Ask, But Bush Won't Tell if He'd Pick Openly Gay People for Posts

Dana Wilkie, Copley News Service, The San Diego Union
February 25, 2000 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

(WASHINGTON, DC) – Asked if he would appoint openly gay people to his presidential administration, George W. Bush recently told Christian radio listeners that such people probably wouldn't share his conservative views.

Later, a spokesman said Bush meant that gay "activists" wouldn't share his philosophies, but the point seemed clear: People who publicly advocate equal rights and opportunities for gays wouldn't fit well in a Bush White House.

The fact is, Bush already has openly gay activists working on his campaign. And, despite Bush's radio remarks, those activists say they do share the governor's conservative thinking.

Does this mean that gay activists now working hard to elect Bush are potential White House appointees?

"The governor will appoint qualified individuals who share his conservative philosophy," was all that Bush campaign spokesman Scott McClellan would say.

During his interview this month on South Carolina radio station WMHK, Bush was addressing social conservatives who disapprove of the homosexual lifestyle. But radio listeners may not have known that people who advocate gay rights are working for Bush already.

In the District of Columbia, openly gay members on Bush's campaign steering committee include David Catania, a D.C. councilman who is also a Bush delegate. He said he agrees with Bush on almost every issue.

"I wish he would be a bit more progressive on gay issues, but, that aside, I think he's the best man to lead this country," Catania said.

Carl Schmid is on the same steering committee and is an alternate delegate for Bush. He is also on the board of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay-advocacy group.

"I'm pretty active in the gay community, and I probably support 98 percent of what Bush stands for," Schmid said. "Obviously I have some disagreements with his position on gays... but I definitely share his conservative views on taxes, government spending, national defense and education."

Kevin Ivers, a spokesman for the Log Cabin Republicans, said other gay activists working on the Bush campaign are "in New York, Georgia and California."

Though Ivers made it sound as if Bush would not put gay activists in the White House, Bush's position on hiring gays has been difficult to track.

Early in his campaign, Bush said that being gay would not disqualify anyone from his administration "if someone can do a job, and a job that he's qualified for."

But Christian conservatives later said Bush promised them that if elected he would not appoint gays to government positions.

Bush's comments in presidential debates haven't cleared up the issue.

In a South Carolina debate this month, the governor said he would not ask the sexual orientation of his Cabinet appointees. Asked in a January debate if he would appoint Cabinet members who announced they were gay and proud of it, Bush said "it depends on what their politics are."

Bush opposes gay adoption, gay marriages, the repeal of sodomy laws and the inclusion of "sexual orientation" in hate-crime laws. He supports the current "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays in the military. But he would not appoint people to the Joint Chiefs of Staff if they supported allowing openly gay soldiers to serve.

Bush refused during his campaign to meet with the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of gay GOP members. He said that sexual orientation "should not be politicized," and that such an encounter would be "a political nightmare." Bush adviser Diane Ravitch, one of the country's foremost thinkers on education reform, quit the campaign over the Log Cabin issue. Bush rival John McCain did meet with the group.

Catania said he is certain Bush would appoint gay activists to the White House.

"I suspect what he means to say is that he would not have traditional leftist activists in his administration," Catania said.

Schmid agreed.

"People have talked to him – his gay friends – and I'm pretty close to the campaign and I've spoken to him," Schmid said. "Of course he would hire gay people."

But McClellan would not go that far.

"(Sexual orientation) is not a question he asks, so he wouldn't know," McClellan said.

Asked if Bush would hire people he already knows are gay – such as Catania and Schmid – McClellan repeated that Bush will hire qualified people.

Virginia Apuzzo, a former Clinton appointee now with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said Bush refuses to be specific because he does not want to anger conservatives who dislike homosexuality or moderates who support equal opportunities for gays.

"Voters are certainly smart enough to see the contrast between the George W. in South Carolina and the George W." who uses gay activists for his campaign, Apuzzo said.