This hysterical magazine cover was produced by the Moral Majority – one of America’s New Right lobbyists – in 1983. It epitomises the myths they promoted about AIDS to further their political agenda. For example:
- The fact that the family are wearing face masks suggests a high level of infectivity – something that was known to be untrue.
- Similarly, referring to AIDS as a ‘homosexual disease’ (in the same vein as calling it ‘the gay plague’) implies that it is somehow the consequence of being gay. By 1983 it was increasingly obvious that AIDS was by not restricted to gay men. Indeed, from a global perspective, the greater majority of people with AIDS were heterosexuals. (Although no one ever suggested heterosexuality as the ’cause’ of AIDS.)
- But these were inconvenient truths for the New Right and other moral entrepreneurs. Evangelists had long espoused the view that homosexuality presented a moral threat to ‘family life’. Now, by spouting these myths, they could also claim that it was a medical threat too.
These were the most obvious messages, but there are also subliminal ones here too. For one thing, I don’t think it’s an accident that the family is a white one (and with ‘Dad’ very clearly at the head). For another, there’s an assumption that queer people don’t have families.
It comes as no surprise that a group like the Moral Majority would produce this kind of material: sensitivity towards those affected by AIDS and accurate reporting of the facts were never a consideration.
What is depressing, however, is that this image effectively epitomises the position of the Reagan adminstration too. When Reagan first mentioned the word AIDS – in response to a question from as journalist in 1985 – he refused to rule out the possibility of casual transmission. The Centres for Disease Control had issued a detailed statement back in 1983 that this was not a possiblity.
When he declared his determination to do something about AIDS – in 1987 – he essentially declared that it was a problem because heterosexuals were now dying.
There’s more information on Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority as well as a detailed examination of the Reagan administration in my downloadable eBook Gay in the 80s, available here.