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AIDS, Gays, Trump–and the Coming Battle?



A friend mentioned the 1987 book And The Band Played On the other day, and since I had it on my bookshelf I grabbed it and showed it to her; it surprised her that I had it. That book is, of course, the late reporter Randy Shilts’ story of the early days of the AIDS epidemic; Randy, who was gay, wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, and during the Eighties he was the only American journalist covering the story fulltime.

I told my friend that I knew a great many of the people mentioned in the book, since I was living in San Francisco at the time, in the Castro District. I’d first read it a long time ago, but decided to re-read it, since any good book is worth multiple reads. I was about halfway through, yesterday, when I was searching through HBO looking for a good movie and inadvertently came across the documentary The Battle of AmFAR, which tells the story of the founding of the American Foundation for AIDS Research by Dr. Mathilde Krim and Elizabeth Taylor. I’d seen that documentary, too, years ago, but, with those far-off days fresh on my mind, decided to re-watch it.

The book and the documentary both made me cry, the latter especially, since the visual images and the sound of Dr. Krim’s and Elizabeth Taylor’s voices are so powerful; and if you went through the epidemic as I did in San Francisco, the emotional memories are seared into your brain. Both those two women, Dr. Krim and Elizabeth, were extraordinary. Elizabeth was absolutely ferocious in battling AIDS, in raising money and consciousness among both healthcare professionals and the general public, and in calling out the Reagan administration for its shocking ignorance of the disease—and I use the word “ignorance” in a dual capacity, for Reagan was both unknowledgeable about AIDS (because he didn’t care) and because he ignored the epidemic throughout his presidency.

As I was watching the documentary I felt that, somehow, there was a connection between all of this and the current situation our country is undergoing, in which a Tea Party-dominated Trump administration is about to take office. There has been a good deal of concern in the LGBT community that Trump is going to be unfriendly to LGBTs. Trump’s surrogates have pointed out, correctly, that he didn’t make an issue of gay marriage during the campaign, and that he actually said he thought transgendered people in North Carolina should be able to use whatever bathroom they preferred.

I am impressed by that, but we have to look beyond Trump’s words to his actions and be on our guard. Whom did he just nominate to head the Department of Health and Human Services? Tom Price, a Republican congressman, who is also an orthopedic surgeon. (Trump initially offered HHS to Dr. Ben Carson, and thank God Carson turned it down; he is a vicious homophobe who’s on the record as claiming that gay marriage will “lead to polygamy…and on from there,” an echo of Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum’s slur that gay marriage will result in humans marrying animals.)

But who is Tom Price, really? He is a Christian, a Georgia Republican whose record on health issues is not reassuring. He is, of course, anti-abortion, and would go so far as to grant “personhood” rights even to zygotes. He’s against federal funding of stem cell research. On LGBT issues, he has a perfect rating—zero—on the issues from the Human Rights Campaign, the leading LGBT organization in the country. When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015, Price said it was “a sad day for marriage.” Price has displayed a Falwellian insanity when it comes to gays, as for instance when he blamed Super-Storm Sandy on New York State’s marriage equality laws.

Now, when I say “Falwellian insanity,” here’s what I mean: Jerry Falwell, one of the most pathologically reactionary and theocratic politicians in U.S. history, said that AIDS was “God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”

And so, you see, we’ve come full circle—back to AIDS, to Reagan’s ignorance of it (in both senses), back to a time of Republican domination, with evangelical intolerance, and back to this impending Trump administration. I don’t give a damn what Trump said or didn’t say about LGBT issues during the campaign (when he told so many lies, you didn’t know what to believe). I care about the people he is appointing to run his government. With this Price nomination, Trump is showing every indication of applying his famous vindictiveness to bludgeon the LGBT community, or to allow religious fanatics who hate gays to determine policy. I can guarantee him that, if he does, the community will fight back, using any means necessary.

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