Was Bush All Bad For the Gays?

Worst. President. Ever.

Everyone knows Dubya’s awful, but what’s his legacy with the gay and lesbian community? This week, Bush signed into law the Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act, which make makes it mandatory for businesses to roll over retirement benefits to a same-sex partner in the event of the employee’s death. Is it cause to reassess his relationship with the gay and lesbian community, or a last ditch stab at whitewashing over his homophobic administration?

After eight years, George W. Bush is going home to Texas this month, leaving behind an economy in shambles, a legal system which permits torture, a nation appreciably worse than the one he inherited, a war whose mission is still unaccomplished. He’s also abandoning broken people of New Orleans, the unemployed schoolteachers in towns gone bust from the mortgage crisis and parents of soldiers killed in a war begun on false premises that lowered our nation’s standing across the globe and did nothing to bring justice to the killers who orchestrated 9/11.

Bush believes future generations will judge him kinder than his contemporaries. Of course, the President and his administration have made an art out of failed prognostication, from promises of being greeted as liberators to the surety of weapons of mass destruction and there’s no indication that the President’s prescience or wisdom has improved over his final years in the White House. Certainly, Bush has done some good. India has become a close and useful ally under his watch. Bush’s Hawaiian Marine Reserve National Park is our largest, even if it’s mostly underwater. But for gays and lesbians, how does it all add up? Was Bush nothing but negative, or did he do enough good here and there to make his legacy more of a mixed bag. Here are the highlights and well, mostly lowlights of Bush 43’s gay legacy:

Early Openness
It’s hard to remember that Bush’s mandate walking into Washington was to be inclusive, and early on, Bush showed promise. The Office of National AIDS Policy had an openly gay man running it and federal employees retained their same-sex partner benefits. But it was all downhill from there.

No Joy in Prideville
Bush refused to officially recognize Pride Month as his predecessor, Bill Clinton did.

Bush Press Room Gay Escort Friendly!
Capitol Hill Blue wrote at the time:

James Dale Guckert, aka Jeff Gannon, infiltrated the White House press corps as a so-called journalist working for two GOP-backed web sites. He quit after some left-wing blogs outed him but “ like most Washington scandals“ the story gets juicier.

The bloggers revealed Guckert had registered a number of web site domain names with gay themes, including hotmilitarystud.com. Guckert admitted registering the names but claimed he never put up any web sites with gay themes.

Like so many who shill for Bush’s White House, Guckert is a liar.

Paul Leddy, a California Web designer, says Guckert contacted him in an America Online chat room in 1999 and contracted with him to create a gay escort web site, paying $200, plus $50 in monthly maintenance fees. Checks to pay the fees came from Bedrock Corp., a company also listed as the owner of Guckert’s blog, jeffgannon.com. Leddy says Gannon submitted nude photos of himself for posting on the site.

Another of Guckert’s web sites offered his services as a male escort for $200 an hour or $1200 a night. Guckert described himself as “military, muscular, masculine and discrete.” (His misspelling, not ours).”

Support for Federal Marriage Amendment
In February of 2004, Bush walked into the Roosevelt Room and called for a Constitutional ban on gay marriage, saying:

” After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence, and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization. Their actions have created confusion on an issue that requires clarity.

On a matter of such importance, the voice of the people must be heard. Activist courts have left the people with one recourse. If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America. Decisive and democratic action is needed, because attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country.

The Constitution says that full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts and records and judicial proceedings of every other state. Those who want to change the meaning of marriage will claim that this provision requires all states and cities to recognize same-sex marriages performed anywhere in America. Congress attempted to address this problem in the Defense of Marriage Act, by declaring that no state must accept another state’s definition of marriage. My administration will vigorously defend this act of Congress.

Yet there is no assurance that the Defense of Marriage Act will not, itself, be struck down by activist courts. In that event, every state would be forced to recognize any relationship that judges in Boston or officials in San Francisco choose to call a marriage. Furthermore, even if the Defense of Marriage Act is upheld, the law does not protect marriage within any state or city.

For all these reasons, the Defense of Marriage requires a constitutional amendment. “

The move was pure politics, giving conservative Republicans a talking point to latch onto in an election year. Since then, the amendment, which has about as much chance of being enacted as Bush showing up in a Dallas gay bar next year does, has been a convenient social conservative Big Rock Candy Mountain to be hauled out whenever the base needs a little firing up. But even as political theatre, Bush’s call for the amendment constitutes the worst ever sort of gay bashing to come out of the White House.

A Lasting Legacy Combating AIDS
The one area where Bush’s efforts have clearly made an impact is in the world of HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa. AIDS is not a gay problem, but a universal problem. But when you think back to Reagan’s silence during the 80s, Bush’s commitment to getting HIV/AIDS medications and treatments available to Africa is both obviously important and something the gay community ought to celebrate:

As Canwest reports this week:

Five years after Bush committed $15 billion to launch the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the program is being touted as that rarest of Bush administration success stories – one largely undiminished by major setbacks even amid lingering controversy over some of its elements.

Since 2003, the program known as PEPFAR has provided compassionate care to 10 million HIV/AIDS sufferers – including four million AIDS orphans – in Africa and elsewhere overseas.

More than 2.1 million people are now receiving retroviral drugs to combat their infections, up from a mere 50,000 people who had access to the life-saving medications in 2003. More than 240,000 children have been born in Africa free of HIV infection because mothers received drugs that blocked transmission of the deadly virus.

Perhaps most significant, however, Bush this summer secured congressional re-authorization of the program for another five years, tripling the funding to $48 billion. Included in the amount is $9 billion to battle malaria and tuberculosis, the leading killer of HIV-infected Africans. The money is targeted at 13 “focus” countries in Africa, plus Vietnam and Haiti.”

So which is it? Does Bush’s lasting legacy of fighting HIV/AIDS outweigh the political fagbashing that came out of the White House for eight years? Do we congratulate the President on getting one thing right while ruining everything else? Or are we so overcome with apathy and a desire to move past our long national nightmare that Bush, for good or ill, ought to be ignored for a very very long time?