Dangerous liaisons: Gays view White House outreach with suspicion

National | ACT--UP chapter plans FEC complaint against Clinton's liaison office

Issue: "Church inside the state," Oct. 12, 1996

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.

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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.


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