We watched the fine movie, Philomena, over the weekend. It’s nicely done all around, except for one thing: it repeated the same story that President Reagan hated gays and thwarted efforts to nip the epidemic in the bud, thus condemning millions of gays to death.
(A similar tale is told of Reagan throwing thousands of homeless out onto the street, when in fact, the impetus for releasing non-dangerous, institutionalized mentally ill patients was a progressive project.)
Carl Cannon, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News back in 1978, remembers that rising conservative star Reagan helped defeat a California ballot initiative that would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in the public schools.
…Reagan’s political handlers advised him to steer clear, but gay Republicans privately asked him to get involved, as did some Democratic friends and some Hollywood pals. Briggs, who wrongly assumed Reagan was on his side, publicly goaded him, too.
Intensive politicking by the California’s liberal establishment had pared Proposition 6’s support from a whopping 75 percent to 55 percent, but that’s where the needle stayed—until Reagan spoke out. In September, he told reporters of his opposition, and followed up with an op-ed saying Proposition 6 would do “real mischief.” Support for it eroded, even in Briggs’ home county, and it lost handily.
One of those who’d urged Reagan to intervene was Los Angeles gay activist David Mixner, a friend of future president Bill Clinton. “Never have I been treated more graciously by a human being,” Mixner said of his meeting with Reagan. “He turned opinion around and saved that election for us. He just thought it was wrong and came out against it.”
This didn’t surprise those who knew Reagan. Like most movie actors, he had several gay friends. But even this is used against him by partisans. “Reagan did not even mention the word AIDS,” Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote last week, “until the disease was impossible to ignore and his friend Rock Hudson had died from it.”
This is almost true. It was Hudson who wouldn’t discuss AIDS; Reagan actually mentioned the disease publicly for the first time two weeks before his friend passed away. But Cohen gets his information about Reagan and AIDS from Larry Kramer—his column was touting Kramer’s new HBO movie—and Kramer is not a reliable source on the 40th president.