In a special issue ofT magazine, The New York Times reflected on how it lacked attention to LGBT culture as well as the largest story of the time: AIDS. The piece commissioned six LGBT editors to address the Times’s invisible homophobia during that decade.
“While The New York Times was sluggish on reporting the first stirrings of the AIDS epidemic, it quickly jumped on the train as the story became something of a frenzy: voyeuristic and yet significant at the same time,” writes journalist Adam Nagourney, directing to a 1985 Times story about a sex club. Nagourney is one of the only journalists in the piece who lived through homophobia in the 1980s as an adult.
President Ronald Reagan was also infamously lax on the topic. It took him over four years to acknowledge the disease publicly. The Times didn't run an article about AIDS until 1983 on Page A1, two years after the first reports of symptoms, T mag points out.
Larry Kramer graces one of seven special covers, which is symbolic to Kramer’s longtime criticism of the Times’s homophobia during this era. And he wasn’t the only activist speaking out then.
“Legionnaire’s [disease] killed 29 people. AIDS killed 6,000 people before the Times gave it front page coverage,” legendary activist Peter Staley stated to Aaron Hicklin, editor-in-chief of Out magazine, pointing out the paper’s homophobic and biased coverage. “Imagine if the Times had put AIDS on the front page 11 times in 1981. How would that have changed the course of the epidemic? How many lives would have been saved?”
Kramer reflects on journalists' excuse back then that their science desk was too overtaxed: “These excuses were sort of namby-pamby. Anyway, it’s hard to accept them when you realize how many millions are dead from a plague that the Times wouldn’t warn the world about.”
Overall, "it’s a salutary reminder that for those who lived through the plague," writes Hicklin. "The witnesses who fought with every ounce of their being to save the lives of their friends and lovers, the Times's mea culpa is too little, too late. The people who most need to hear it are all dead."