In speaking of Nancy Reagan on the day of her funeral, Hillary Clinton praised the late former first lady for helping to start a national conversation about the AIDS epidemic. Ronald and Nancy Reagan did nothing of the sort, and the remarks were met with harsh criticism. They also sparked the recirculation of a statement attributed to Nancy Reagan, offered as a rebuke to Clinton's mischaracterization of the Reagans' record on AIDS. But on that count, Snopes, a fact checking website, observes that the "quote" might be as uncorroborated as were Clinton's comments themselves.
“It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about H.I.V./AIDS back in the 1980s,” Clinton said in a broadcast televised by MSNBC. “And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan — in particular, Mrs. Reagan — we started a national conversation, when before nobody would talk about it. Nobody wanted anything to do with it.”
As the New York Times observed, Clinton's words — demonstrably incorrect, as President Reagan is now infamous for his absolute and deadly silence on AIDS — were immediately subject to criticism and scorn. “This is shameful, idiotic, false — and heartbreaking,” Charles Kaiser, author of The Gay Metropolis, told the Times. “There is nothing else to say about it. And she has been my candidate.”
“While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, I misspoke about their record on H.I.V. and AIDS,” Clinton walked back her comments hours after she had made them. “For that, I’m sorry.”
As she did so, a homophobic statement credited to Nancy Reagan circled the internet as a direct rebuttal to the presidential candidate's praise. "It is appalling to see parades in San Francisco and elsewhere proclaiming 'gay pride' and all that," Reagan supposedly said. "What in the world do they have to be proud of?"
Though those words have been attributed to Reagan for 20 years or more, that doesn't mean she said them. Per Snopes, the statement is "usually sourced to a Boston Globe article or interview dating from 1981 (sometimes said to have been published on either 31 March 1981 or 26 August 1981)." However, they "have not turned up any Boston Globe item from that year (or any other) reporting her as having made this statement." Further, "The quote is sometimes also sourced to the former first lady's 1989 memoir My Turn, but we likewise found no mention of it among the pages of that book."
There you have it. Like the famous saying to which Mark Twain may or may not have given utterance, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” there is no proof that Reagan ever made the remarks in question. But. Well. She certainly didn't start a national conversation on AIDS, either.