Open letter asks Clinton to do more for the ‘pain caused’ by her mistake on Reagans’ AIDS record

Hillary Clinton faces fresh calls to do more to make amends for claiming that Nancy and Ronald Reagan helped to start a “national conversation” on AIDS.

The Democratic Presidential frontrunner on Saturday issued a lengthy apology in a statement, after originally saying she “misspoke” on the issue, when she made the claim at Nancy Reagan’s funeral.

Many have taken to social media to express outrage, with some suggesting Mrs Clinton was attempting to “rewrite history”.

Clinton later tweeted a statement from her official Twitter account which read: “While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, I missspoke about their record on HIV and AIDS. For that, I’m sorry.”

The Reagan White House is mainly remembered by activists for its callous disregard for the AIDS epidemic, with one chilling recording featuring Reagan’s press secretary laughing about gay people’s deaths, after a question from a reporter.

A new letter from a number of LGBT, human rights and HIV/AIDS groups have now written an open letter urging Clinton to do more to make amends for the gaffe.

The letter, sent earlier this week on Clinton urges her to work with the groups “to transform the pain caused” by the “mischaracterisation of the Reagans’ role in the AIDS crisis”.

Hoping to turn the controversy into an “urgently needed public discussion of a plan to end” HIV in the United States by 2025.

The letter goes on to point out a lack of funding, despite healthcare to stop HIV/AIDS in its tracks, including PrEP, and other treatments and preventative measures.

It says the US “urgently needs a more aggressive federal strategy and framework” to implement local and national measures to stop the transmission of HIV.

The groups ask Clinton to meet with them on the back of the controversy, in order to form a strategy.

She may be wise to respond, as Bernie Sanders is seeking to capitalise on outrage over the comments – by courting activists with his own comprehensive plan.

Read the letter in full, and all of its signatories, below:

March 14, 2016
Secretary Hillary Clinton

Hillary for America

Post Office Box 5256

New York, NY 10185-5256

Dear Secretary Clinton:

We are longtime HIV/AIDS survivors, family members, friends, and partners of loved ones lost to the AIDS epidemic over the past 35 years, and advocates for the 1.2 million Americans still living with HIV and those around the world still facing the AIDS crisis.* We write to you in the sincere hope that we can work together to transform the pain caused by your March 11th mischaracterization of the Reagans’ role in the AIDS crisis into an urgently needed public discussion of a plan to end the United States HIV epidemic by the year 2025.

As you have acknowledged over the past several days, in order to realize a viable vision for our future together, the darkest time in our shared history of AIDS must be remembered with accuracy, and we must be able to acknowledge the true heroes and successful strategies amassed in the fight against HIV, both past and present. President Reagan did not utter the words “AIDS” or “HIV” publicly until 1985, and his first speech about HIV/AIDS was not given until 1987, by which point over 40,000 people had died of AIDS-related causes.

Silence still equals death, Secretary Clinton. We now have the tools to stop HIV transmission and AIDS deaths, and some of our most affected urban centers like New York City and San Francisco are making dramatic progress towards realistic goals to end their epidemics as early as 2020. Yet our national HIV response has stagnated, with no reduction in the past decade in the 50,000 avoidable new HIV infections each year. Indeed, some regions of our country are losing ground in the fight, with tragically increasing rates of new infections and premature mortality.

We know that your longer-term political record reflects a true commitment to the HIV/AIDS response and to universal access to affordable health care. The Clinton Foundation has dedicated many resources and played a crucial role in many milestones, including reducing costs of first-line generic HIV drugs globally. In your campaign website’s “LGBT initiatives” section, you voice your commitment to affordable HIV treatment and prevention, including new tools like PrEP. And in your 2011 remarks at the National Institutes of Health, you were also the first to publicly set the global goal of an “AIDS-free generation.”

As a result of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion in some states, and new HIV prevention tools, ending the national HIV/AIDS epidemic is truly within our reach. Indeed, a rapidly growing community-driven national coalition, comprised of organizations including Housing Works, Treatment Action Group, GMHC, Latino Commission on AIDS, Human Rights Campaign, ACT UP New York, Southern AIDS Coalition, National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, NMAC (formerly known as National Minority AIDS Council), San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and AIDS Foundation of Chicago, among others, is already initiating a campaign to end the AIDS epidemic in the United States by the year 2025. To pursue and achieve that goal, we must look first to the efforts and successes of those who have exhibited leadership and vision in pursuing this objective and call upon others to follow that lead.

In June 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo showed tremendous courage by committing New York State to be the first jurisdiction in the nation and around the globe to end AIDS as an epidemic and announcing a three-point plan to achieve that objective by 2020. In 2015, he appointed a Task Force to develop a Blueprint to carry out that plan. That Ending the Epidemic (ETE) Blueprint now serves as the foundation for budget and policy priorities for reaching the 2020 goal, and its implementation is underway.

Governor Cuomo’s bold commitment sparked national and global interest and action. Since 2014, other U.S. jurisdictions, including Washington State, Colorado, and San Francisco, have seized the opportunity to end their local HIV/AIDS epidemics; and similar efforts are underway in Atlanta, Texas, and Massachusetts. By following New York’s lead by pushing for expanded HIV testing, early antiretroviral treatment and essential services for people with HIV, as well as access to targeted HIV prevention tools such as PrEP for people at high risk, it is now possible for U.S. localities to launch viable plans to end their HIV/AIDS epidemics.

UNAIDS’ ambitious call to end the AIDS epidemic worldwide by the year 2030, too, is a goal that is within our reach, but it’s also true that if a well-resourced United States cannot end our epidemic, then we will most certainly lose that global fight.

In his final State of the Union address, President Obama asserted that “we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS. That’s within our grasp.” To make that a reality, however, the nation urgently needs a more aggressive federal strategy and framework to support such local plans and a deeper federal commitment to end the national HIV/AIDS epidemic.

We ask for you to prioritize the establishment of strategies to end the U.S. and global HIV/AIDS epidemics as a key component of your campaign platform. To that end, we propose the following:
the appointment of an HIV advisor for your campaign; a meeting with you and HIV community leadership at your earliest convenience to discuss creating a viable plan to end the national epidemic, one that honors the many Americans we have lost to AIDS, and that recognizes, engages, respects, and supports the many Americans with HIV and those who will become HIV-positive unless we take action—at the rate of 40,000 to 50,000 new annual infections if current national trends persist; your announcement of a commitment to end AIDS as an epidemic in the United States by 2025. This commitment would include convening a Community Advisory Panel of community and public health experts and government officials; working with the panel to develop a detailed strategy for a national plan to end the AIDS epidemic by 2025; and developing financial commitments using increased funding to established federal programs; and support ending the global AIDS pandemic by increasing funding to the global PEPFAR program by at least $2 billion per year by 2020 to double the number of people on treatment and provide additional funding for an initiative to address the social and economic drivers of HIV, poverty, and inequality.

The good news is that tremendous progress has been made since the 1980s. Indeed, there has never been a more hopeful time or a better window of opportunity in the fight to end AIDS. To achieve that dream, we need a comprehensive national strategy that utilizes and leverages every resource to finally bring this scourge to an end. Creating and implementing that strategy calls for vision, fortitude, and tenacity from you and other leaders. We strongly urge you to join with us NOW to seize this opportunity.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue and we look forward to meeting with you.


Jose Abrigo, Staff Attorney, LGBTQ/HIV Advocacy Project, Queens Legal Services


ACT UP New York

African Services Committee

AIDS Action Baltimore

AIDS Alabama

AIDS Foundation of Chicago

Albany Damien Center

Amida Care


Bailey House

John Barry, LMSW, Executive Director, Southern Tier AIDS Program

BOOM! Health

Rebecca Botting

Bronx Parent Housing Network

Reginald T. Brown, M. Ed., Unity Fellowship of Christ Church, VOCAL-NY Community Leader

Central New York HIV Care Network

Coalition for Homeless Youth

JD Davids,

Sharen I. Duke, Executive Director and CEO, AIDS Service Center NYC (ASCNYC)

Sergio Farfan, Louisiana Latino Health Coalition for HIV/AIDS

Ingrid Floyd, Executive Director, Iris House

Miasha Forbes, Human Rights Activist and Founder, Just for Us: Gender Diversity Project


Health GAP

Health People

Hispanic Health Network

HIV Prevention Justice Alliance

Housing Works

Brian Hujdich, Pozitively Health Coalition

Human Rights Campaign

Hyacinth AIDS Foundation

Carine Jocelyn, CEO, Diaspora Community Services, Brooklyn, NY

Marsha Jones, the Afiya Center

Howard Josepher, LCSW, President & CEO, Exponents

Jacquelyn Kilmer, CEO, Harlem United

Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn

Latino Commission on AIDS

Latinos in the Deep South

LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York

Matthew McMorrow, former Director of Government Affairs, Empire State Pride Agenda

David Ernesto Munar, CEO, Howard Brown Health

National Black Justice Coalition

National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS

NMAC (formerly known as the National Minority AIDS Council)

OASIS-Latino LGBTS Wellness Center

Chuck Peterson, Executive Director, Clare Housing, Minneapolis, MN

Michael Emanuel Rajner, Wilton Manors, FL

Kyle Rapinon, Esq., Director of Survival and Self-Determination, Sylvia Rivera Law Project

Elana Redfield, Attorney and LGBTQI Activist

Dr. Margaret S. Reneau, Director of Programs, National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS

Eric Sawyer, Founding Member—ACT UP, Co-Founder Housing Works, Inc. & Health GAP, Inc.

Virginia Shubert, Shubert Botein Policy Associates

Southern Tier AIDS Program

Peter Staley

Rev. Moonhawk River Stone, M.S., LMHC, RiverStone Consulting, Schenectady, NY

Daniel W. Tietz, Chief Special Services Officer, NYC Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services

Treatment Action Group

Trillium Health/Rochester

Peter Twyman, CEO, Keep a Child Alive

Andrew Velez, ACT UP New York


Tom Viola, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

VOCAL New York

Washington Heights CORNER Project

David W. Webber, Attorney

John Wikiera, Central NY HIV Care Network

Terri L. Wilder, MSW

Doug Wirth, President/CEO, Amida Care

Young Black Gay Leadership Initiative (YBGLI)