Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton came under fire from the gay community after she praised the late Nancy Reagan for raising awareness of the AIDS crisis.
“It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s,” Mrs. Clinton, who was attending Mrs. Reagan’s funeral in Simi Valley, California, told MSNBC.
“And 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 anything to do with it,” she said.
The former Secretary of State said she appreciated Mrs. Reagan’s “low-key advocacy” on HIV/AIDS, saying “it penetrated the public conscience, and people began to say, ‘Hey, we have to do something about this.’ “
Her comments prompted major backlash online, where gay men and LGBT groups were quick to point out that the Reagans kept quiet on the AIDS crisis for most of their administration, despite desperate pleas for help and thousands of deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first identified the disease in 1981, but former President Ronald Reagan did not publicly acknowledge the disease until 1985 and he didn’t give a speech about the crisis until 1987.
“It’s almost tempting to interpret this as withering, devastating sarcasm,” Gawker wrote. “The Reagans ‘started a national conversation about AIDS’ in the same sense that George W. Bush ‘started a national conversation’ about Iraq.’ “
“Marie Antoinette did some incredible LOW KEY ADVOCACY for the French Underclass,” Dan Fishback, a writer and performer, tweeted.
“This is shameful, idiotic, false — and heartbreaking,” said Charles Kaiser, author of “The Gay Metropolis,” The New York Times reported. “There is nothing else to say about it. And she has been my candidate.”
Many called on the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay-right group, to revoke its endorsement of Mrs. Clinton, and its president, Chad Griffin, a former Clinton administration official said in a statement, “Nancy Reagan was, sadly, no hero in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”
Mrs. Clinton quickly issued an apology.
“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 said in a statement about two hours after her interview had been shown on MSNBC. “For that, I’m sorry.”