Published on June 13th, 2014


Reagan and Gays: A Reassessment

When Ronald Reagan died on June 5, many gay Americans lost no tears. The conventional view in gay political circles is that Reagan, a strong conservative, was virulently anti-gay. In this view, Reagan was propelled to office by the newly powerful religious right, and repaid that support with socially conservative administration appointments and policies. (Most unforgivably, according to the conventional view, Reagan did nothing while thousands of gay men died of AIDS. That’s a charge I’ll address in my next column.) The truth about Reagan and gays, however, is more complicated.

Start with the notion that Reagan himself was anti-gay. Like most of us, Reagan reflected the prejudices of his times. Born in 1911, he grew up in a small-town world that misunderstood and feared homosexuality. He was 62 by the time homosexuality was removed from the official list of mental disorders. According to biographer Lou Cannon, Reagan shared the common view of his time that homosexuality was a sickness. He was not above telling jokes about gays.

Still, perhaps because he worked with gay actors in Hollywood and had gay friends, Reagan was relatively tolerant. Cannon notes that Reagan was “respectful of the privacy of others” and was “not the sort of person who bothers about what people do in their own bedrooms.” This attitude was consistent with Reagan’s larger philosophical commitment to individual liberty and limited government.

Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis (the politically liberal one), recounted on Time magazine’s website that she and her father once watched an awkward kiss between Doris Day and Rock Hudson in a movie. Reagan explained to his daughter that the closeted Hudson would have preferred to kiss a man. “This was said in the same tone that would be used if he had been telling me about people with different colored eyes,” recalled Davis, “and I accepted without question that this whole kissing thing wasn’t reserved just for men and women.”

During Reagan’s presidency the first openly gay couple spent a night together in the White House. In a column for The Washington Post on March 18, 1984, Robert Kaiser described the sleep-over: “[The Reagans’] interior decorator, Ted Graber, who oversaw the redecoration of the White House, spent a night in the Reagans’ private White House quarters with his male lover, Archie Case, when they came to Washington for Nancy Reagan’s 60th birthday party. . . . Indeed, all the available evidence suggests that Ronald Reagan is a closet tolerant.”

Source: The Independent Gay Forum . Read full article.

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