It’s no shock that after the dying of former president George H.W. Bush we’re seeing media pundits, advocates and fashionable historians promote a rosy view of his tenure as president. Within the period of Donald Trump, there’s a bent to painting each Republican chief of the previous in a nostalgic, sugar-coated manner.
The very first thing that caught my eye was a report on CNN’s web site that included a tweet from the president of Covenant Home, a charity that runs shelters throughout the U.S. for homeless youth and which has a historic connection to the Catholic Church. The tweet included pictures of the previous president and the late first girl Barbara Bush hugging kids, implying that Bush was an essential advocate for folks with AIDS.
Then I noticed a tweet from Yahoo Information with a quote from the well-known historian Jon Meacham, describing Bush as a person who “believed that he was not a Republican president — he was a president,” noting that “there’s one thing very old school about that.”
Maybe that was what Bush “believed,” nevertheless it was removed from the reality. Bush was as captive to the evangelical proper on social points — and thus a decidedly Republican president — as was his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, who cultivated non secular conservatives as a potent political pressure and bowed to their anti-LGBTQ agenda because the AIDS epidemic mushroomed within the 1980s.
Reagan’s historical past of callously ignoring the epidemic whereas hundreds died is well-documented. Bush, on the outset of his time period, promised a “kinder, gentler” presidency than the person he’d served beneath as vice chairman. He even gave a speech on the AIDS epidemic in 1990, which was lengthy on compassion however brief on technique and dedication to funding. In the course of the speech, in truth, Urvashi Vaid, an invited visitor after which the chief director of the outstanding Nationwide Homosexual and Lesbian Activity Drive, now the Nationwide LGBTQ Activity Drive, took the unprecedented and heroic act of standing up and holding an indication, “Speak Is Low-cost. AIDS Funding Is Not.”
Bush, ultimately, bowed to the identical extremists Reagan did when it got here to AIDS and LGBTQ rights. As The Washington Submit famous, Bush allowed evangelicals to mature as a motion inside the GOP after Reagan introduced them in, moderately than pushing again.
Bush did signal the People With Disabilities Act, which protected folks with disabilities in opposition to discrimination, together with folks with HIV. And he signed 1990′s Ryan White Care Act — after it handed overwhelmingly in Congress — which federally funded remedy for AIDS for folks with little assets. But it surely took years of labor by the indefatigable Democrats Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Henry Waxman, and was too little, too late. By that time, practically 10 years into the epidemic, 150,000 circumstances of individuals with HIV had been reported within the U.S., and 100,000 folks had died as a result of AIDS.
Bush’s administration nonetheless dragged its toes on drug remedy and refused to handle prevention to essentially the most affected neighborhood, homosexual and bisexual males, which it might have finished by merely selling and funding important safer intercourse applications and condom distribution. When ACT UP, the AIDS activist group, focused Bush in actions on the White Home and at his Kennebunkport, Maine, summer time retreat, Bush mentioned “behavioral change” was one of the simplest ways to battle the illness.
Infamously, Bush had mentioned in a tv interview that if he had a grandchild who was homosexual he would “love” the kid however would inform the kid he wasn’t regular. And like Reagan, he stocked his Cupboard with anti-gay zealots. Well being Secretary Louis Sullivan, additionally protested by ACT UP for his horrible response to HIV, joined forces with evangelical leaders to cowl up a government-funded research on teen suicide that discovered LGBTQ teenagers had been at a lot greater danger.
Whereas Bush signed the Hate Crimes Statistics Act in 1990, which allowed for accumulating knowledge on anti-gay hate crimes along with different hate-motivated crimes, and signed a measure that struck “sexual deviation” from an immigration regulation used to ban LGBTQ immigrants, he took a tough flip to the far proper when conservative commentator and former Reagan aide Pat Buchanan scared him with a sturdy problem within the 1992 Republican primaries.
Bush finally joined anti-gay assaults on the Nationwide Endowment for the Arts that had originated with right-wing members of Congress over the company’s funding of queer artists, and put in place an performing chairwoman who defunded homosexual and lesbian movie festivals. That very same yr, Bush signed a invoice to cease the Washington, D.C., Council, a physique that Congress can in the end overrule, from providing well being care advantages to home companions of homosexual and lesbian metropolis staff.
And after Buchanan, who Bush supplied a major slot on the Republican Nationwide Conference in Houston, gave his notorious “tradition warfare” speech, declaring there’s a “non secular warfare” on this nation, and attacking, amongst others, the “militant gay rights motion,” Bush refused to denounce the speech and as an alternative publicly denounced same-sex marriage, which was nowhere close to a actuality on the time. This prompted even the Log Cabin Republicans, the biggest homosexual GOP group, to refuse to endorse him.
In the meantime, the GOP platform that yr condemned anti-discrimination statutes defending gays and lesbians, and, responding to Democratic nominee Invoice Clinton’s marketing campaign promise to finish the ban on gays serving within the army, adopted a plank banning homosexual service.
The army subject is instructive in defining the legacy Bush left and the course he took the GOP on LGBTQ rights. In 1991, I wrote a controversial article for The Advocate, revealing that the assistant secretary of protection for public affairs, Pete Williams — the face of the Gulf Warfare, on tv day-after-day in the course of the battle— was homosexual whereas not public about it, despite the fact that the Pentagon was ejecting homosexual males and lesbians from the army, claiming on the time that they had been prone to blackmail (even, illogically, in the event that they had been overtly homosexual).
A coverage that dated again many years, the homosexual army ban was coming beneath scrutiny within the Bush years as a result of increasingly folks had been popping out of the closet — and being thrown out of the army. Protection Secretary Dick Cheney, who had hand-picked Williams as his loyal aide, was placed on the spot about my Williams revelation in an interview with Sam Donaldson on ABC Information. Cheney responded by distancing himself from the anti-gay coverage, saying he “inherited” it, confirming his aide wouldn’t be made to resign and stating that authorities staff have a proper to maintain authorities from intruding on their “personal lives.”
This was seen by many as a optimistic indication that the Bush administration was chipping away on the homosexual army ban, particularly as Cheney in that very same week had known as the coverage an “previous chestnut” when requested about it by overtly homosexual Rep. Barney Frank. These actions are what impressed candidate Clinton to vow to overturn the ban, courting homosexual voters in the course of the marketing campaign.
However the Bush administration took no concrete motion to alter the coverage, and a yr later, as Buchanan threatened Bush, the president went in the exact opposite course, doubling down on the demonization of LGBTQ folks.
If Bush had come into workplace with maybe a imprecise ambition that he would possibly transfer away from the tough Reagan years, with its non secular morality campaign, he left the presidency having paved the way in which for his personal son’s much more anti-LGBTQ administration, firmly ensconcing non secular conservative energy inside the Republican celebration.
And that, in fact, is identical celebration that now proudly claims Donald Trump as its chief.
Michelangelo Signorile is a HuffPost editor-at-large. Observe him on Twitter at @MSignorile.