Reagan administration laughed off the AIDS crisis

By October, 1982, the AIDS epidemic was exploding. Over 600 dying or dead in its first year since discovery. The medical establishment was alarmed. It had never seen an illness like this. But the Reagan administration didn't care. The victims were gay. The Reagan administration laughed away the deaths of hundreds, then thousands of Americas, and did nothing. It was not until Reagan was out of office, in 1991, that the Ryan White CARE Act finally provided federal help for the (by then) hundreds of thousands of Americans living with HIV.

Andrew Sullivan digs up some history:
Transcript of a press conference by Larry Speakes, presidential spokesman, on October 15, 1982. It speaks for itself:

Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?


Q: Over a third of them have died. It's known as "gay plague." (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it's a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?

MR. SPEAKES: I don't have it. Do you? (Laughter.)

Q: No, I don't.

MR. SPEAKES: You didn't answer my question.

Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President ...

MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)

Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?

MR. SPEAKES: No, I don't know anything about it, Lester.

Q: Does the President, does anyone in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?

MR. SPEAKES: I don't think so. I don't think there's been any ...

Q: Nobody knows?

MR. SPEAKES: There has been no personal experience here, Lester.

Q: No, I mean, I thought you were keeping ...

MR. SPEAKES: I checked thoroughly with Dr. Ruge this morning and he's had no - (laughter) - no patients suffering from AIDS or whatever it is.

Q: The President doesn't have gay plague, is that what you're saying or what?

MR. SPEAKES: No, I didn't say that.

Q: Didn't say that?

MR. SPEAKES: I thought I heard you on the State Department over there. Why didn't you stay there? (Laughter.)

Q: Because I love you Larry, that's why (Laughter.)

MR. SPEAKES: Oh I see. Just don't put it in those terms, Lester. (Laughter.)

Q: Oh, I retract that.

MR. SPEAKES: I hope so.

Q: It's too late.
By this December 11, 1984 news conference, the number of victims had increased from 600 to 300,000, still with little known about the disease or its treatment. Yet, the Reagan administration continued to ignore it, and continued to laugh:
Q: An estimated 300,000 people have been exposed to AIDS, which can be transmitted through saliva. Will the President, as Commander-in-Chief, take steps to protect Armed Forces food and medical services from AIDS patients or those who run the risk of spreading AIDS in the same manner that they forbid typhoid fever people from being involved in the health or food services?

MR. SPEAKES: I don't know.

Q: Could you -- Is the President concerned about this subject, Larry --

MR. SPEAKES: I haven't heard him express--

Q: --that seems to have evoked so much jocular--

MR. SPEAKES: --concern.

Q: --reaction here? I -- you know --

Q: It isn't only the jocks, Lester.

Q: Has he sworn off water faucets--

Q: No, but, I mean, is he going to do anything, Larry?

MR. SPEAKES: Lester, I have not heard him express anything on it. Sorry.

Q: You mean he has no -- expressed no opinion about this epidemic?

MR. SPEAKES: No, but I must confess I haven't asked him about it. (Laughter.)

Q: Would you ask him Larry?

MR. SPEAKES: Have you been checked? (Laughter.)