The death of former first lady Nancy Reagan marked the end of an important chapter in American history.
While social media has been buzzing with the news, and the nation mourns her passing, a different sentiment is present throughout our HIV community. For many who are positive, this marks a step forward. A farewell to an ideology that was responsible for thousands of deaths, both men and women, devastated by the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s.
It’s an image that remains vivid for so many, especially long-term survivors, who watched hundreds if not more of their friends die, due to the government’s inaction on the part of the Reagan Administration.
This was a time where peoples’ preconceived notions and judgments overrode the basic human characteristic of compassion for their fellow human beings. If the government had reacted quicker, so many more would be here with us to see the medical advancements that have transformed an HIV diagnosis from an almost certain death sentence to a manageable chronic condition.
This includes the famous Rock Hudson, who died of AIDS-related complications, after being denied his request to move to a French Military Hospital, in hopes of pulling through his already dire condition. He needed the Reagan Administration to intervene since he wasn’t a French citizen, and when they denied his request, it truly brought to light Reagan’s stance on the issue.
Their views represented the sentiment of many in the “mainstream” of the 1980’s, who looked at HIV as a punishment for those who were homosexual, an ignorant stereotypical mindset that follows the virus to this day.
Just recently I was watching bits and pieces of, “How to Survive a Plague”; it brings me to tears every time. These were vibrant, energetic, healthy human beings suddenly faced with one of the biggest epidemics in history. Only to be left on the sidelines for years while thousands of loved ones died for the Reagan Administration to finally stand up and say, "ok we might want to address the issue".
As a young boy who visited The Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley on a school field trip, I remember seeing all his accomplishments, thinking to myself, "wow how amazing". But as someone who is now living with HIV and has done my research into the history of the epidemic, I now see things much differently.
We must continue to break the silence that started in the Reagan Administration and persists today. We must continue to build on the core principles held by advocacy groups, such as ActUp, who brought the issue of HIV to the forefront of American’s minds.
Mrs. Reagan’s death has brought a sigh of relief to my community. While I never celebrate the death of any human being, I do understand.
People are angry, and they have every right to be.
Although anger won’t change the past, it is my hope that we can further heal as a community with her death, more unified than ever before, continuing to press forward towards the goal at hand, a world free of HIV/AIDS.
This article previously appeared in Joshua’s own blog PositiveHope here.