Just wrote this up for my blog after hearing the news, and thought I'd share it here as well...
Came home from helping a friend move into his apartment tonight, and decided to check CNN to see if anything happened today, and the entire front page is on Reagan dying. I wasn't the most political person when he was president. I remember sitting with my grandfather in his house and him telling me to watch Reagan being sworn in as president on television. That it was a big deal.
Like most people, my view of Reagan occured in retrospect. Conservatives have heralded him as a saint, seemingly wanting as many things as possible to be named after him, including the Reagan National Airport in D.C. (a fitting tribute for someone who fired striking air traffic controllers by the thousands)
Most people have beatified Reagan once Alzheimer's put him in the same classification as ketchup under his administration. But, to me, Reagan will always be the last of the hardliners. Bush will talk about gay issues despite his abysmal record, but Reagan just couldn't be bothered.
As AIDS escalated throughout the 1980s, Reagan was silent. Reagan didn't even say the word "AIDS" publicly until 1987. At that point, more than 24,000 people had already died.
"Gay people must never forget that Ronald Reagan was as evil to us as Hitler was to the Jews," said Larry Kramer, founder of ACT UP, an AIDS organization born in the Reagan years.
I learned about Reagan through Kramer and others. In fact, the angry face of gays in the Reagan years, when gay had nearly become synonymous with dying, kept me closeted; trapped between the world I didn't belong in, and the world that scared and would kill me.
It seems ironic that in Reagan's obituary it says he died of "pneumonia, described as a complication of Alzheimer's disease," the same illness that took out so many gay men in the 80s (and today, let's not forget this thing isn't over yet) as a complication of their gay cancer, Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID), and finally Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Of course, this stuff will not be mentioned in the glowing eulogies online. He will be the Great Communicator, the Gipper, and the person who ended the Cold War. History has been kinder to his legacy than reality.
President Bush today said, "During the years of President Reagan, America laid to rest an era of division and self-doubt, and, because of his leadership, the world laid to rest an era of fear and tyranny." Until, of course, Bush started that era back up again with his cowboy logic.
I don't mean to damage the legacy of Reagan or wish his family any harm. I wish them more peace than he ever gave to the gay community, and honesty can only damage false legacies.