The Complicated Legacy of Bush Senior

Remembering the Impact of the Bush (41) Presidency for The LGBT Community

by Brian Moniz

Funerals are meant to be a time of grief, celebration and remembrance. While those of us in the LGBT community may not be grieving or celebrating George H.W. Bush’s legacy, we certainly are remembering the negative impact he left on our families, friends and communities. There are so many bills he signed into place, interviews he gave and actions he took that make it obvious Bush didn’t care about gay people, but the most prominent are the things that still affect us today. George Bush was not and is not a friend to the LGBT community, and here’s why:

photo c/o The Advocate

In January 1989, George H.W. Bush became America’s 41st President and declared himself to not be a “Republican President,” but rather a “President,” claiming he would be “kinder, gentler” than his predecessor Ronald Reagan (another anti-gay leader) and would represent all Americans and not just the ones who voted for him.

However, Bush immediately cut back on all AIDS and HIV related funding from the government and refused to offer medical care for the most vulnerable patients. Any time he was pressed to speak about his actions involving the LGBT community, he seemed annoyed or apprehensive to answer questions, and once stated that if gays want to avoid HIV or AIDS then they should implement a “behavioral change” to their promiscuous lifestyles, blaming us for having sex rather than helping to stop the spread of the virus with treatments.

Bush showed glimmers of support for gay and lesbian citizens when he signed the Hate Crimes Statistics Act in 1990, which allowed for the government to gather data on anti-gay related hate crimes. This act angered the religious right and evangelical Republicans who wanted the government to pull back any protections or help for LGBT citizens. Rather than give into the religious outcry, Bush stood firm on his signing of the bill, leading to Pat Buchanan to run against him in the primaries. This caused Bush to backtrack and double-down on his old anti-gay rhetoric. He wanted to show that he was anti-gay enough to represent their party. He appointed Louis Sullivan to his cabinet as Health Secretary, who participated in the cover-up of a government funded study that revealed that LGBT teenagers were more vulnerable to suicide than any other group. In television interviews, Bush had claimed he was opposed to same-sex parents, and that child adoption should only be to families with a opposite-sex parents. When asked how he would react if one of his grandchildren turned out to be gay, Bush replied that he would, “love the child, but tell him that he wasn’t normal.”

In 1990, Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as the Ryan White Care Act, but by then more than over 150,000 new cases of HIV had surfaced, and more than 114,000 Americans died from AIDS. Many had seen this as “too little, too late,” while others saw it as “better late than never.” Either way, nothing would ever dismiss the negligence by Bush that lead to so many LGBT deaths.

In 1992, Bush assigned Anne-Imelda Radice, a lesbian, as head of the National Endowment of the Arts. Since the first thing she did was defund prominent gay and lesbian film festivals, many gay and lesbian citizens saw her as a LGBT face being used to deny any claims of being a homophobic President. Her nickname during her time in NEA was the “Decency Czar”. That same year, Bush also signed the HR 6056 Bill, which stopped the government from offering health care benefits to partners of same-sex city workers. By the end of 1992, world-famous NBA star Magic Johnson, who himself had been diagnosed with HIV, resigned from the National Commission on AIDS, claiming that Bush “dropped the ball” on AIDS and “utterly ignored” requests for sex education and the education of needle exchanges.

Bill Clinton ran for President against Bush in 1992 and promised to end certain bans on gays serving in the military, a move that caused Republicans, led by Bush, to spearhead a movement to blanket-ban all gays from serving in any branch of the military. This shredded any last lingering threads of support between Bush and the Republican party with the gay community. Even Log Cabin Republicans, America’s largest gay GOP group, refused to support or endorse Bush anymore.

While the death of anyone should never be a time to dishonor or attack an individual, Bush supporters and Republicans need to understand that we were ignored and left to die when we were at our most vulnerable. George H.W. Bush was the one single person who could help us but refused just to please his homophobic supporters who hated us only to keep his own job. That’s a reality we face generations later that can never be wiped clean or let go. I’m sure if a gay Democratic President purposely refused to offer treatment to heterosexual Christians because of their beliefs or lifestyle, I doubt many Republicans would show up to honor that President at their funeral.

When two of his lesbian friends celebrated their wedding back in 2013, Bush gave an interview about the ceremony and said, “Personally, I still believe in traditional marriage, but people should be able to do what they want to do, without discrimination. People have the right to be happy. I guess you could say I have mellowed.” Well, Mr. President, while that is a nice sentiment, countless Americans have suffered and died because of your slow “mellowing” process. I wish we had this President Bush from 1989–1992 instead of the one we got.

President George Herbert Walker Bush passed away on November 30th, 2018, one day before World AIDS day, December 1st, 2018. Make this time important to honor those who died from AIDS and remember their courage, their fight, and the lives they touched, rather than let our anger pour out over a President who left us to die. Let’s take this as a reminder of how strong of a community we are when we stand together and continue to show what we’re made of.

About the Author:

Brian Moniz is a 30-year-old man from San Jose, Calif. He studied filmmaking and writing at San Jose State University from 2010–2013 and got his bachelor’s degree in Radio-TV-Film. Throughout his high school and college years, he worked as a music and movie journalist and critic. Having only recently come out of the closet himself in 2014, Brian enjoys writing about LGBTQ issues. His only regret when it comes to his sexuality is that he didn’t come out sooner. Read more by Brian here.