Magic Johnson may have brought HIV into our sports centers, but it was a little known environmentalist that put it on the political stage. His name was Bob Hattoy and the fact that I lived across the hall from him in D.C., brought me onto his stage, as well, and a number of historical moments that would end up defining both the White House and that little known governor from Arkansas who went on to become president.

There are many who feel Clinton won the ’92 election because of the economy. The Cold War was over and Bush no longer in touch with the realities of the nation. But for those on the battle lines of AIDS, another war had already begun and one that both Bush and Reagan had refused to fight.

President Clinton with Bob Hattoy and Members of the LBGT Community at the white house, April 1993. It was the first time a sitting president had personally met with the LBGT community.                  &…

Hattoy, however, thought Clinton had a chance at beating Bush, and flew to New Hampshire to join his campaign. He then brought Clinton to Hollywood for the first-ever address by a presidential candidate to an LGBT and AIDS audience. It was 1991 and I, too, was working on the battle lines at AIDS Project Los Angeles with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

The country’s first gay political action committee had just been formed in Los Angeles and agreed to endorse Clinton with one caveat: that he have a person with AIDS speak at the Convention. Clinton agreed and chose Elizabeth Glazer and Bob Hattoy who ten days earlier had been diagnosed with both lymphoma and AIDS.

Yet he went on to deliver one of the most powerful speeches and the first gay man with AIDS that many had knowingly laid eyes on. But his speech gave hope to every gay person in America, and Clinton appointed him to work in the White House, making him the first openly gay person to hold a senior position and a link to a constituency that had never had a voice in the West Wing.

I landed in D.C. a few months later with an appointment of my own and a spot on the President’s Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, working directly with the president and an old college friend, Dr. Scott Hitt who was appointed the first AIDS czar.  And there across the hallway at the Woburn, at the same address where President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson once lived, was Bob Hattoy whose apartment I would end up cleaning out after AIDS finally took him too.

All of D.C. turned out for his funeral, including the former First Lady who I followed out of the service to the area where we signed the condolence book, only to be scolded for signing my name directly below her’s. Apparently, the family wanted Hillary’s name to stand out, and the kind of D.C. drama I know Bob would have laughed at, and would be proud his own name hasn’t been forgotten.

bill clinton and bob hattoy at the 1992 democratic national convention, 

His story as a public speaker is one I call on often in my media training sessions for his bravery and speaking from the heart. And though in his time, throwing vials of red liquid on the doors of the FDA and Congress was the only way to wake up policy makers to the needs of AIDS patients, we can thank him as well for heralding in the patient activist movement that is now routine business for drug companies and allied patients groups.

But with another presidential election rushing towards us, and someone new becoming infected with HIV every 9.5 minutes in the U.S. alone, it is shameful none of the candidates have publicly made a commitment to get in the trenches and keep fighting this deadly war.

Maybe they forgot how important it is, but I know Bill Clinton hasn’t. At a council meeting in the Oval Office, I once mentioned to him that I lived across the hall from Bob, and he threw out a smile and said, “That guy got me elected!”

And he did. But the war isn’t over and the trenches still filled, so let’s hope the next president has a Hattoy in the West Wing too.



Allen Carrier is the Founder and CEO of Carrier Media Company and an award-winning journalist and media strategist. He has worked with many of the world’s top business leaders, including a few U.S. presidents. Follow his latest insights and tips on Twitter @CarrierMediaCo. And if you would like to improve your communications skills, visit the website here.