Listen: President Reagan’s staff joked about gay people’s deaths during AIDS crisis

Chilling audio features President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary laughing about gay people’s deaths during the AIDS crisis.

The clip appears in filmmaker Scott Calonico’s new documentary short, When AIDS Was Funny – which debuted on Vanity Fair today to mark World AIDS Day.

Reagan was President for much of the AIDS crisis during the 1980s, and has long been accused of failing to act over what was seen as a ‘gay’ disease at the time.

The President failed to even mention AIDS in public until 1985 – four years after it was first reported in 1981. 5000 people, primarily-gay and bisexual men, died of AIDS before Reagan even mentioned it.

However, the new documentary sheds light on just how extreme the contempt was in Reagan’s administration for the people who lost their lives during the AIDS crisis.

The recording features Reagan’s press secretary Larry Speakes laughing about the crisis when challenged by reporter Lester Kinsolving during a 1982 press briefing.
Listen: President Reagan’s staff joked about gay people’s deaths during AIDS crisis
When Kinsolving asked about the epidemic A-I-D-S during the press conference, Speakes wisecracked: “I don’t have it… Do you?”

The reporter explains that 600 cases of AIDS had been recorded and a third of people had died, but Speakes continued to joke that Kinsolving must be gay because he knew of the disease, claiming: “There has been no personal experience here [in the White House.”

His comments are met with laughter erupting from the other reporters in the room – seconds after Kinsolving explained that hundreds of people had lost their lives.

Reagan did not give a major speech about the AIDS epidemic until 1987, when the death count had passed 20,000 people.

Watch the clip below (this might take a second to load…)