On Nov. 15, 1985, just two months after President Ronald Reagan finally uttered the word “AIDS” publicly, the televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker did something considered bold and fearless at the time: She interviewed a gay man living with HIV on live television and treated him with compassion.
“How sad that we as Christians — who are to be the salt of the earth, we who are supposed to be able to love everyone — are afraid so badly of an AIDS patient that we will not go up and put our arm around them and tell them that we care,” Bakker said tearfully during her 24-minute interview with Steve Pieters.
The conversation aired during “Tammy’s House Party” on the Praise the Lord network, a channel that reached 20 million viewers across dozens of countries at the height of its popularity. It is thought to be the first time a televangelist ever talked to someone living with AIDS or HIV on television, and the in-depth interview (too in-depth for some viewers) became an important milestone in AIDS and LGBTQ history.
While Bakker, who died of cancer in 2007 at age 65, has a complicated legacy, muddied by her first husband Jim Bakker’s fraud conviction, her record on gay rights, particularly the empathy she showed those living with HIV and AIDS, has remained clear and was radical for its time.