By Monty Archambo
Ronald Reagan was the president of the United States of America from 1981–1986. The first reported American case of what would eventually be known as HIV/AIDS was in 1980. The negligence Reagan showed toward this crisis would not only lead to the deaths of six hundred thousand people (dosomethingaboutit.org), but would be considered a genocide among some circles.
It feels like queer history books always need to be ordered from other libraries.
While researchers, doctors, lobbyists, federal politicians and civilians were fighting tooth and nail to receive less than functional funding, Reagan, whose administration said AIDS was the number one priority, did less than nothing. Reagan allocated the money other places, such as toxic shock syndrome and cyanide-laced over-the-counter pills. While these issues are important, they affected fewer than 10 people in the 80s (toxic shock has decreased even more since then to affecting 0.02% of population). Yet they received millions of dollars while AIDs study facilities were having to punch holes in the walls to condition the air right to be a proper lab. Reagan did not help because of which populations AIDS infected. AIDS primarily affected “the gays,” drug addicts, incarcerated people, generally impoverished people and people of color.
Now why did I give you this brief grossly oversimplified history lesson? Firstly it is because I always see Reagan ranked in the top ten presidents despite his actions. To be fair, he is ranked among other imperialist bigoted men—but that is a whole other can of worms. Secondly and more importantly, it is because I have spoken with LGBTQ+ peers regarding Raegan, and most either thought he was a good president or didn’t know who he was.
This generation of the queer community does not know our own history in America, much less globally. We know often vague, unreliable and watered down versions of our history like the one I just gave. This is not our fault—western queer history is incredibly hard to access, and non western is even harder. Our school libraries do not carry our stories and history. It feels like queer history books always need to be ordered from other libraries. For most online movie services the genre LGBTQ+ will most likely set off parental controls, and does not give us any information. In the curriculum we learn from school we are given a subtitle at best. To begin researching, it is not only hard to find out where to access information, but that information is expensive, time consuming and overall inaccessible.
Student activists can only do so much in this fight; we need adults to start helping to get us connected to resources.
Our school and public libraries need, at the barest of minimums, books surrounding the big points of queer history, especially the ones still impacting students’ lives. It should not fall on me to start the conversation in history class discussion points and conversations with other queer youth with these history lessons. As much as I love being a resource, it is sad how little we know. Student activists can only do so much in this fight; we need adults to start helping to get us connected to resources. I love board game night as much as the next person, but I am sure we can sacrifice one of these nights to learn about our history. This could involve going to the local library or bookstore to get books, having a movie night, making zines to pass around the community. We need something, anything to begin to learn the history we come from.