AIDS epidemic survivors say George HW Bush wasn't a wonderful president to everyone

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- George H.W. Bush died on the eve of World Aids Day. Ironic, because many say he did very little to end the negative attitudes and beliefs about people with AIDS.

People often say one should never speak ill of the dead. But for those who lived in the predominately gay Castro district during the Bush presidency, it's hard not to criticize his legacy.

"Just walking on the street in those days. It was almost a ghost town, but the ghosts were living, were still alive because there were so many people who were sick," remembers Randall Reeves, who lived in the Castro in the 1980s.

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San Francisco was the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic and Ronald Reagan was President.

Bush was Reagan's Vice President and even though AIDS had already affected thousands of people by the mid-1980s, Reagan didn't event utter the word AIDS publicly until 1987.

To his credit, in 1990 Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, which also protected people with HIV. That same year he signed the Ryan White Care Act, the largest federally funded program for people living with AIDS.

But health care providers like Paul Volberding, who treated patients early on say, Bush failed to take a leadership role.

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"It was especially hard in those day for people at that level to talk about AIDS, but they should have because I thought it could have really helped with the sense of stigma that our patients suffered with at that time," said Dr. Volberding.

In fact, in 1991, President Bush said changing one's behavior was a way to control the spread of AIDS. He later expressed that being gay was not a normal lifestyle.

"They kind of were aligned with the people that said that AIDS was God's punishment and there was very little sympathy," said Carl Linhart who also lived through that period when so many people were dying of AIDS.

When Bush once called for a kinder-gentler nation, many in this community now say he missed the opportunity to also ask for compassion toward gays and those living with AIDS.

For more stories, pictures and videos about former President George H.W. Bush, go here.
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