In June 1995, President Clinton established the first--ever "Liaison to the Gay and Lesbian Community" for the White House. Oddly, it was to an ACT--UP heckler that the president first used the famous phrase, "I feel your pain." But some of the homosexual leaders he has tried to impress are arguing that the president has not been faithful to them-and they are ready to give him some unwanted publicity.
The Clinton side of the story is presented by Richard Socarides, who until a few weeks ago served as liaison before going to work on the Clinton/Gore reelection campaign. Mr. Socarides argues that Mr. Clinton is the most gay--friendly president in history: "He's better than all other presidents combined on gay and lesbian issues." Mr. Socarides praises establishment of the liaison position and ticks off the president's other accomplishments. "He's the first president to support non--discrimination in the work place. He's the first president to support the removal of sexual--orientation barriers in security--clearance procedures. And he's had more homosexual and lesbian appointees than any other president."
Steve Michael, who heads up the Washington, D.C., chapter of ACT--UP (the clever acronym of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) is not impressed. Before Mr. Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, giving states the right to just say no to homosexual "marriages," Mr. Michael protested in front of the White House and was arrested for it. Known as a front--line combatant for AIDS issues, and critical of both Republicans and Democrats, Mr. Michael is willing to work with either party. His take on the Clinton administration would be familiar to any conservative: "I'm not sure hypocrisy is a strong enough word." According to Mr. Michael, Clinton sees homosexuals as voters and contributors, nothing more.
Exhibit A for Mr. Michael is the Liaison to the Gay and Lesbian Community for the White House: "That position was set up to help get Clinton reelected. A real liaison represents the issues of its constituency. This liaison position is all about representing Clinton to the gay community. Don't think for one minute Richard Socarides is sitting around with the president arguing for gay policies. That isn't happening. The gays in the Clinton administration are just Democratic hacks who happen to be gay."
Mr. Michael is furious about the lack of full representation. "A group of us are going to file a complaint with the FEC [Federal Election Commission] because it's just a political position. It's no surprise that Socarides is going to work on the campaign, because that's what he's been doing all along."
Just as the proverbial broken clock is right twice a day, pro--family activist Robert Knight of the Family Research Council said of the ACT--UP complaint: "In their own perverse way, they have a point." Mr. Knight agrees ACT--UP is correct in pointing out the homosexual liaison office is "nothing but a campaign effort."
Mr. Knight hopes the FEC complaint will give "higher visibility" to the fact that the Clinton administration is using taxpayer dollars to fund "an office dedicated solely to placating homosexual activists."
On the other hand, Mr. Knight worries that ACT--UP is giving the Clinton White House "cover" for its extremist support of homosexual rights. "Nothing could help Bill Clinton more than to have homosexuals demonstrate against him," Mr. Knight said.
What really is going on? Information about the liaison to homosexuals is sparse. There has been little press coverage, and you won't find the president talking about it much. The first person to serve as liaison was Marsha Scott, a childhood friend of the president's who is still said to be close to him personally. She is now working on the Clinton campaign.
Mr. Socarides, who took over for Ms. Scott four months ago, explains that the liaison is responsible for making "sure there's a line of communication between the gays and lesbians and the president." Beyond that, he is short on details. What, for instance, does the liaison do when the president signs a bill, like the Defense of Marriage Act, that is unpopular with homosexuals? "We talk to the gay and lesbian community," Mr. Socarides says. Does the liaison push the president
on key homosexual issues? "I wouldn't use the word push. Basically, we open up communication between the president and the gay and lesbian community."
When confronted with the possibility of Mr. Michael's FEC complaint, Mr. Socarides sounds stunned. Perhaps he feels betrayed-the FEC is supposed to investigate groups like the Christian Coalition, after all, not liaisons to the gay and lesbian community. And to think, the complaint is being filed by the head of D.C.'s ACT--UP chapter. "This office has nothing to do with reelecting Clinton," Mr. Socarides says gravely.
Mr. Michael is certain it does. "The liaison should be focused on issues, not on reelecting a politician. People like Socarides are doing gays and lesbians so much harm because all they are about is making sure people vote for Clinton." According to Mr. Michael, there is plenty of evidence to back him up. He points to a meeting between Marsha Scott and community leaders in San Francisco. According to an article published by Bay Windows, the meeting took place on March 24, 1996, when Ms. Scott still held the liaison position. At the Fenway Community Health Center, flanked by Sen. John Kerry (D--Mass.) and openly homosexual Rep. Gerry Studds (D--Mass.), she told her audience, "I think you have extremely clear choices. You are either at the political table with a Clinton administration, or there is not even a door for you to get to the table."
Such campaigning was routine, Mr. Michael insists. "Marsha Scott was always going around to the gay community saying we've got to reelect Clinton. They've both done it. Believe me, by the time we file this complaint, I will have plenty of details about how this position has been abused. Taped conversations, newspaper accounts, you name it."
Mike Salinas, news editor of the Bay Area Reporter, a homosexual newspaper in San Francisco, agrees. When asked whether the Clinton administration engages in genuine outreach efforts to gays and lesbians, he chuckles. "Socarides stopped by last week, and it was very much a replay of when the AIDS Council came to town: no information. It was all about how we have to vote for Clinton. Socarides made it very clear that we couldn't vote for anyone but Clinton. I asked him to give me an example of Clinton sticking to his principles and he said, 'Well, he supported NAFTA.' Great. But what has Clinton done for me?"
Mr. Michael is angry about this kind of behavior because it compromises issues he believes should remain above the partisan fray. "They're even making AIDS a partisan issue," he says heatedly. "It's the evil Republicans vs. the good Democrats. That's dangerous. There are Republicans who care about AIDS, and AIDS is far too serious to be used as a partisan campaign weapon."
Mr. Socarides denies that AIDS is being politicized, at least as far as the liaison position is concerned. "AIDS is obviously an issue that Americans care deeply about. It is not a partisan issue. And we have not used this office to make it one."
But Mr. Michael argues that the practice of politicizing AIDS is typical not only of Clinton administration appointees, but of far too many homosexual organizations as well. He argues that the Human Rights Campaign, which purports to be a homosexual political advocacy organization, has been involved in FEC violations due to its partisan support of Mr. Clinton. "These people have gone over the lines in a way that damages important issues. The HRC and the Clinton people. That's why something has to be done."
Yes, something has to be done, but homosexuals are likely to learn what conservatives have known all along: It is difficult to deal with The Great Triangulator. The little pink triangles flaunted by homosexuals across the country may take on a new meaning thanks to Bill Clinton. Instead of being the homosexual's badge of pride, they may come to serve as a reminder of what happens to any group that falls for Mr. Clinton's flirtations.