tweet to the contrary). But a majority of Americans support gay marriage, and news just in the last day that a top actress and an Olympic athlete are each in same-sex relationships isn't particularly earth-shattering.

I wonder what stupid thing that people are treating callously and laughing about today we'll look back on with horror in 2044.

Maybe "lol Obamacare" -- all the laughter over the idea that every American citizen should have health insurance?

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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