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JUNE 27, 2003
The president says he dreams of a 'color-blind' America, and
apparently a 'gay-blind' society, too. But our victories in the
courthouse won't be so easily ignored in the White House.
By CHRIS CRAIN
EORGEW. BUSH HAS SAID
precious little during his political career about his views on
homosexuality and gay rights.
Those who know him —
especially family friend Charles
Francis, the gay Texan who organized the meeting Bush had with 12 gay supporters after he clinched the GOP presidential nomination — say that our president is personally
comfortable around people he knows to be gay
Other gay Republicans argue that Bush is at
least a "compassionate conservative" on our
issues; in other words, don't look for him to stick
his neck out in favor of gay rights, but at the same
time don't worry about the type of anti-gay wedge
politics practiced by the right wing of his party
All this is probably true enough, but the
record of his administration so far suggests a
worldview that is a little more nuanced, and
more than a little bit troublesome, for gay
Americans — and for Bush's political future.
COMMENTATORS HAVE LONG NOTED
this president's sunny view of human nature;
he is a likable guy who is prepared to enjoy
the company of most of those he encounters.
A classic example surfaced just this month,
when Bush played host at the White House to a
college reunion of his fellow Yale alums.
As the San Francisco Chronicle reports it,
one woman told a surprised Bush, "You might
remember me as Peter when we left Yale."
Bush didn't miss a beat, according to those
present. He grabbed her hand and responded,
"Now you've come back as yourself."
Of course, that doesn't mean the president
will be lobbying Congress to add "gender identity" to gay rights legislation — he hasn't.even
said he supports gay rights legislation —but it
does suggest a welcome personal acceptance.
That sunny disposition, and its disconnect
from public policy, was also on display this
week after the Supreme Court announced its
split ruling on the affirmative action policies
used in admissions at the University of
Michigan. The court approved of affirmative
action in principle, citing "diversity" as a com
pelling government interest that justifies
treating different races differently
The White House responded with a statement from the president praising the court "for
recognizing the value of diversity on our
nation's campuses." The statement neglected to
mention that Bush had personally approved a
Justice Department brief that urged the court
to strike down affirmative action entirely
Even more telling was the portion of Bush's
statement in which the president added, "Like
the court, I look forward to the day when
America will truly be a color-blind society."
If "diversity" really is a compelling interest, of course, then America will never truly be
"color-blind," and shouldn't be. Race neutrality
is not the same thing as color-blindness, but
that difference appears lost on the president.
THE SAME MAY WELL BE TRUE ON GAY
issues. The president's personal acceptance
of gay people has made possible the appointment of a number of White House staffers
who were known to be gay, even if they are
"private" about it.
But in none of these cases does the president appear to see his gay appointments as
proof of his commitment to "diversity," or as
his predecessor put it, putting into place a
government that "looks like America." In
fact, as far as homosexuality goes, the White
House "line" is that it is a non-issue, irrelevant in every way.
The Bush administration's position on our
issues is roughly the same, "gay-blind"
approach: Homosexuality is private, a non-
issue, and has no role in setting public policy
The number of closeted Republicans in the
Bush administration, and on Capitol Hill, only
reinforces that sentiment.
A "gay-blind" government is better, of
course, than one outwardly hostile to us and
our interests. But we are constituents as well,
and ignoring us comes at a cost.
Take the president's AIDS policies, for
example. Bush has consecutively named two
gay men to be his AIDS czar, but the stark contrast between the two — Scott Evertz played a
loud and visible role but was removed in favor
of Joseph Phillips, has been missing in
action — suggests that the position is to be
neither seen nor heard.
The primary AIDS focus of the White
House has been on the global epidemic, which
is largely heterosexual, probably because it is
viewed though the prism of our national security The president's only real contribution to
addressing domestic HIV and AIDS has been
increased funding and favoritism toward
"abstinence-only-until-marriage" as a prevention policy. That approach only makes since if
the administration is blind to gays, since marriage is not an option for us.
When AIDS groups have tried aggressive
marketing to get gay men interested again in
HIV prevention — using sex as a lure, just like
Madison Avenue and Hollywood would — the
Bush administration warns against "encouraging sex." Absent an effective alternative, the
message again appears to ignore the gays.
The New York Times has even reported
that AIDS groups fearing cuts in funding are
avoiding use of words like "homosexual" and
"anal sex" in their grant applications. Hear no
gays, see no gays.
PUTTING ON THE GAY BUNDERS HAS ITS
downside, and it is not all ours.
A number of cities are reporting an
increase in HIV and STD rates among gay
men, and if that trend continues it will be our
president who must answer for it. (Presuming,
of course, that our AIDS organizations overcome their bloodhist for federal funding long
enough to rediscover their activist voice.)
Even more daunting are some pending gay
rights victories in the courthouse that won't
be easily ignored in the White House.
If. as expected, the Supreme Court this
week strikes down the Texas sodomy law, how
will the president respond? George W Bush
was governor of that state, after all, when
Tyron Gardner and John Lawrence were
arrested, convicted and first challenged the
"homosexual conduct law." Gov. Bush swore
back then to uphold and defend the
Constitution, but our Supreme Court will be
saying that he failed to do that. Will he find
away to again praise the justices, as he did on
The real challenge, however, is coming
from the north. First Canada will legalize
gay marriage, and then (according to many
court observers) so will the Massachusetts
state supreme court. Conservatives are
already planning a constitutional amendment to block forced recognition of gay
marriages in other states, and perhaps even
forbid them outright.
President Bush is on record opposing gay
marriage, but how far will a president who
wants our lives kept private go to squelch
Chris Crain is exec
utive editor of
Southern Voice and
can be reached at