The late 70’s was a turbulent time in American politics. The economy seemed to be sluggish,inflation and interest rates were high and there were recurrent energy shortages. On the international stage the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan with apparent impunity and the Ayatollah Khomeini had come to power in Iran in an anti-American Islamic revolution.
By the time the presidential elections came around in November 1980, 52 Americans had been held in captivity at the US Embassy in Tehran for a year.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Americans placed the blame firmly at the feet of Presidential incumbent Jimmy Carter. Yet despite his unpopularity in the polls, Carter refused to stand aside for a more popular Democratic candidate. In consequence Reagan achieved a landslide victory with a massive majority of 489 electoral colleges votes to 49.
With Margaret Thatcher already in power in the UK, it signalled the beginning of a new Dark Age in global politics.
Subsequent to Reagan’s death in 2004, there have been a number of re-assessments of his politics and actions in relation to lesbian and gay issues. These have focused around two main areas – his perception as an evangelical homophobe and his alleged inaction over the mounting HIV/AIDS crisis. (*See bottom of this post)
His supporters have suggested that he has been misrepresented on both of these issues – with his daughter now going so far as to say that he would have supported gay marriage. Central to this argument is his role in defeating Proposition 6 – the so-called Briggs Initiative – in California in 1978.
This initiative proposed that homosexuals should not only be barred from teaching in public schools but that those already in post should be summarily sacked – along with anyone else who supported gay rights.
This had strong support amongst the Californian electorate with some 61% in favour and only 31% against just two months before the polls. Reagan’s supporters argue that, despite gearing himself up for the upcoming Presidential campaign, he went against the conservative mainstream and publicly opposed the initiative.
The week before the election he wrote an editorial in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner stating:
“Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual’s sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child’s teachers do not really influence this.
Had Proposition 6 been confined to prohibiting the advocacy in the classroom of a homosexual lifestyle (and sex-before-marriage, “swinging.” and adultery, for that matter) it would no doubt enjoy much wider support than it does.”