Nixon’s 1971 Approach To The Gay “Problem” Sounds Just Like Putin’s

nixon-putinRecently unearthed audio recordings of President Nixon speaking with his national security advisor Henry Kissinger and Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman reveal that the disgraced former U.S. president believed he had progressive opinions about “homosexuals,” touting himself as his administration’s “most tolerant person” for believing that gays were “born that way.”

But the tapes, allegedly secretly recoded in 1971 and published by Vanity Fair Thursday, are not all that progressive by today’s standards. Nixon may have been an early-adopter of tolerating what we’d now refer to as the LGBT movement, but he also speculates that too much tolerance and “homosexuals” specifically were responsible for the collapse of the Roman Empire.

On April 28, 1971, Nixon, Kissinger, and Haldeman reportedly had a discussion about an annual youth conference. The subject turned to “homosexuals” (transcript via Vanity Fair):

Nixon: Let me say something before we get off the gay thing. I don’t want my views misunderstood. I am the most tolerant person on that of anybody in this shop. They have a problem. They’re born that way. You know that. That’s all. I think they are. Anyway, my point is, though, when I say they’re born that way, the tendency is there. [But] my point is that Boy Scout leaders, YMCA leaders, and others bring them in that direction, and teachers. And if you look over the history of societies, you will find, of course, that some of the highly intelligent people . . . Oscar Wilde, Aristotle, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, were all homosexuals. Nero, of course, was, in a public way, in with a boy in Rome.

Haldeman: There’s a whole bunch of Roman emperors. . . .

Nixon: But the point is, look at that, once a society moves in that direction, the vitality goes out of that society. Now, isn’t that right, Henry?

Nixon speculates that gay community leaders and some of history’s “highly intelligent” thinkers were “homosexuals” that contributed to the inevitable decline of their societies.

Kissinger responded:

Kissinger: That’s certainly been the case in antiquity. The Romans were notorious—

Haldeman: The Greeks.

Kissinger: —homosexuals. . . .

Nixon: The Greeks. And they had plenty of it. . . . By God, I am not going to have a situation where we pass along a law indicating, “Well, now, kids, just go out and be gay.” They can do it. Just leave them alone. That’s a lifestyle I don’t want to touch. . . .

Kissinger: It’s one thing for people to, you know, like some people we know, who would do it discreetly, but to make that a national policy . . .

Nixon also had some non-progressive views about gender roles, as revealed when the conversation turned to “swearing in public”:

Nixon: I mean, you’ve got to stop at a certain point. Why is it that the girls don’t swear? Because a man, when he swears, people can’t tolerate a girl who is a—

Haldeman: Girls do swear.

Nixon: Huh?

Haldeman: They do now.

Nixon: Oh, they do now? But, nevertheless, it removes something from them. They don’t even realize it. A man drunk, and a man who swears, people will tolerate and say that’s a sign of masculinity or some other damn thing. We all do it. We all swear. But you show me a girl that swears and I’ll show you an awful unattractive person. . . . I mean, all femininity is gone. And none of the smart girls do swear, incidentally.

There are eery similarities between the personal beliefs Nixon shared with his most trusted colleagues and those perpetuated throughout modern-day Russia by President Vladimir Putin. Putin has long held the belief that outlawing displays of “homosexuality” or LGBTs in general is in the best interest of society’s children, arguing that gay men and women are unfit parents and/or sexual predators.

But throughout his reign of terror that criminalizes and shames LGBTs, Putin has also claimed to be very tolerant of gays. He approved a ban on gay men and women adopting children and told the media it was “not discrimination.” Months later, he expected the world to pat on the back for agreeing to not arrest LGBT people in Sochi during the 2014 Winter Olympics (a promise that he broke, of course).

We can at least take solace in knowing Nixon didn’t “want to touch” the legislation of LGBTs because it would have probably turned out very badly. Today’s Russian LGBTs, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury.

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  • Cam

    Interesting though that Nixon said “They can do it, just leave them alone” Even that far back and backward compared to now he was still FAR more progressive apparently than Putin.

  • DuMaurier

    @Cam: Also, the “they’re born that way” part. I was a closeted gay adolescent during Nixon’s reign, (secretly) reading everything I could about “homosexuality”, and the whole “it’s a choice” thing, from what I remember reading then, is pretty recent.

    Of course, the “born that way” thing wasn’t all that progressive either, since (as you get from Nixon’s comments) what it meant was: born with an affliction of some sort, but at least it was more rational than thinking people go around “deciding” who and what to be attracted to.

  • Frank

    This was an interesting post. Which led me to this post:

    Which made me comment there:

    The Russian government is more schizophrenic sometimes than North Korea or even China is. After all, the politicians basically abandoned their leadership roles and let the country and the economy crash and burn from corruption and stupidity in 1991 by dissolving the Soviet Union. Since then, what they now have have filling in the leadership void is the predictable fascist disaster that Putin is lording over, which also probably won’t end very well.

    But when politicians are failing on so many levels and refuse to take the heat, the age old excuse of making the harmless gays out to be the enemy, is exactly like what the GOP attempts to do in this country on a regular basis to get votes.

    And the GOP is already doing a great job of destroying the US economically since the 2000 elections, I might add. Then in 2004, in order to deflect ongoing criticism for fiscal GOP government mismanagement, the bigoted GOP decided to start vilifying the gays nationwide for the crazy Christian conservative votes.

    So really, we shouldn’t be too surprised by what is happening in Russia. And we need to see Russia as a cautionary tale of what could happen here to gays if the baby Jesus crazy GOP conservatives ever get a chance to completely wreck this country without proper guidance.

  • frenchjr25

    We need to understand that this was more than 40 years ago and he was raised being taught that gays were vial, terrible people that deserved death. For 1971 his views are pretty liberal. He’s right that his views were probably among the most liberal of everyone in leadership of the time.

    No matter how much it pains us to do so, we need to understand the times he was raised in and was living in. We can’t attack him today without understanding what he had gone through. But don’t take this as me defending him. I can’t.

  • Queer4Life

    @Frank: Your still voting? I am amazed people still think that works.

    As to Nixon… You had me at “I am not a crook”.

  • john.k

    Maybe Nixon was relatively liberal for the time. I remember seeing a TV clip of Dean Rusk, Secretary of State in the Kennedy & Johnson administrations, saying that if any homosexuals were found working in the State Department they would be fired.

  • Ben Dover

    I almost hate to admit it, but I’m old enough that I have to agree with Nixon’s remarks about girls swearing. It’s bad enough from guys, but ugh, it’s disgusting when girls swear all the time. Maybe I feel this way because I ride the subways & buses a lot in Boston. The only f*cking “femininity” left in the Boston area is from drag queens, I think (but most of them swear a lot too).

    @DuMaurier: Yes, this certainly shows the limitations of the “born that way” mantra even in its relatively tolerant form. Of course, the slaveowners thought blacks were “born that way,” and Nazis thought Jews were “born that way.” I never understand why anyone thinks this approach will automatically guarantee civil rights for gays!

  • LadyL

    @Ruhlmann: Reading this post I was just thinking the same–I do remember Rebozo, but only vaguely, since I was a kid during the Nixon years. It’s weirdly hilarious how the White House and National press corps (“Darkest Secrets” author Don Fulsom an obvious exception) still can’t bring themselves to talk honestly about that relationship.

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