Monday, March 14, 2016

Why I'm voting for Bernie Sanders in the New York primary

I've been trying to figure out who to vote for in the New York primary, which is coming up on April 19. I had been leaning toward Hillary Clinton, but her recent statement on the supposed contribution the Reagans made to fighting AIDS in the 1980s had changed my mind. I'm going to vote for Bernie Sanders.

A couple of days ago, Hillary Clinton said this about Nancy Reagan, who has just died:
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 conscious and people began to say, "Hey, we have to do something about this too."
This statement is a lie. Both Reagans did their best to ignore HIV/AIDS, and thousands of people in the US, mostly gay men, died while Reagan was president and did nothing to try to stop the epidemic.
Though the World Health Organization was holding meetings about AIDS by 1983, the White House offered little support for awareness of the epidemic. Reagan, who first took office in 1981, didn’t publicly address AIDS until well into his second term. According to ABC, more than 20,000 Americans had died from the disease by the time he first spoke about it....
The Reagans were eventually swayed to react to AIDS by the death of a close friend. Rock Hudson, at the peak of his career, was Brad Pitt-level famous — and beloved by women internationally. He was also gay, but famous at a time when being publicly gay could ruin a successful career (even if you weren't a star) so he stayed silent about his sexuality. In the mid '80, however, he developed AIDS, becoming one of the most prominent American figures to suffer from the disease, and bringing it to the forefront of the nation’s news cycle. 
As his condition deteriorated, Hudson, in France at the time, reached out for help from the White House in getting treatment from a specific French doctor and hospital. The first lady rebuffed him, saying it would be inappropriate to offer such a favor for Hudson and “appear to favor personal friends” and felt, instead, it was a matter the United States Embassy in Paris should address. Hudson died from the disease only a few months later.
For several years, whenever the issue of AIDS was raised at press briefings in the White House, the typical answer was homophobic jokes and laughter.

Clinton has apologized for her ahistorical lie (Why on earth did she say it? Is she really so ignorant that she didn't know how the Reagan administration reacted to the AIDS epidemic?), first in a short statement and then in a longer essay published on Medium.

Her first statement, via Twitter:

In her essay in Medium, she wrote, "To be clear, the Reagans did not start a national conversation about HIV and AIDS. That distinction belongs to generations of brave lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, along with straight allies, who started not just a conversation but a movement that continues to this day."

Notice that she was still unable to say the truth - that President and Nancy Reagan obstructed the treatment of AIDS and research into AIDS and thereby led to the deaths of thousands of people in the US. 

Why does this matter to me personally?

In the early 1980s I was working for a typesetting and graphics company in Cambridge, Mass., owned by a gay man named David Stryker, called Xanadu Graphics. For several years he had typeset Gay Community News (the weekly gay and lesbian newspaper in Boston), and then they started doing it in-house, while he ran his own business. When I worked for him we typeset a wide range of publications, including books for Beacon Press, a weekly newsletter about pollution and environmental issues, the newsletter for Career Services (or whatever it was called at the time) for Harvard University, a Christian newsletter (they clearly didn't know David Stryker was gay), a publication on Islamic art also from Harvard, and many other things. 

David Stryker got AIDS, and died of it, very early in the epidemic - on November 18, 1984. (I found his date of death on a list of "our faerie ancestors" published by I knew that he was sick and that he died, but our new boss didn't tell us (at least he didn't tell me) that Dave had died of AIDS - I was furious when I finally found out. 

Unlike a lot of other people I knew about AIDS pretty early on because GCN covered it extensively from the beginning, back when people talked about Kaposi's Sarcoma as the symptom and called it Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disorder (link is to a 1982 article in the New York Times, published before it was known how HIV/AIDS is spread).

Last year I started trying to get more information about Stryker online, but I wasn't able to find very much, and what I did find was fairly derogatory, so I'm not going to reproduce it here. But Dave Stryker was very important for the gay liberation movement in Boston in the 1970s and early 1980s. He got GCN on its feet as a real typeset newspaper, not simply mimeographed sheets. He was also the typesetter for Fag Rag, a radical gay men's journal. More people should know about his work.

Hillary Clinton's little billet-doux to Nancy Reagan erased David Stryker's life and death, and the lives and deaths of so many gay men, injection drug users, and people of color who suffered from HIV/AIDS in those years. It was despicable, and her apology is no apology - it continues the same deception as her original statement.

If she ends up getting nominated by the Democrats I'll vote for her in the general election, because she's better than any of the Republicans running for president - the whole pack of pathetic, gay-hating, racist, hypocritical Bible-thumpers who exploit the real suffering of so many Americans - but I'd much prefer a candidate with a spine who really does stand up for human rights and working people.

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