1985 September 17

President Reagan Finally Breaks Silence on HIV/AIDS Epidemic


President Ronald Reagan on this day finally broke his silence and for the first time as president publicly spoke about the HIV/AIDS crisis. Beholden to the Religious Right, which adamantly opposed any acknowledgement of homosexuality or federal programs to combat the disease, Reagan had not publicly spoken on the subject since becoming president in January 1981.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued its first report on the epidemic on June 5, 1981, and the New York Times published its first story on it on July 3, 1981.

Reagan’s comments came during a press conference on this day, in response to a question about federally-funded research on AIDS. Reagan explained that the federal budget for the current year included $100 million for AIDS research and that the budget for the coming year would be “half a billion dollars.”

AIDS activists harshly criticized Reagan for his silence and for failing to support AIDS research. In fact, federal spending on the subject increased from $8 million in 1982 to a proposed $26.5 million in 1983, which Congress increased to $44 million. It then doubled the following year. It is a matter of debate whether these amounts were adequate, given the seriousness of the epidemic.

Don’t miss: David France, How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of  How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS (1916)

Learn more about the early years of the AIDS crisis: Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1988)

Study a timeline on HIV/AIDS: http://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/aids-timeline/

Read about President Reagan’s record on civil liberties: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama (2012)


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