Frequently touted as the "President who won the Cold War" and "The Great Communicator," the Republican party has gone rabid in recent weeks in an orgiastic display of hero worship, capitalizing on his birthday in order to sell Reagan memorabilia. The Republican party, you see, is deeply in debt by millions, a legacy left behind by Michael Steele, the former party chair.
As I see this adulation of "The Great Communicator," I find myself pondering the legacy of the 40th president, and I wonder what there is to inspire this level of worship. Gay folk have very little to thank him for, and if you were an adult during the time of his presidency, you would have a lot of reason to hate him.
Here's the thing: AIDS started appearing during the Reagan years. Suddenly, gay people were dropping like flies. We needed an organized plan to fight this disease, and we needed strong leadership to help those sickened and dying.
We needed the "Great Communicator" to communicate about more than space aliens (that's right, he was concerned about attacks from space). We needed our president to address something that was killing us off by the thousands. 20-30,000 of us died in those dark years before he even said the word AIDS.
Instead of advocating practices to halt the spread of HIV, his administration attacked the surgeon general for promoting the use of condoms. Instead of pouring money into fighting against this deadly virus, the CDC was underfunded.
Instead of protecting thousands of Americans, he avoided even talking about their deaths as if they hadn't existed. Because we were gay. Because we were "icky."
We did exist. People watched as their partners, loved ones, friends wasted away and died in agony. They didn't have to, but we have the Reagan administration to thank for that.
I have HIV.
I'm lucky. I'm very lucky. I contracted the virus during a time when America pays attention. My medicine is so powerful that I have stayed undetectable for the past year, and I believe that I will live a rich and full life well into old age. Reagan lived to be 93, and I believe I will get there someday.
There were too many that didn't. People who died in their 20s, 30s, 40s-- young Ryan White, who taught America that people with AIDS had faces, didn't even live to see his high school graduation.
Legacies. These people are the legacy of Ronald Reagan. As the reverence and idolatry of this man reaches its climax today, all I can think about are the people he wouldn't admit existed. They did. Their flames burnt bright and died out, and we will always remember them.
Happy Birthday, Ronald Reagan.