Dying from cancer? Terrible. Using your position of political power to deny gays and lesbians basic rights? Also terrible. So defines the life of Jack Kemp, who died at age 73 after serving as George H.W. Bush’s housing secretary and nine terms as a New York congressman. Oh, and after trashing gay rights. Oh, and after battling rumors he was a big ‘mo!
The gay rumors swirled around the married father of four, which were fueled after he was identified as a business parter, along with four gay men, in a Lake Tahoe ski cabin in the 60s. Kemp’s camp shot down the rumors, but they never went away.
Neither did the congressman’s predilection for intolerance. Though he “I believe in civil liberties for homosexuals,” he finished that thought with, “I guess I’d have to say I’d draw the line at letting them teach in the schools.” Kemp fought legislation that would protect HIV-positive Americans, going so far as to support a bill to require mandatory testing of those infected — a sort of chicken-and-egg scenario that didn’t pass.
Back in 1996, when Bob Dole chose Kemp as his running mate, Kemp’s reputation floated somewhere on the moderate side of things, but the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force noted Kemp “has a solid anti-gay record nonetheless. Though the move will be seen by many as a move to the political center, Kemp’s record indicates a continued trend to the hard right with the party firmly in the hands of religious political extremists.”
Rest well, Mr. Kemp.