“Don’t speak ill of the dead.” It’s a societal rule to mention only the good attributes and actions of a person after they have passed while ignoring the negative. This has developed into a debate ever since former president George H. W. Bush passed away – was he the perfect man he’s been recently painted? Of course, the answer is no. We must realize that it is imperative to look at the mistakes he made in order to fully remember him as he was – not as he should have been.
Bush’s inactivity and indifference to the heightening AIDS crisis doggedly defined his presidency – part of the reason why so many died of AIDS during his presidency was the lack of government action and recognition. By not publicly recognizing the severity of HIV/AIDS and instead electing to suggest that people should simply “change their behavior,” Bush perpetuated the stigma and shame of HIV/AIDS and homosexuality. His homophobic ideology contributed to the government’s complete denial of the epidemic. Bush not only refused to divert money into AIDS research, but he also reduced its existing funding, a decision only causing an increase in HIV/AIDS deaths.
Although Bush passed two bills to control the crisis, many have since argued that it was almost entirely because of AIDS activists. They were particularly active during Bush’s presidency as the issue was being largely ignored despite over 70,000 people dying from HIV complications. One of their most well-known protests was in October of 1992, in which dozens of activists threw the ashes of their loved ones over the gates of the White House. More well-known still was the burial of activist Mark Fisher. His body was marched up to Bush’s re-election headquarters under a banner that read: “Mark Lowe Fisher / 1953-1992 / Died of AIDS / Murdered by George Bush.” Despite this, Bush did next to nothing, leaving communities decimated by HIV/AIDS.
By 1993, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS was roughly 40,000 people. At least another 41,000 people had died due to HIV/AIDS that year. It’s truly ironic that Bush died on World AIDS Day – a day commemorating those whose blood stains the hands of the former President. Instead of helping or even acknowledging them, he erased their visibility, allowing their voices to fade away.
Even as we remember George H. W. Bush’s great acts as president, we must recognize the community he silenced. In order to honor those fallen people and fully remember Bush, we must “speak ill of the dead.”