Bil Browning

Video: Senator Evan Bayh's AIDS Joke

Filed By Bil Browning | May 15, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: Dan Parker, Democrats, Evan Bayh, HIV/AIDS, Indiana, Indiana Stonewall Democrats, Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner

Senator Evan Bayh (D) made an AIDS joke at the 2010 Indiana Jefferson Jackson Day Dinner last night. The Indiana Stonewall Democrats walked out after the joke. Senator Bayh says he was just "misunderstood."

Asked for a statement, state party chair Dan Parker said the group was overreacting and that any offense was "obviously unintentional."

Transcript after the jump.

Transcript: Evan Bayh's AIDS Joke

I want to say how good it is to be home. I got into that airport and I don't know about the rest of you but every time I fly into Indianapolis airport I look at that thing and I think to myself, "You know if it weren't for Bart Peterson, this thing wouldn't be here."


He was a great Mayor and I'm so proud of him and everybody that helped make his accomplishment possible.

So I'm walking through the airport and people were kinda being nice and making eye contact and a couple come up and say hello. This one person runs up all excited and I'm prepared to say "Hello," and he says, "Senator Bayh! Senator Bayh!"

I said "Well, yes?" and he looked at me and said, "Do you have AIDS?"

[audible gasps]

I said, "Huh?"

He said, "Yeah. Do you have AIDS?"

I was dumbfounded. I didn't know what to say.

He said, "I've got a letter I want to give you, do you have someone I can hand this to? Do you have an aide with you?"


So you never know what people are going to say.

[more laughter]

Many of you have asked me... You've got to be prepared for about anything, you know?

Transcript: Bayh Interview After AIDS Joke

BB: Do you have a statement that the Indiana Stonewall Democrats walked out in protest after the AIDS joke?

Sen Bayh: No. Look, I've voted for AIDS funding and all sorts of things. And I've been for all sorts of things in terms of equality and lifestyle and that sort of thing. I'm sorry they took offense to that. It was certainly not intended.

BB: Can you see that it was rather offensive though? "Do you have AIDS? Do you have AIDS?" as if it's a bad thing to have AIDS.

Sen Bayh: No, I wasn't interpreting it as bad, I was just quizzical about it.

BB: Okay.

Sen Bayh: So you misunderstood my comments or they misunderstood my comments.

BB: Okay. Thanks.

Sen Bayh: I was taken by surprise. I did not interpret it as a negative statement.

BB: Okay, thanks for clarifying for me.

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I'm finding it increasingly more difficult to justify being a registered Democrat.

Judas Peckerwood | May 16, 2010 3:58 AM

I know how you feel, which is why I became an independent long ago. And I have no intention of watching the clip, because I learned all I need to know about Bayh from his Blue Dog record. A few decades ago, he would have been a Nixon Republican. Now, he's a the epitome of a Democratic Party leader, which is why he was on Obama's short list for VP.

I say fuck the Democrats and Republicans both -- which, coincidentally, is exactly what they say about us.

The Green Party is looking really good this year.

Non-issue. Obviously, an overreaction to walk out.

My favorite Indiana Democrat, my mom, always calls Bayh a "dumbass." Now I know why.

What's way more offensive than the joke is the fact that someone so clueless is a U.S. Senator.

Bob Hickman | May 16, 2010 7:35 PM

If you read the newspapers you remember that Bayh is retiring from politics.

Fuck Bayh. Seriously. Indiana should be so over him - he believes in nothing other than advancing his own career.

Renee Thomas | May 15, 2010 8:02 PM

Joe I respectfully disagree . . .

Over the years AIDS has cost us so many of our loved ones that to stoop to use it as grist for a lame throw-away joke by a white, privileged asshat like Evan Bayh is simply beyond tasteless.

I came to the conclusion a long time ago that your average politician is only out for themselves and their own job/ass.
An AIDS joke? WTF is funny about AIDS? I’ve lost family and friends to AIDS. I have friends who’ve lost family and friends to AIDS. I don’t know of anyone even close to AIDS who laughs about it.
Was getting up and walking out an overreaction?
… I would have done the same. I would have had too.
I lost a beloved cousin, a caring and knowledgeable doctor, my high school counselor who cared more for me than my own parents. All to AIDS. I’ve had to give comfort to close coworkers who lost family members to AIDS and didn’t know how to deal with it.

Yes, having AIDS is a bad thing! He wasn't making fun of people with HIV/AIDS. It wasn't a joke that's appropriate (or funny) for a senator to make, but hell this was a South Park episode a few years ago. This is a lame thing to get offended about.

A comedy show known for its shocking content is one thing. A US Senator is quite another.

lol i'm constantly offended by the awful shit you ppl post on bilerico and i found this kind of funny and inoffensive. *shrug*

Margaretpoa Margaretpoa | May 15, 2010 9:45 PM

No doubt he has PLENTY of gay friends and of course he was taken out of context. Douchehat.

Michael B | May 15, 2010 9:49 PM

How 1983 of him!

Was just about to consider giving him the benefit of the doubt when he referred to "lifestyle" in his own defense. Of course, some of our own are partially to blame for that as many once used the term themselves before they realized how "being gay is a choice" it sounded. Whenever I visit Indiana, I have to turn my calendar watch back at least a decade. [And the time Bayh spends in DC, at least in the circles in which he moves, would be of little help...two words: ENDA stall.]

Yet, many years ago, I very noticeably walked out of a sales conference for the company I worked for at the time in the Bay Area when the motivational speaker they'd hired told a gay "joke." I was less angry at him [a certified "liberal"] than my many fellow employees who thought it was funny. Fortunately, my boss and the HR manager sided with me when the company president asked me about it immediately afterward. He wasn't a bad guy at all, had no intention of punishing me, just wanted to know why and like Bayh, just didn't "get" it.

Ironically, a year before, under a different president, another motivational speaker [a not too bright, former professional football player] had told another gay "joke" and that time I simply demanded a public denunciation which they sent every employee...probably because there was hardly a minority group the guy hadn't insulted.

Bravo for Stonewall for walking out. He's far more likely to change from that than someone simply sweettalking him tomorrow or whenever.

Wish you'd thought to say, "OK, Senator, I believe you didn't mean to offend. But just so everyone else does, how about letting me announce you've agreed to sign onto DADT repeal through DEFAUTH?"

How 1983 of him!

I think that says it all.

Its one thing to point out the fact that 'AIDS' and 'aides' are homophones; its another to turn that into a joke - implicitly at the expense of an identifiable group of people - in 2010.

Sometime in the 1980s, I recall my aunt telling me that her youngest son had told her that his teacher "has aides" - as in more than one teacher's aide. That cousin of mine was probably only 7 or 8 at most at the time and he himself had no idea that, when spoken, those words by themselves would convey a different meaning that he intended - particularly to his mother, a nurse who by that point had had a number of AIDS patients. Moreover, my aunt wasn't conveying the story of what her son said as anything more than an anecdote about something an innocent child had said.

What's Bayh's excuse?


I don't mean: What's his excuse for telling the AIDS joke? After all, I think we all know what Bayh really thinks of LGBT people. I mean: What's his excuse for not following that winner with a 'piece of the rock' joke?

I think it was totally inappropriate.

Senator Bayh exercised very poor judgement. While he states he affirmatively votes on issues relating to equality and HIV/AIDS, he certainly demonstrated he doesn't understand the struggle many LGBT Americans and people living with HIV/AIDS endure. His response lacked compassion.

Perhaps Senator Bayh needs to be better educated on the impact stigma has on people living with HIV/AIDS and those most at-risk. I'm certainly going to drop by his office while I'm in Washington DC this week.

Oh sheesh people. I have up close and personal experience with friends dying of aids. Yet I have joked that congressmen think aids are employee toys and other off color remarks. A close friend who died of AIDS had a better sense of humor to his dying breath than most of the offended here seem to have. Bayh is certainly not your next Johnny Carson but he was just reaching for a laugh and not intentionally trying to offend anyone. Just my opinion.

Michael B | May 15, 2010 11:46 PM

When BAYH has AIDS, THEN he can "joke" about it.

Margaretpoa Margaretpoa | May 16, 2010 8:43 AM

What does that say about you? Joking about people suffering and dying is never funny, no matter what your ill friends may think. While an ingrown toenail could be fodder for a joke, a fatal disease, war, starvation, genocide, execution, etc are not. I don't think Bayh was being malicious but that he was being insensitive, clueless and unfunny is beyond question.

how about this concept: let's just NEVER joke about AIDS. EVER. NEVER. there is nothing funny about it. tasteless or not, it's just not funny. Who would make a joke about breast cancer? it's not a matter of having a sense of humor. it's not a matter of being 'off the cuff.' people DIE from AIDS, and some of us have seen enough death to never joke about it. i don't care if Bayh felt it was innocent, or if some of your readers here weren't offended. the fact that many, many people ARE offended and WILL ALWAYS be offended is enough to never do it. why is that so hard to understand? don't fucking tell me to get over it. just don't say it in the first place.

Renee Thomas | May 16, 2010 10:29 AM


Well said

"Second the motion"

Having heard a second to the motion, and receiving majority support of the assembled - the motion passes . . .

soflapolitics | May 16, 2010 12:54 AM

This is probably not the best time of day to try a respond to this story, since about now the side effects of my HIV meds have kicked in and the room is spinning pretty good...

But excuse me if I don't find AIDS to be an appropriate basis for a joke, regardless of who males it.

Why is it so had for politicians to say, "I'm sorry I offended you" instead of always saying "I am sorry you were offended".

Trust me, there is a difference.

Marc Paige | May 16, 2010 1:17 AM

Bil: It IS a bad thing to have AIDS. I have AIDS and it's a very bad thing! It does not mean I am bad, but the virus and disease sucks. Everyone should do all they can to not get it.
Bayh did not imply that people with AIDS were bad, but you looked silly when you implied that having AIDS was not bad.

I noticed how it sounded on the video too, Marc - and that wasn't really my intent. Here's what I meant when I said, "As if AIDS is bad":

"Isn't it shocking that someone might think that a white rich heterosexual man like Bayh might have AIDS? I mean, that's funny, right? Everyone knows AIDS is only for blacks, queers and the poor. Har. Har."

Bayh set the joke so that the premise of the joke is, "The man said I had AIDS and of course I don't because I'm not that type, so what could he mean? Oh! Punchline! He didn't mean me, of course! Wasn't that silly of us to think that white bread little ole me, would have a queer disease?"

That's offensive.

Michael B | May 16, 2010 3:25 PM

And Candidate Obama wanted everyone watching the primary debate at Howard University to know that it was with "MY WIFE, MICHELLE, that I got an HIV test [not Joe Biden]!!!!!" Rimshot. Kneeslap.

And the audience roared.

Lynn David Lynn David | May 16, 2010 2:48 AM

I guess he can let it all out now that he's given up politics.

Clearly, Senator Bayh is correct that this is simply a misunderstanding.

He understands himself to be intelligent, sensitive and witty, and we understand that he is not.

With over 25 million people having died from AIDS since 1981 in the world, it is far from a subject to be joked about.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | May 16, 2010 9:42 AM

Bayh ought to apologize and say his remark was totally insensitive and inappropriate. None of this "I was misunderstood" stuff that so often goes unchallanged.

That having been said, and understanding totally the quite valid need for those whose lives have been touched by AIDS to vent their outrage, let's move on a bit and look at the totality of his work and attitudes toward the LGBT community. A mixed bag, I would think, but not something to make him ass either a total demon or an absolute saint, as is the case with most human beings.

Bil's narrative shows "[laughter]" at several points, and I'm wondering how widespread or typical it was of the whole assembly of Indiana Democrats, oiled with alcohol or otherwise. That may speak more to the challanges our community faces than any particular tastless joke by an outgoing senator.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | May 16, 2010 9:47 AM

Oops, that "ass" in the last sentence of my second paragrph should be "as". But other commentors may disagree. (:

Wow. Well, as they used to say, "That was so funny, I forgot to laugh."

Rhubarbarian | May 16, 2010 3:03 PM

Yes, and also his wife's career at Wellpoint.

Okay, so some people think he can't make the joke, but lesbian comedian Judy Gold can make one similar on the LOGO series Wisecrack? No one walked out on her, probably no one was even offended when she was talking and joking about how her mother wanted to write a book called "My Life With Aides". I think both jokes were funny. Neither was attacking AIDS victims, it was a simple misunderstanding of words joke. No harm, no foul.

This is nothing to get bent out of shape over. Not him nor the person asking Bayh if he had "aides" meant to offend those infected.

Lee Sonoflaw | May 16, 2010 11:02 PM

Is anybody tired with the word police? Thought police and the politically correct crowd gets offended at every possible miss-speak that anyone makes. The Stonewall Democrats are totally and completely WRONG to be offended and walk out on Senator Bayh. Its time that we queer people stopped caring a giant chip on our shoulder daring anyone to knock it off. For one thing caring all that extra weight is ruining our posture.

To be perfectly clear, “AIDS IS A BAD THING”. Every disease is a bad thing! I defy anyone to show me someone who has had a better life because of having AIDS. Having AIDS does not make the person bad any more than M.D. or diabetes, or heart disease makes a person bad.

The statement by Bayh was reporting a misunderstanding, embarrassment, and a failure to communicate clearly. Its called a “JOKE”. Humor. And in case you didn’t know, EVERY joke is a misunderstanding, embarrassment and mistake by someone real or imagined. There is not a joke in existence that isn’t about someone’s embarrassment or mistake. When we tell a joke, we are laughing at ourselves as human beings.

Finally, laughing at jokes is what makes us human.

So get over it! *snap* *snap*

There is an art to the joke, Lee. A Feydeau farce plays on weakness and immorality, while Springtime for Hitler -- supposedly doing the same thing -- knows that it's offensive.

The good senator had no clue how utterly inappropriate this "joke" was, which would be like me telling a blackface joke and then saying "Hey, what's the big deal? Isnt all humour about pain?"

I gather you like your humour darker and much edgier than most. Good for you, sport. But, contrary to what you might see on television and in the movies these days, there's still nothing funny about people dying.

And that's the way it is, 41 years after Stonewall...countless gays afraid of being considered "not nice" so they're unwilling or incapable of calling antigay Mormons and Catholics and whatever talking head the Antigay Industry sends forth on TV what they are: bigots.

They're incapable of waging an election campaign, e.g., on a marriage equality ballot issue, without doing anything more than producing TV commercials that effectively only say, "Please love us. Please don't hurt us."

They hear Obama and Gates and Mullen say they weally, weally want DADT repealed and so remain in deep denial about the fact that they weally, weally don't and hundreds more gay servicemembers have been kicked out since our latest Messiah for the Gays was sworn in. "How dare you criticize him? Repeal is coming. You're no better than the teabaggers."

They read of the Administration time and time again going into court and defending DOMA and DADT in the same homophobic terms used to pass them in the first place, and, oh well, they're just doing their jobs.

And why or why does that mean Lambda Legal have to sue our [White] House Fagroe John Berry? He's just doing his job just like that [White] House Lesroe in the "Justice" Department who told him he had to.

Many treat scraps and crumbs from Massa's table [it's a post racial world—they come in all colors now] like rainbows 'round our shoulders and a Mercedes in every LGBT garage? Silly, ungrateful me. But is it wrong to worry a bit: will hospital employees, their families, their influencers, and the broader medical community be asked their opinions about the impact of letting The Gays visit their hospitalized partners before that's implemented?

And now, broad if shallow defense, even on Bilerico, for an offense that's amplified by just how anachronistic it is. Is Bayh considering growing a mullet, too?

Which reminds me of the well-known gay blogger who still believe Ronald Reagan was a hero [hint: gays, sports]. Maybe, despite the case that can be made for the blood of millions on Reagan's hands, it was his great sense of humor that would-be gay jock finds so admirable. After all, remember when both Reagans, the year after Rock Hudson's diagnosis became public, laughed at Bob Hope's revelation at the rededication ceremony for the Statue of Liberty which Hope said had AIDS. "Nobody knows if she got it from the mouth of the Hudson or the Staten Island Fairy."

I know, I know. Pathetic moi; no sense of humor.

No sense of humor AND no tolerance for those gays who, no matter how out they are, display a persistent self-destructive we're not just good enough to expect to not be the butt of jokes, let alone pawns on Democrats' chessboard.

Bayh's crime is ignorance, not malice. We need to teach him so that he understands and doesn't repeat it. I think if he learns what he said to those of us who know about HIV/AIDS, he would apologize for what he said instead of for others taking offense. (That is no apology.)

Almost thirty years into this? Sorry, the man cannot plead ignorance.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | May 17, 2010 8:28 AM

This comment thread is one of the longer ones, and illustrates how the subject of insensitive remarks/jokes gets viewed. A couple of observations:

First, sensitivity to LTBG-related things works both ways. To a number of Roman Catholics who grew up in pre-Vatican II times, the specter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is the height of insensitivity. I suspect that many of the same folks who would demonize Bayh would simply say "get over it" to those Caholics.

Second, since I have no idea as to the makeup of the Stonewall Democrat table(s, there's no way to be sure, but it's possible that not everyone there necessarily shared the need to get up and walk out. Perhaps some, though finding the remarks out of line, thought that simply refraining from laughter, or maybe not applauding at the end of Bayh's remarks, would have been enough. But they followed suit, maybe in some cases because they felt they would be criticised as not being sensitive enough had they not joined the walkout. Again, I'm speculating here, but simply to try and make the point that this business of pointing fingers as to insensitivity is far from a simple one-way matter.

I have been living with HIV since 1984. At times it has become full blown AIDS. I have worked tirelessly to be open about my having this disease and to educate people about it. Looking at me, one would not know that I am infected with this virus. It is offensive to ask someone one does not know, in a public setting, such as an airport, if he has either HIV or is living with AIDS. To say that one would not hand over a letter or other object to someone because he or she has this virus is ridiculous and only shows how much ignorance there remains about this disease. Why did the person not ask if Bayh had ever had cancer or TB or any number of other diseases? Until politicians get the message, using AIDS or other conditions as the base of a joke only serves to divide people. Why do we allow our elected representatives to be so ignorant and insensitive?

I have been thinking about Bayh's comments all day. Maybe I am insensitive and should be shunned from the queer community, but I am having trouble taking offense. I even think it is somewhat unfair to say that he "cracked an AIDS joke" because he was in no way ridiculing or belittling AIDS patients, causes, etc. I think to have a stranger come up and ask you if you have AIDS in public would have been jarring even if you don't subscribe to any AIDS-related stigmas. The story just points out how miscommunications can cause jarring or surprising moments. I think people are taking this out of context. The punchline is only that "aides" sounds like "AIDS" and that Bayh was surprised before he realized which word was being used. Anyway, I do think it's interesting that a story about misperception has been so misconstrued.

That said, I also don't think his story is even real. I have heard jokes/puns in the past using aides/AIDS. I think he heard one of those and tried to adapt it into an untrue story about himself. If someone wanted to ask if he had any aides with him, they would not say, "Do you have aides?" because the obvious answer is yes. They want to know if he has any with him. So, they would ask something more like "Do you have an(y) aid(es) with you?" Also, who is wandering around the Indianapolis airport with a letter for Evan Bayh on the off chance they run into him? And why would they insist on giving the letter to an aid instead of to the senator himself? In fact, most people would want to give the letter directly to the senator and would feel jilted if Bayh told them to give it to an aid instead. The story has too many holes.

So, ultimately, I don't think this joke is really offensive to AIDS causes. I do think it is offensive to anyone who believes that people should tell true stories or at least try to have their made-up stories make logical sense.