At Nancy Reagan’s funeral service on Friday, March 11, Hillary Clinton made comments to the media that created a firestorm in the LGBT community. While speaking to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Clinton said
“The other point that I wanted to make too is, it may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s. 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 to do anything about it. And that too is something that I really appreciate with her very effective, low-key advocacy. But it penetrated the public conscience and people began to say, “Hey, we have to do something about this too.”
It took only moments for Twitter to explode.
The anger, hurt, and confusion about her comments were profound. How could anyone who had been such a strong supporter of the LGBT community, at least recently, make such an erroneous statement? The Reagan Adminsitration had laughed when reporters asked about the HIV/AIDs crisis sweeping the nation, and Mrs. Reagan had even refused to permit the White House to intervene to help their friend, actor Rock Hudson. Hudson had asked the White House to use it’s influence with a French military hospital’s management, to permit him to receive treatment there. The hospital had refused, since Hudson was not a French citizen. Mrs. Reagan refused, apparently not wanting to have it seem the White House was using it’s influence inappropriately. It seemed like calculated politics when Mrs. Reagan wanted the press to report that the President had called and spoken to Mr. Hudson as his health failed. There was no “low-key advocacy” from the Reagans, and it was late in the President’s second term before he even publically spoke about the epidemic.
It didn’t take long for Hillary to Tweet a retraction.
Many noted there was no ‘-H’ on the Tweet, to indicate Mrs. Clinton had sent it herself. This comment did little to stem the tide of critizism heaped on her comments. A lot of blogs and articles were written, expressing the horror her comments brought back to many who lived through and lost loved ones during the Reagan administration. It took another day for a more thorough mea culpa to be posted.
The pain from her comments is still intense for many, and the apology seems, to some, incomplete. It may take a while for those feelings to subside, and for her words to be accepted.
I doubt this will seriously erode her support among most of the LGBT community, at least not for younger members who have no direct experience with the losses of the 1980s. For older gays, especially men, it may take some time. Some may abandon her campaign completely, the horrors of that time being just too much to bear again.
Regardless of how she came to make such comments, we do know she has fought for LGBT rights, publically and repeatedly. Whether she has truly evolved, or has simply made a political calculation, her support is a positive thing in the policital and social realms. If her memory of the 80’s, the Reagans, and HIV was really what she told MSNBC, she at least knows now the reality, and how it still affects people. One can harp on the ‘purity’ of her stances, but the simple fact is she has supported the LGBT community effectively, and for some time now. We should not toss her out because she got something (important) wrong, but hold her feet to her apology and continued support of our community.
President Obama expressed frustration with the activists harassing him at public functions, but he also said it was necessary for those in power to be constantly reminded, and to be held accountable.
Hillary Clinton has learned that the LGBT community, and our straight allies, will do just that.