doin' the anti-gay camp routine

A full page ad in the Washington Times (PDF here) maintains that allowing a group of gay conservatives to be at CPAC is a betrayal of Ronald Reagan or something.


Of course, I hasten to point out that many on the left -- especially the gay left -- would agree. That's because they believe in precisely the same faulty narrative as the anti-gay right: that Ronald Reagan was "virulently anti-gay."

The truth is that the man was a product of his times, and even though he pandered to anti-gay conservatives, he had gay friends and was personally tolerant:

The conventional view in gay political circles is that Reagan, a strong conservative, was virulently anti-gay. In this view, Reagan was propelled to office by the newly powerful religious right, and repaid that support with socially conservative administration appointments and policies. (Most unforgivably, according to the conventional view, Reagan did nothing while thousands of gay men died of AIDS. That's a charge I'll address in my next column.) The truth about Reagan and gays, however, is more complicated.

Start with the notion that Reagan himself was anti-gay. Like most of us, Reagan reflected the prejudices of his times. Born in 1911, he grew up in a small-town world that misunderstood and feared homosexuality. He was 62 by the time homosexuality was removed from the official list of mental disorders. According to biographer Lou Cannon, Reagan shared the common view of his time that homosexuality was a sickness. He was not above telling jokes about gays.

Still, perhaps because he worked with gay actors in Hollywood and had gay friends, Reagan was relatively tolerant. Cannon notes that Reagan was "respectful of the privacy of others" and was "not the sort of person who bothers about what people do in their own bedrooms." This attitude was consistent with Reagan's larger philosophical commitment to individual liberty and limited government.

Reagan's daughter, Patti Davis (the politically liberal one), recounted on Time magazine's website that she and her father once watched an awkward kiss between Doris Day and Rock Hudson in a movie. Reagan explained to his daughter that the closeted Hudson would have preferred to kiss a man. "This was said in the same tone that would be used if he had been telling me about people with different colored eyes," recalled Davis, "and I accepted without question that this whole kissing thing wasn't reserved just for men and women."

During Reagan's presidency the first openly gay couple spent a night together in the White House. In a column for The Washington Post on March 18, 1984, Robert Kaiser described the sleep-over: "[The Reagans'] interior decorator, Ted Graber, who oversaw the redecoration of the White House, spent a night in the Reagans' private White House quarters with his male lover, Archie Case, when they came to Washington for Nancy Reagan's 60th birthday party. . . . Indeed, all the available evidence suggests that Ronald Reagan is a closet tolerant."

Tolerance is not acceptance, however, and Reagan made it clear in speeches that he would not cross the line to the latter....

Read it all.

This nuanced view of Reagan is also confirmed by the scholarly Warren Throckmorton.

I think it's unlikely that Reagan would support gay marriage. But as Throckmorton notes, he was passionately pro-life, and "there is nothing comparable from Reagan on gay issues." (Biographer Lou Cannon describes him as being "repelled by the aggressive public crusades against homosexual life styles which became a staple of right wing politics in the late 1970s.") And even though he was pro-life, he worked with innumerable pro-choice conservatives and failed to kick them out of his administration. The man was legendary for his belief in coalitions. One of his most famous sayings on the subject was this:

"If you agree with me eighty percent of the time then you are an ally, not a 20 percent traitor."

Hey, I never considered myself a Reaganite, but I agree with Reagan on 80 percent of the issues, so I'm thinking maybe he wouldn't kick me out of CPAC were he alive today.

M. Simon and I have criticized the CPAC boycott, and I not only agree with Glenn that this headline is a hopeful development, I think it speaks well of her courage, sanity, and political maturity:

Sarah Palin Throws Support Behind GOProud Participation at CPAC.


"Well, I've never attended a CPAC conference ever so I was a little taken aback this go around when I couldn't make it to this one either and then there was a speculation well I either agree or disagree with some of the groups or issues that CPAC is discussing. It really is a matter of time for me. But when it comes to and David, perhaps what it is that you're suggesting in the question is should the GOP, should conservatives not reach out to others, not participate in events or forums that perhaps are rising within those forums are issues that maybe we don't personally agree with? And I say no, it's like you being on a panel shoot, with a bunch of the liberal folks whom you have been on and you provide good information and balance, and you allow for healthy debate, which is needed in order for people to gather information and make up their own minds about issues. I look at participation in an event like CPAC or any other event, along, or kind of in that same vein as the more information that people have the better."

That sounds like vintage Reagan to me, all wishful thinking in the anti-gay camp notwithstanding.

Anti-gay camp?

Did I just say that?

Damned if it doesn't sound like a drag routine....

Hey why not?

(As I keep saying, strange bedfellows working in collusion need each other.)

MORE: Hot Air has a poll -- "Should conservatives welcome GOProud, or should they skip CPAC if GOProud participates?" -- and the results so far indicate overwhelming agreement with this:


Looks like the Reagan coalition has the advantage.

posted by Eric on 02.07.11 at 09:03 PM


I am so tired of -- mostly the left, though the extreme religious right does the same (they just have less cultural power) -- people who try to shove people into stereotypes. Also people who ignore the peculiar circumstances of other people's lives that might have led to different ways of seeing things and which are fine, provided they don't AFFECT law or force you to see things their way.

Look, I'm passionately pro-life (which doesn't mean outlawing abortion, but it means holding it out as an evil, which it is in 99.9% of the cases) from a feminist perspective (no? Oh, please. Abortion on demand is a male dream come true and it has frayed the threads by which females exerted power in society. That women have been convinced it's otherwise just proves we're living in the crazy years.) I'm pro-gay-marriage because in some things I'm startlingly stodgy and conservative and I think people are happier in marriage than out of it. (Mind you, I also think government should get its pointy nose out of marriage. It's none of its business. Marriage is a contract. All parts fully consenting, that's ALL it is.) I'm also pro-English as a national language because I'm a linguist. Multi-language nations tend to splinter. I'm anti multi-culturalism because history is. (No matter what our fantasies are.) I'm pro free market because, again, history is. I'm probably a little to the left of Reagan, or is it right? Or is it above, sideways and spinning in place? WHO cares? I am what I am, I vote for those I think represent me best or those who will violate my beliefs least (with moderate amounts of nose-holding ranging from lightly grasped to pinched tight by clothes peg.)

I AM tired of being shoved into a niche based in whom I vote for/what I believe on any particular issue. And for all the people who dropped friendships after 9/11 because I believe nations need to defend themselves and or hold me at arms length
because of one opinion or another: your cutting off of friendships for such reasons reflects how insecure you are of your opinions.

I would say the same is done when one accuses Reagan of being anti-gay. These people are afraid their unreconstructed great state philosophy will be compared to Reagan's policies, which worked while theirs... didn't.

Sarah   ·  February 8, 2011 11:43 AM

When I read "Anti-gay camp" I was expecting some ironically faux, anti-gay movie from John Waters.

Veeshir   ·  February 8, 2011 3:42 PM

If he pandered to anti-gay bigots but knew better, that's worse than being anti-gay down to the bone.

Don   ·  February 8, 2011 4:52 PM

You don't understand - if gays are allowed to marry that will mean my first mate (female) is gay.

I wonder if she could stick to bi girls?

Of course it would also have the unfortunate effect of me having to go out with guys.

Our kids are going to be really surprised.

And thanks for the link!

M. Simon   ·  February 8, 2011 7:10 PM


I don't think it's compulsory? Just in case, we'll move in with our best friends and they can be our beards (!)

Don -- Look up "time and place". As in Reagan was a man of his time and place. Also, if saying nothing is pandering... well... I pander to an awful lot of things. Also, what part of throwing a hissy fit PRO gay rights and allienating the religious conservatives, thereby allowing the USSR to "win" the cold war would be better for America? Perhaps there is a time and a place for everything? And perhaps sometimes things have to be thought out.

Sarah   ·  February 8, 2011 7:15 PM

The truth is that the man was a product of his times, and even though he pandered to anti-gay conservatives, he had gay friends and was personally tolerant

I think that's a very deceptive description. The truth is that Reagan was opposed to "gay activists" but was not hostile to individual gay people. And that probably describes the general attitude on the right towards gays, including the so-called "ant-gay conservatives" Reagan supposedly "pandered" to.

This means that Reagan would have opposed gay groups like the Log Cabin Republicans, even though he's have been happy for individual conservative gay people to come to CPAC.

flenser   ·  February 8, 2011 9:09 PM

"We should welcome any groups that broadly agree on conservative policy goals."

Yeah, but is GOProud such a group? They are rather clearly not. They don't "broadly agree" with conservatives on conservative policy goals.

flenser   ·  February 8, 2011 9:22 PM


Maybe they are libertarians. Would such be welcome in your coalition? Or would you prefer a smaller coalition. One with insufficient strength to win elections.

M. Simon   ·  February 8, 2011 9:56 PM

I am really loving this blog these days. Ronald Reagan. He spent how many years in Hollywood? And people think he didn't have any gay friends? Hello, would you like to buy a bridge in New York City?

There was a time in this country when a man could have gay friends - or be gay himself - and yet nobody talked about it, except in private with close friends who were comfortable discussing such issues. Of course people also didn't talk about private heterosexual practices. Except in private with close friends who were comfortable discussing such issues. Public morality frowned on grown men dressing up in women's clothing. Public morality also frowned on women (or men) who became visibly inebriated, spoke too loud, and used profane language. Men caught canoodling together in public places (such as bathrooms) were shamed and ostracized. As, too, were heterosexual couples who engaged in grotesque public sexual displays. Unmarried women did not voluntarily go home alone at night with a man and then later claim to have been "raped". Two grown men living together, such as Randolph Scott and Cary Grant, might be two friendly bachelor roommates, or they might be homosexual partners. If you didn't know them well enough to know the difference, you didn't ask. And if they did confide in you, you damn well kept it to yourself because it wasn't anybody else's business. Likewise, a man and wife might live together for years as friendly companions and sleep in separate beds. Or they might have an S&M dungeon in the basement. This wasn't considered any concern of the neighbors so long as they mowed their lawn and kept the house painted and the garbage can covered tight. And soundproofed the room.

Then times changed and, since objective morality is "discriminatory", people were not expected to maintain any standards of public decency, or discriminate (!) between acceptable private and proper public behavior.

Yes indeed. There was a time when, regardless of what laws were on the books, in practice the sexual escapades of two (or more) adults behind closed bedroom doors was considered to be their own private affair - and they were expected to keep it that way.

Now we live in a time when those of us who suggest that leading your almost-naked love slave down main street fitted out in spiked collar, chain, and ball gag in the middle of the day is inappropriate behavior (legal, but inappropriate), are considered "bigots".

My goodness, how could a man possibly maintain a friendship which doesn't depend at all on what his friend chooses to do in that friend's private sex life? I mean, that would be crazy, right?

Wait a minute. You know, maybe all those people who think that one has to wear their sexuality, or their views on sexuality, publicly "on their sleeve" - whether gay, straight, pro, against - maybe they are....not really conservatives.

I highly doubt Reagan, at least in his public, Presidential persona, would have been at all in favor of "gay rights". Reagan was pretty clear in stating his belief that rights come from God and are universal to all humans. Thus the concept of "gay rights" seems just as unlikely a prospect as "white rights", "men's rights", "Baptist rights" or any other discriminatory version of "rights". These days if one refuses to discriminate in this manner, one is accused of discrimination - so it's probably for the best that Mr. Reagan isn't around to witness such a travesty of logic.

ChevalierdeJohnstone   ·  February 10, 2011 2:08 AM

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