AIDS and Ronald Reagan

AIDS Silence =death poster 1980s

Silence = Death 1986 Silence= Death Project. Poster also used as placard, T-shirt, button and sticker. “Why is Reagan silent about AIDS? What is really going on at the Center for Disease Control, the Federal Drug Administration, and the Vatican? Gay and lesbians are not expendable…Use your power…Vote…Boycott…Defend yourselves…Turn anger, fear, grief into action.”

When it came to AIDS, Ronald Reagan’s silence was deafening.

AIDSgate poster Ronald Reagan 1987

AIDSgate 1987 Silence =Death Project. Poster also used as placard and T-shirt “54% of people with AIDS in NYC are Black or Hispanic…AIDS is the No. 1 killer of women between the ages of 24 and 29 in NYC…By 1991, more people will have died of AIDS than in the entire Vietnam War…What is Reagan’s real policy on AIDS? Genocide of all Non-whites, Non-males, and non-heterosexuals?…

More than 20,000 Americans died before Ronald Reagan could bring himself to say the word AIDS in public because it was a “Gay Plague.”

No, let’s be clear, Reagan did not start the conversation about AIDS. History really does matter!

© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2016.



  1. I remember reading about Namcy Reagan turning her back on her former friend, Rock Hudson when learning that he had AiDS. Tragic.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Karen

    Bingo! Thank you for being honest, informed and AWESOME!


  3. “It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS in the 1980s,” Clinton said. “And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan — in particular Mrs. Reagan –we started a national conversation.” – Hillary Clinton

    I was driving along the 405 on my way home from work listening to the local Los Angeles NPR station when I first heard Hillary Clinton’s proclamation. “Seriously!?” I exclaimed questioning the car radio. Suddenly I was transported 30 years back to the NYC I grew up in. My coming of age, like many of my peers back then, was a frightening time – it was the first time when coming of age and exploring one’s sexuality – a previously normal and healthy part of growing up – could actually kill you, leaving you abandoned, ostracized and shunned. Being young and gay at a time much less welcoming to us than today’s young gay youth was challenging enough but coming up in a time when so many of our community were so quickly stricken and left to die on their own was truly terrifying & equally empowering. I joined Act-Up. I literally became a poster child for Queer Nation. I still have my Silence Equals Death t-shirt. I doubt it’s hard for anyone whose of a certain age to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS in the 80’s. In one regard there is a bit of accuracy in Hillary’s statement – *because* of the lack of response from the Reagan White House to an entire community’s devastation we did start a national “conversation” but I clearly remember the conversation in my community was the outrage we shouted in the streets as the Reagans did absolutely *nothing* during their time in office while the AIDS crisis ravished the gay community – my community.

    Perhaps it’s hard for Hillary to remember that by 1992 – um, during the *Clinton* administration – AIDS had become the number one cause of death for U.S. men ages 25 to 44. It’s not hard for me to remember those days.


    • Thank you for sharing your story.For those too young to remember it was a frightening time indeed, which made it particularly startling and upsetting to hear Hillary Clintons recent thoughtless remarks ( though she has apologized since) Living in NYC at that time too I was well aware of the crisis and of Act-Ups various protests. In fact during the Clinton administration I can recall going to several Gay Pride marches, lying down in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral shouting “shame.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • I heard Hillary’s retraction – apparently she meant to say “stem cell research” In a world where so many people rely on quick sound bites to be their in-depth news source such flubs could have disastrous consequences in the minds of the ill & under informed

        Liked by 1 person

  4. RockerGuru

    Well it’s not surprising since the Reagans were right-wing, conservative, Evangelical-type Christians, who believed strongly in the Bible, where it says two men together is condemned by God (Leviticus Chapter 20 etc). My own family is conservative Christian in the same way, and I was under extreme pressure to “conform” to the “right” way blah blah blah. It wasn’t until 2001 when I was 36 that I finally came out. A month later I met my wonderful partner and we’ve been happily together ever since. It’s been the better part of 5 years since I’ve spoken to my family, and my sister told me in 2010 she “doesn’t have room in her heart to accept” my partner. So it is their loss, not mine, but it still hurts.

    Some people will just not ever accept gays, and that’s the way it is.


  5. RockerGuru

    Sally, thanks so much for your kind words, much appreciated! Since I found your blog over a year ago I’ve really been enjoying it – keep up the good work!


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you Frank, I’m glad you found it, and know you have a safe place to express your feelings


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