The U.S. Postal Service is unveiling a stamp next week honoring former First Lady Nancy Reagan — and many people are pointing out that it’s not a good thing for Pride Month.
Nancy Reagan had private friendships with LGBTQ+ people, but she and her husband, President Ronald Reagan, were publicly homophobic, and the Reagan administration was notorious for its inaction as AIDS took the lives of many gay and bisexual men.
The Reagans had socialized with many LGBTQ+ people during their film and TV careers, including Billy Haines, a gay man who lost his film stardom because he refused to be closeted but then became a sought-after interior decorator to the rich and famous. Another gay man, socialite Jerome Zipkin, was frequently Nancy’s escort.
Many of these people remained in the Reagans’ lives even after Ronald Reagan fired many queer members of his administration as governor of California in 1967.
“In the fall of 1967 a ‘homosexual clique’ was discovered in Reagan’s administration,” The Advocate’s Christopher Harrity wrote in 2016. “On advice, Reagan promptly fired all the men involved. Reagan trotted out the standard ‘abomination in the eyes of the lord’ tropes. … Even worse was Nancy being quoted as calling homosexuality a ‘sickness’ and an ‘abnormality,’ fresh from a gay date with Jerome Zipkin.”
When Ronald Reagan ran for president, he courted and won the support of the Christian right. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority group was then the leading force in that movement, and Falwell, the organization, and the movement as a whole were intensely homophobic.
Another friend of the Reagans was closeted gay movie star Rock Hudson. In 1985, when Hudson had developed AIDS, he wanted to be admitted to a French military hospital that was believed to have special treatment, but he needed the Reagans, then in the White House, to intervene on his behalf to be admitted because he wasn’t a French citizen. Nancy Reagan declined, ostensibly because using her influence would be inappropriate. But still, the Reagan administration was infamously slow to respond to AIDS, with Ronald Reagan not giving a formal speech on the crisis until 1987 when his presidency was almost over.
Ronald Reagan died in 2004 and Nancy Reagan in 2016. Among their children, Ronald Reagan Jr. and Patti Davis are LGBTQ+ allies while Michael Reagan is definitely not. Davis has claimed her mother backed marriage equality and her father would have, but many are skeptical.
The stamp will be unveiled Monday at a White House ceremony hosted by First Lady Jill Biden, another LGBTQ+ ally. Other first ladies who’ve been honored with stamps include Eleanor Roosevelt, Martha Washington, Dolley Madison, and Lady Bird Johnson. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy will attend the ceremony, along with Fred Ryan, chairman of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation’s board of trustees, and Nancy Reagan’s niece Anne Peterson.
The internet has opinions. The Advocate has sought comment from the White House but has yet to receive a reply.