Strange Bedfellows

A Brief History Of Powerful Gay/Straight Political Bromances

Gay/straight celebrity bromances are all the rage of late — Andy Cohen and Sean AveryPatrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, to name just a few.

There’s something extra sweet about home/hetero frienships because they’re all about mutual understanding and reaching across the orientation divide that too often keeps us apart, even to this day.

Camaraderies between gay men and their straight counterparts is also a political statement, and have in themselves change the world for the better.

Check out five gay/straight political bromances…

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Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens

Rumors that Alexander Hamilton, primary author of the Federalist Papers and the official face of the $10 bill, was bisexual have been swirling for — well — centuries.

Though he married Elizabeth Schuyler in 1780 and fathered a total of eight children with her, some historians believe Hamilton had a romantic relationship with fellow solider and aristocrat John Laurens while both men were aide-de-camps to George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

The evidence is found in a series letters written by Hamilton to Laurens, in which the founding father professes: “I wish, my Dear Laurens, it might be in my power, by action rather than words to convince you that I love you… You should not have taken advantage of my sensibility to steal into my affections without my consent.”

Since Hamilton was killed by Vice President Aaron Burr’s bullet during a duel in 1804, we’ll probably never know for sure.

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Lem Billings and JFK

The fact that JFK’s best buddy, Lem Billings, was gay went largely unreported until David Pitts’ Jack and Lem: The Untold Story of an Extraordinary Friendship was published in 2008.

The two met as teenagers while attending the same boarding school. They became fast friends and in 1960; Billings left his job to work on Kennedy’s presidential campaign.

After Kennedy was elected to the oval office, Billings was given his own bedroom in the White House and even helped organize White House dinner parties when Jackie O., who less than thrilled about his relationship with her husband, was away. 

Though Kennedy offered him a few different official positions, Billings always declined. He later said that “it would change our relationship.”

“Jack made a big difference in my life,” Billings said. “Because of him, I was never lonely. He may have been the reason I never got married.”

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Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bayard Rustin met Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1956, when Rustin agreed to help coordinate the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He went on to become King’s advisor and personal secretary, educating him in Gandhian non-violent principles. He also helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where King made his iconic “I have a dream” speech.

Despite playing a major role in the civil rights movement, Rustin was often left off lists of important civil rights figures, largely because of his sexual orientation. In 2003, the documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin was a Sundance Festival Grand Jury Prize nominee.

Last year, President Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Medal of Freedom.

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David Mixner and Bill Clinton

Some bromances are more complicated than others. The relationship between David Mixner and Bill Clinton is case in point.

The pair met in 1969 and came from similar backgrounds. They were born just three days apart, and both grew up in working class homes in small towns. They remained close through Clinton’s rise. Mixner helped Clinton fundraise and organize for the gay vote, and was a part of his transition team after he was elected to the presidency.

But in July 1993, when Clinton’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy went into effect, their relationship soured. Mixner let his feelings about Clinton be known by getting arrested in a protest outside the White House. He also expressed dissatisfaction in Clinton three years later when he signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

As a result of Clinton’s actions, which Mixner later called “purely political,” the two men didn’t talk for several years, and their friendship never fully recovered from the setbacks, even when Clinton apologized for both antigay missteps.

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Ken Mehlman and George W. Bush

The relationship between Republican strategist Ken Mehlman and George W. Bush had many people scratching their heads. Mehlman managed Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign and was later appointed by Bush to a five-year term on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council before becoming head of the Republican National Committee. But how could an openly gay man align himself personally and politically with such a vocal opponent of equality? It’s something Mehlman remained tight-lipped about until just a few years ago.

In 2012, he finally admitted regret over his involvement in Bush’s 2004 campaign, telling Salon.com, “At a personal level, I wish I had spoken out against the (GOP anti-marriage equality] effort. As I’ve been involved in the fight for marriage equality, one of the things I’ve learned is how many people were harmed by the campaigns in which I was involved.”

Since then, Mehlamn has tried to make good by lobbying prominent Republicans on the importance of marriage equality, though there are still plenty of folks who have not forgiven him for his past.

Related stories:

Andy Cohen And His Hetero Best Friend, Plus Four More Gay/Straight Celebrity Bromances

PHOTOS: A History Of Man-On-Man Affection

Study: 93 Percent Of Straight College Dudes Enjoy “Cuddling, Spooning” With Their Bros