NEW YORK – Hillary Clinton apologized Friday after gay-rights and AIDS activists assailed her for saying Nancy Reagan helped start a “national conversation” about AIDS in the 1980s, when protesters were struggling to get more federal help in fighting the disease.
Clinton, one of two contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, made her initial comments in an interview with MSNBC during its coverage of Nancy Reagan’s funeral.
Soon after the interview aired, MSNBC’s Twitter feed was flooded with comments accusing Clinton of misrepresenting history and insulting the 1980s activists who pressured elected officials to step up the response to AIDS. Clinton soon apologized.
“While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, I misspoke about their record on HIV and AIDS. For that, I am sorry,” Clinton said on her Twitter account.
Many activists remain bitter at Ronald Reagan and his administration for what they view as a devastatingly slow response to AIDS. Though initial reports of the disease surfaced in 1981, President Reagan did not make his first public speech about it until 1987, by which time it had killed more than 20,000 Americans.
In her MSNBC interview, Clinton was complimentary to both Reagans with regard to their stance on AIDS.
“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,” Clinton said.
“And you know that too is something that I really appreciate with her very effective, low-key advocacy but it penetrated the public conscience. And people began to say, ‘Hey, we have to do something about this too.”‘
Peter Staley, a veteran AIDS activist based in New York, tweeted that Clinton’s remarks were “the most offensive thing possible 4 my generation of LGBT Americans.”
Clinton, in her race against Bernie Sanders, has received extensive support for LGBT advocacy groups and donors. The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT rights group, has endorsed her, incurring some criticism from Sanders supporters who say his record on LGBT rights is strong.
The president of the Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin, issued a brief statement Friday that avoided any criticism of Clinton.
“While I respect her advocacy in other areas including stem cell and Parkinson’s research, Nancy Reagan was, sadly, no hero in the fight against HIV,” Griffin said.
Tanya Domi, a New York-based LGBT activist and staunch Clinton supporter, was relieved by the candidate’s speedy apology.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Hillary Clinton is very tired and committed a gaffe,” Domi said on Facebook. “At the same time, keep in mind the Clinton Global Initiative’s work on HIV/AIDS has saved millions of people’s lives. Millions. But she made a mistake and quickly corrected herself. That is good enough for me.”