Reagan Administration, AIDS, HIV, Homophobia, Politicization, Public Health Crises, Epidemic


1981 not only commenced Ronald Reagan’s presidency but also marked the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The early framing of the disease as an exclusively homosexual affliction disadvantaged gay communities. This sexually transmitted disease proliferated across the United States; yet, the AIDS epidemic failed to reach the Reagan administration as a top priority until it was too late. When discussing the Reagan administration’s early response to AIDS, historians tend to follow one of two positions: avoid mentioning the disease and in its entirety; or blame Reagan’s homophobia for the deaths of thousands of Americans. The Reagan administration’s delayed response to the AIDS epidemic reveals the deadly consequences of a society primarily structured by heteronormativity and political expediency. From Federal internal suppression to public dismissal, the strategies to combat the AIDS epidemic highlight the politicization of public health issues that continue to plague the people of the United States.