Dear Madam Secretary,
To say that I was horrified to watch your breathless fawning over Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s imagined legacy in addressing the AIDS epidemic in those early years of the epidemic would be an understatement.
Madam Secretary, I admire you and I admire the work both you and President Clinton have done in regards to HIV. However, your response to this blunder was wholly inadequate. Yes there will be fawning sycophants in your camp who will drool on your shoes to tell you how wonderful you were for issuing a twitter apology, but do not count me among them.
You did not just mis-speak as you claim in your tweet: You dismissed, wholesale, the lived agony, experience and grief of an entire generation of mostly gay men. A generation that watched as first one friend died, then two more, then a half dozen, then tens of friends, and on and on. Until the death toll was in the tens of thousands. Then, finally, the President of the United States deigned to mention the epidemic. The epidemic that had raged for six long, gut wrenching, hellish years. Finally, Ronald Reagan spoke out.
In your attempt to minimize the impact of your statement, you ignored the fact that the Reagan’s and the political elite who surrounded them not only ignored the epidemic, they did so deliberately and callously. You gave credence to the laughter of the White House spokesman on the epidemic as a legitimate “very effective, low-key advocacy.”
That low-key and very effective advocacy from the Reagan’s and their political advisors included the profession by Gary Bauer that anyone with AIDS deserved, and thus deserved to die of it, as Dr. C. Everett Koop said.
Yes, Madam Secretary, you said you were sorry. But your sorrow in this expression was for an alleged misstatement. You spoke for 30 seconds. That is not a misstatement, that is a monologue.
But what you didn’t apologize for, Madam Secretary, was the pain, the suffering and the harm you caused with this false statement. What you fail to acknowledge is that your statements (available here from MSNBC) contributed to the legacy of queer erasure which led to the whole sale deaths of tens of thousands of Americans under President Reagan’s watch. You contributed to that erasure and silenced us once again. You minimized our grief, and you dismissed our experiences. You ignored the legacy of activism from LGBTQ equality that was born of the fear, the frustration — and yes, the RAGE, at Reagan’s failure to act with leadership. You ignored that you can trumpet your support for LGBTQ equality because many queers stood in the streets and got arrested because they had no other choice. It was die quietly in a closet and in silence or fight back. And fight back in the age of Silence Equals Death we did. And Fight back is what drove us to Queer Nation, and Lesbian Avengers and Get Equal and so many community driven activists who experience the immediate urgency of the now.
You dismissed the immediate urgency of the now that was the Reagan legacy and in turn you killed us all, silently, all over again.
I know it is incredibly difficult to be in the heat of a national political campaign. I know it is even harder to say “I was wrong.” But on this, Madam Secretary, you must say it. You must admit that you didn’t just misspeak, but that you, in fact, perpetrated a lie. And you must acknowledge the deep harm to my community you have caused. And THEN will I, at least, be willing to accept your apology. I need to see you understand, fully and completely, why this was such a baseball bat to the back of the head and collective wad of spit on the history of queer Americans. I need that, before a Tweet can suffice for an apology.