Jonathan Van Ness responds to backlash over his Ronald Reagan HIV/AIDS comments: ‘As a comedian I do joke sometimes’

Queer Eye‘s Jonathan Van Ness has responded to the backlash over his comments about former president Ronald Reagan, reminding his critics: “As a comedian I do joke sometimes.”

The controversial comments were made in a 2018 video in which the Fab Five go to town on Bernie Sanders’ fashion style.

The Netflix stars’ critique quickly veers into politics, and the video ends with Van Ness saying: “And, Ronald Reagan, could he be bothered to mention HIV/AIDS? No, but he could be bothered to put some gel in his hair, and I just feel like that is a thing.”

Reagan has been widely condemned for his approach to HIV/AIDS in the early days of the pandemic, which at the time was known as “the gay plague”.

Although the virus was first identified in 1981, Reagan refused to mention it publicly until 1985, let alone support active measures to contain it. Astonishingly, the Reagan’s administration’s first reaction to the crisis was to treat it as a joke.

Van Ness is HIV-positive himself and recently opened up about his diagnosis to push back against the “stigmatisation of the LGBT+ community” in the Trump era.

In light of this his earlier comments didn’t go down well, with many on Twitter concerned that he was misusing his privileged position to downplay the danger of the AIDS epidemic and Reagan’s policies overall.

Jonathan Van Ness responded by tweeting: “For y’all bringing this video up. These are tongue & cheek and meant to not be taken so seriously. I bring up Reagan’s inaction on HIV/AIDS and as a comedian I do joke sometimes. This video is almost 2 years old and again a joke.”

While some criticised Van Ness for not issuing a full apology, others supported him, pointing out that he has been more than vocal about HIV awareness and education since going public with his diagnosis.

Others noted that he takes a more serious tone on the matter in his podcast Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, and regularly condemns Reagan for his lacklustre response to HIV/AIDS.