Gays Recall a Silent Great Communicator
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 13, 2004; Page D01
The braless women were marching along 17th Street, near Dupont Circle, shouting, "What do you want? Dyke rights! When do you want it? Now!" Onlookers seemed nonchalant about it all.
"It's very, very important that if you live here," said resident Patrick Kealy, "you let people be as they are."
This was just the walkup to yesterday's gay pride parade, a precursor to today's Capital Pride Street Festival. Today, on Pennsylvania Avenue -- America's Main Street -- organizers say some 100,000 gays and their friends are expected to gather along the same route that Ronald Reagan's funeral procession took last week.
The irony is not lost on many who recall the 40th president's legacy differently from its portrayal in many of last week's events. In 1981, the first year of the Reagan presidency, the District hosted its first gay pride parade and AIDS, then known as the "gay cancer," entered the American consciousness.
For many who celebrated gay pride week here, the president eulogized as someone who "never made an adversary into an enemy" was invisible when they needed him.
"Where was he?! Where was he during AIDS?!" Wayne Wilson is yelling in Cobalt, a bar at 17th and R that is kicking off a gay pride party Friday with balloons, $2 sour apple puckers in test tubes, and Beyonce blaring. Wilson, sipping on vodka and Red Bull, ticks off the friends he lost in the early and mid-'80s.
"There was John! Then David!"
Wilson doesn't think Reagan was homophobic. He just thinks the president "was too much of a good ol' cowboy," to be worried, to get alarmed.
The 49-year-old physical therapist leans forward, whispers, "I think it's kind of fitting. He gets buried on the night we're all here."
Many gays who grew up in the Reagan era don't remember "Reagan, the Great Communicator," "Reagan, the Optimist," or "Reagan, the Idealist." What they remember is an administration that cracked wise the first time it was asked about AIDS.
The exchange is making the rounds on the Internet, e-mailed from friend to friend. In the White House Briefing Room transcript dated October 15, 1982, White House press secretary Larry Speakes is asked:
Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement -- the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?
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