Reagan, a man affectionately dubbed the Great Communicator by his supporters, was excruciatingly, unjustifiably silent about HIV and AIDS. Defenders of the Reagan legacy like to argue that his domestic policy advisers downplayed AIDS to such a degree that the former president never developed a sense of urgency. To accept this, you would also have to believe that Reagan never watched television or picked up a newspaper. The media -- print and television, including the first 24-hour news network, CNN -- were all over AIDS in the 1980s. Histrionic televangelists like Pat Robertson and Rev. Jerry Falwell seized any opportunity to articulate and promote the idea that AIDS was God's wrath upon homosexuals.
Even as the highly publicized illness and subsequent 1985 death of Rock Hudson made headlines and sent a shiver down Hollywood's spine, Reagan remained inexplicably quiet. His friend and colleague, beloved actor and White House state dinner guest, was dead from AIDS. No public comment. What was that about? Indifference?
Had he chosen to speak up after Hudson's death, the world would have listened. Ronald Reagan, the man who confidently parlayed Hollywood stardom into a successful political career, could not have had a more compelling opportunity to open his mouth.
Some carefully chosen words might have squelched the homophobic rhetoric of the day. Some genuine leadership might have generated compassion to counter growing hostility and hysteria about AIDS in America. How profoundly different our world might be today if Reagan had pointed to one insufferable preacher and bellowed, "Rev. Falwell, you sanctimonious turd, sit down and shut up!"
Or what if this man, this piece of all-American craftsmanship, had simply offered an affirmation of plainspoken optimism about AIDS? What if he'd just told us he cared about the lives of the people infected or affected by the virus? In eulogizing the former president, the current occupant of the White House, George W. Bush, told us Ronald Reagan "believed that the gentleman always does the kindest thing." All the recent glorification of his presidency cannot eclipse the fact that when it came to AIDS, Ronald Reagan did not show the world his humanity.”*
It was at this point, in late July 1985,that Hudson publicly announced he had been diagnosed with AIDS. There was a huge outpouring of support, but for the most part, I think it really just f-ed with people’s conception of of AIDS and of homosexuality.
Hudson’s announcement gave AIDS a public (and sympathetic) face, and was one of several moments in the 1980s that helped de-stigmatize the disease and those who suffered from it. It also gave a public face to homosexuality, one that was not stereotypical or the butt of a joke. These were enormous revelations, and their effects are still felt today.