My, it’s been a big year. Particularly so for gay Americans, thanks to the Supreme Court gutting the Defense of Marriage Act. Then again, for African-Americans and others disproportionately hit by voting restrictions, the SCOTUS ruling on the Voting Rights Act seemed rather premature. We’ve also seen indications that social conservatives are turning more attention against transgender equality, seeming to have lost the marriage-equality fight.
So, two steps forward, one step back in 2013? However you slice it, it’s not quite over yet. And, with this being my last column of the year, I’d better set my attention to making my Christmas wishes. I’m no Christian, granted — at least not since junior high, or thereabouts — but I’ve got up the Solstice tree and the stockings are hung, so I’m entitled, right?
First up: the Ronald Reagan legacy. My wish is that it lose a bit of its sheen. Having grown up in the 1980s, I remember him well. When I was coming out, AIDS was hitting hard and Reagan was in the White House. When I talk to a straight person who points to Top Gun as his all-time favorite movie and who gets wistful for the Reagan era, a simply smile politely. But I’ve heard as much from gay people, and that makes me grind my teeth.
But with White House transcripts from the Reagan era — as published in Jon Cohen’s 2001 Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine, and cataloged earlier this month by BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner — making the rounds and reflecting a mocking nonchalance of the disease and those it was killing, my wish is that people think less of the glorious invasion of Grenada and more of a president who was so very late in taking HIV seriously.
If not, Nelson Mandela’s death is reminding us of South Africa during apartheid, and Reagan’s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. I had to raise a Vulcan-like eyebrow reading the New York Daily News Dec. 8 piece titled “Ronald Reagan regretted vetoing sanctions against pro-apartheid South Africa.” This interview with Reagan’s chief of staff, James Baker III, quotes Baker as saying: “I’m sure he did regret it, in fact, I’m certain that he did. … It was after all, I think, the only time a veto of his of his had been overridden in two terms. Certainly, he regretted it.”
That doesn’t read to me like a regret for not sufficiently countering racism, but simply regret that his veto couldn’t withstand bipartisan pushback. Of course, this was during the Cold War and some might argue that Reagan had to stand firm against the evil Soviet bloc — by this point, 1986, essentially headed by the tyrannical Communist boogeyman Mikhail Gorbachev — having any influence over South Africa. (Sarcasm alert to youngsters: Gorbachev was a beloved teddy bear, at least pretty much everywhere except for inside the Soviet Union.)
So, that’s the first Xmas wish: a little less adoration of Ronnie. Phyllis Schlafly has enough for all of us.
My second wish is for the good health of all those fasting, or who have fasted, as part of the Fast for Families action for immigration reform. Particularly, I have Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in mind, as well as Ben de Guzman, co-director of programs at the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. I wish them and all those taking part endurance and a feast of their choosing when the time comes. Here, Ronnie and I might even be simpatico. After all, “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,” might be one of his better quotes.
With that, until 2014, I am over and out. Please stay safe and warm.
Will O’Bryan is Metro Weekly‘s managing editor. Email him at wobryan@MetroWeekly.com. Follow him on Twitter @wobryan.