Amid the overwhelming praise for President George H.W. Bush at his state funeral Wednesday, Queer Eye‘s Jonathan Van Ness was tweeting about the 41st president not doing enough to stop the AIDS epidemic while in office.
Bush died on Nov. 30, a day before World AIDS Day, which was established in 1988.
Van Ness, 31, who is openly gay, wrote: “People died of HIV / AIDS when George HW Bush left office. His inaction allowed the virus to spread, stigma to grow, and so many vulnerable people in the cold. He served our country yes, but his hand guided so many towards HIV & stigma that still lasts today.”
During his one-term presidency, Bush 41 signed into law two pieces of legislation that helped those with AIDS — the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which protects people with HIV and AIDS from discrimination, and the Ryan White Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, which continues to provide funding to low-income people for AIDS treatment.
Activists have said Bush fell far short of an adequate response to the health crisis; by 1992 AIDS had become the number one killer of men ages 25 to 44 in the U.S.
“If one was being charitable one could say it was a mixed legacy, but in truth it was a bad legacy of leadership,” Urvashi Vaid, who led the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force from 1989 to 1992, told the New York Times on Monday. “He did not lead on AIDS.”
In a 1990 speech, Bush called for compassion toward people with the AIDS virus, and said that he and his wife, Barbara, had friends who had died of the disease. But Dr. Mervyn Silverman, president of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, told NPR in 1991 that Bush’s speech was the exception, and his words lacked meaningful action.
“That the president of the United States has only given one speech on a topic that has taken the lives of over 120,000 people and caused disease in close to 200,000 is — is a sad commentary,” he told the network.
Van Ness’ Twitter commentary received some support, but was also criticized by others on social media.
“As a gay man, I’m ashamed of how my community is behaving here. Basically celebrating his death. How about we celebrate how far we’ve come,” one user wrote.