Box Turtle Bulletin’s Jim Burroway notes that today is the 27th anniversary since former GOP presidential candidate and Nixon adviser Pat Buchanan published an op-ed in the New York Post arguing that the AIDS epidemic was just God seeking revenge against gay people. As Randy Shilts describes it in The Band Played On, Buchanan’s piece preceded President Ronald Reagan’s comments on the crisis and served as a trial balloon for influential figures on the religious right:
“The sexual revolution has begun to devour its children. And among the revolutionary vanguard, as Gay rights activists, the morality rate is highest and climbing….The poor homosexuals — they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution,” Buchanan wrote.
Like most extremists, Buchanan did not strive for any particular consistency in his arguments. He drew on Kevin Cahill’s assertion of a “conspiracy of silence” about AIDS among doctors to support the contention that liberals were covering up the horrible threat to Americans posted by AIDS-carrying homosexuals. He conjured the image of San Francisco’s police officers putting on their masks and gloves to establish the danger of AIDS. After citing many irrelevant medical statistics, Buchanan concluded by saying no homosexual should be permitted to handle food and that the Democratic party’s decision to hold their next convention in San Francisco would leave delegates’ spouses and children at the mercy of “homosexuals who belong to a community that is a common carrier of dangerous, communicable and sometimes fatal diseases.”
It’s worth pointing out that while public attitudes towards gay people have certainly improved, the above sentiment is still shared by some very influential figures on the religious right. Today’s conservatives — from Bob Vander Plaats of the Family Leader to Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association and beyond — may use milder language when they liken homosexuality to second hand cigarette smoke or argue that gay teachers shouldn’t be allowed near children, but their philosophies and beliefs are ultimately rooted and founded in Buchanan’s homophobia. That history makes Newt Gingrich’s, Tim Pawlenty’s, and Rick Santorum’s willingness to associate with and defend these groups even more outrageous.
Buchanan, meanwhile, continues working as a respected and sought after conservative commentator and serves as a paid contributor on MSNBC.