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The absence of leadership during the coronavirus means silence still equals death

Able leadership demands the transcendence of personal shortcomings.  With Reagan-era levels of apathy and repeated references to Covid as the “China Virus” (invoking the tactics of the ’80s when AIDS was branded a “Gay Disease”), the parallels between Trump’s mismanaging of Covid and Reagan’s mishandling of HIV-AIDS are chilling. Their legacies confirm the grim reality that bigotry, classism and elitism kills. It is clear that Silence=Death, the mantra and defining image used by the ACT UP organization and others to promote visibility for AIDS, still applies.

For many in modern day America, “really bad things” like Covid-19 have always happened elsewhere. But naivety was ripped from me 40 years ago when most of my dear friends contracted a virus that turned vibrant, healthy young men into shell‐shocked, grief stricken, walking skeletons

Discarded by their country and often disowned by family, our small, historically fractured gay community rose up in unity, strength and newfound courage.  For years, day after day, we cared for our sick, buried our dead, and sacrificed for one another – in large part because Ronald Reagan turned a blind eye on the crisis.  Reagan’s inaction was tied to apathy and a lack of empathy toward the populations most vulnerable to HIV, as was confirmed with painstaking detail by San Francisco Chronicle journalist Randy Shilts in his 1987 book, And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic.  

Channeling our grief and rage, we demanded our country’s support through every means possible, from the power of diplomacy and the elegance of the arts to new, in-your-face forms of civil disobedience.  We “Acted Up,” knowing that “Silence=Death,” and we schooled our public officials in what we could achieve when fighting for our lives, together. And we grieved.  And grieved again and again…READ MORE