Jonathan Van Ness responds to backlash over his Ronald Reagan HIV/AIDS comments: ‘As a comedian I do joke sometimes’
Queer Eye‘s Jonathan Van Ness has responded to the backlash over his comments about former president Ronald Reagan, reminding his critics: “As a comedian I do joke sometimes.”
The controversial comments were made in a 2018 video in which the Fab Five go to town on Bernie Sanders’ fashion style.
The Netflix stars’ critique quickly veers into politics, and the video ends with Van Ness saying: “And, Ronald Reagan, could he be bothered to mention HIV/AIDS? No, but he could be bothered to put some gel in his hair, and I just feel like that is a thing.”
Reagan has been widely condemned for his approach to HIV/AIDS in the early days of the pandemic, which at the time was known as “the gay plague”.
Although the virus was first identified in 1981, Reagan refused to mention it publicly until 1985, let alone support active measures to contain it. Astonishingly, the Reagan’s administration’s first reaction to the crisis was to treat it as a joke.
Van Ness is HIV-positive himself and recently opened up about his diagnosis to push back against the “stigmatisation of the LGBT+ community” in the Trump era.
In light of this his earlier comments didn’t go down well, with many on Twitter concerned that he was misusing his privileged position to downplay the danger of the AIDS epidemic and Reagan’s policies overall.
yeah it’s a cute look to joke about hiv when YOU’RE fortunate enough to be able to afford treatment.
— parker ⚣ (@fagstract) September 30, 2019
Your joke wasn’t at Reagan’s expense. There was practically a generation of gay and bisexual men who died during the AIDS epidemic. Even today medication for treatment is expensive and America would benefit so much from having a $200 maximum charge a year for HIV medication.
— Shannon ?️??️⚧️ (@forevershined) October 1, 2019
Ok but the nerve of jvn saying that about reagan and the aids crisis when he’s a rich white man who can easily access treatment for it now. That honestly left me speechless.
— ?hobi: i’m at soup? (@fthotbtchgerald) September 29, 2019
what feels like an even larger betrayal is that jvn came out as being hiv positive and still has the balls to say “is Regan responsible for the mass murder known as the aids crisis? maybe! but he was hot!” https://t.co/WkVyjqFGqw
— jewny (@haShemLiker) September 30, 2019
It’s just also not funny. And for something not talked about outside of the LGBT+ community to be mentioned so glibly just hurts and seems like no big deal for those who don’t know what he did.
— Ryan (@littlerjunior) September 30, 2019
The history of the HIV/AIDS crisis is so, so painful and I think we forget that we lost so many. We are so lucky and privileged to be where we are with preventive care and treatment and it just fucking sucks to see someone I look up to make a joke in such bad taste.
— abby // goro boy (@gatornightmare) September 30, 2019
Jonathan Van Ness responded by tweeting: “For y’all bringing this video up. These are tongue & cheek and meant to not be taken so seriously. I bring up Reagan’s inaction on HIV/AIDS and as a comedian I do joke sometimes. This video is almost 2 years old and again a joke.”
While some criticised Van Ness for not issuing a full apology, others supported him, pointing out that he has been more than vocal about HIV awareness and education since going public with his diagnosis.
Others noted that he takes a more serious tone on the matter in his podcast Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, and regularly condemns Reagan for his lacklustre response to HIV/AIDS.
The Queer Eye video floating around was a bit. It was hilariously tongue in cheek.@JVN despises Reagan. With good reason. OBVIOUSLY any praise of Reagan is a joke.
Also it was clearly from the 2016 election.
Come on, folks. Get outraged over real stuff. Please.
— Pièce de Résistance (@PieceDeReSister) October 1, 2019
I dunno about the others but jvn shits on Reagan in relation to this issue at least once per episode of his podcast.
— Sycorax (@The149thBishop) September 30, 2019
Anyone who has gone to one of your shows knows that you drag past presidents for their inaction on HIV/AIDS. It’s something that genuinely does grind your gears.
— Beth (@BethHoller) September 30, 2019
You have nothing to apologize for! ??
— Embee13 (@Embee132) September 30, 2019
jonathan has HIV…y’all act like he doesn’t know what it’s like. He can joke about his experience all he wants because it’s his experience. You nor anyone else gets to tell him how to handle that. personally i don’t think he has anything to be sorry for.
— Abby ☼ (@abbypersona) September 30, 2019