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The 10 Greatest Villains of the AIDS Epidemic

The history of the AIDS epidemic is littered with people who, through malice or cowardice, made an unimaginably awful situation even worse.

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Last Known Whereabouts: Reagan repaid Heckler for her failures with an ambassadorship to Ireland, a job for which she was apparently better suited. A couple of months ago, the Department of Health and Human Services celebrated Heckler during Women’s History Month as “ a pioneer,” which is sort of true.

Andrew Sullivan, Pundit

Crime: Before calling the American coasts a “ fifth column” for not humping the Iraq war; before endorsing Paul Ryan’s plan to dismantle Medicare as “serious”; before he made his living posting photos of reader windowscapes -- before all this, Andrew Sullivan was arguably the most influential gay writer in America. And in 1996, in the wake of the introduction of protease inhibitors, he -- along with less notable opinion-shapers -- was happy to tell readers of the New York Times Magazine that “this plague” -- the AIDS epidemic -- “ is over.” Gabriel Rotello wrote despairingly about what happened next: “As the meds came into use, people began celebrating. … Mainstream journalists took their cue and largely dropped the subject.”

Last Known Whereabouts: Sullivan is blogging for the Daily Beast and contributing to Newsweek. He has since mea culpa’d his Iraq war advocacy, but he’s stood his ground on the notorious Times article: “And yet, 10 years on,” he  wrote in 2007, “everything in it was right.” Yes, everything except for the plague being over.

Abe Rosenthal, New York Times executive editor

Crime: True, Walter Duranty praised Joseph Stalin, but at least he covered him! The Times, under Rosenthal, ignored AIDS and wouldn't even use the word “ gay” to denote homosexuals. Nor would it cover a benefit thrown by Gay Men’s Health Crisis, even though it took place in the Times’ backyard at Madison Square Garden, was sold out and boasted a “Star Spangled Banner” conducted by Leonard Frickin’ Bernstein. The paper only published an important series on AIDS after Max Frankel replaced Rosenthal -- whose reign was notoriously unfriendly to gays.

Last Known Whereabouts: Rosenthal was a “ weeper and egomaniac, womanizer and homophobe, chauvinist and tyrant” -- under his editorship everything was not fit to print. When he died in 2006, it was widely agreed that Rosenthal’s tenure was a low point in the history of the great paper.

The Pope(s), Vicars of Jesus Christ

Crime: It took the Vatican 29 years to admit that condoms may be necessary to reduce the spread of disease -- only 12 years after church leaders in El Salvador spearheaded a law “requiring condoms to carry warnings that they do not protect against AIDS.” The Church has an unmatched record of ensuring -- or at best ignoring -- the destruction of the gay community. In 1986, the loving and compassionate John Paul II warned his bishops that homosexuality -- an “objective disorder,” he said -- was clearly a threat to the lives of straight people. Meanwhile, he continued, those damn gays “ remain undeterred and refuse to consider the magnitude of the risks involved.

Last Known Whereabouts: John Paul II is dead but his legacy lives on, mainly in the form of the Republican Party. Eight conservative senators --  McConnell, Coburn, DeMint, Burr, Bunning, Chambliss, Sessions and Vitter -- refused to support a bill that expanded AIDS funding to China and India. Christine O’Donnell, a recent Tea Party flavor of the month, opined that the government spent too much money on AIDS and oh by the way condoms don’t stop the spread of the virus. She’s such a smart lady.

 
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