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Clifton Spires is the father of a gay son who walked out of the family home in 1996 after a family row and they've never seen or spoken to each other since. A journalist living in Ohio with his wife and other son he now campaigns vigorously for gay rights and each week on OutUK he reflects on how this affects his life and family. Though it's written in America, we believe the issues he deals with affect the worldwide gay community. Previous columns are archived in OutBack.

Bush's Bigoted Bogeyman Fever

It's true --- I've been hiding under a soft, fluffy, baby-blue blanket in my closet ever since the U.S. Supreme Court named George Dubya Bush our president-select. I figured if I stayed in there long enough, I would, like Ebenezer Scrooge, wake up and find out that it was all a bad dream resulting from drinking some bad pre-holiday eggnog.

But after much coaxing from my family --- and the separate needs to eat something and also visit the little boys' room --- I emerged from my blue cocoon and faced the music, dirge that it was. The big and beautiful woman has announced her encore and it's "The Funeral March of the Marionette," also known as "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" theme song.

Those who were doing the coaxing said things like, "It won't be so bad; Congress is so evenly divided Dubya won't be able to keep any of those nasty, reactionary, ill-thought-out, recidivist economic and social policies that Big Oil Money and The Despotic Religious Right want to put through," and, "Besides, it's only four years; how much harm can the Texas Twinkie do, anyway?"

Well, my friends, it's already started. If you want to know how bad it can get, just take a look at our new Commander and Thief's first draft choice for U.S. Attorney General: former senator John Ashcroft of Missouri, the man who voters of the Show-Me State rejected for re-election in favor of a dead man.

If you want to know just how bad a choice Ashcroft is for gay and gay-supportive people, consider these:

* During his six years in the Senate, Ashcroft scored zeros --- that's right, three big goose eggs --- on the Human Rights Campaign's scorecards for pro-gay legislation.

* Within his own office, Ashcroft refused to adopt a non-discriminatory policy that would include sexual orientation. In other words, if you were gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgendered (or even supportive of GLBT folks), Ashcroft wouldn't hire you to answer his phone or empty his trash cans.

* Ashcroft opposed reauthorization of the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, which even had support from many religious conservatives. Despite the fact that AIDS affects more than just gay men and intravenous drug users, Ashcroft's attitude could be interpreted as an example of his willingness to deal with the problem by letting the AIDS plague run its course, meaning, "Let the perverts and druggies die off."

* He sponsored an amendment to the Department of Interior appropriation bill that would have eliminated all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Ashcroft cited the NEA's supposed "promotion of homosexuality" as his reason for the amendment. If one follows this attitude to its illogical extremist conclusion, one would assume Ashcroft would be in favor of taking a sledgehammer to Michelangelo's "David" for its homoerotic aspects and most representations of the Crucifixion or the martyrdom of St. Sebastian for being suggestive of "Bound and Gagged" magazine.

* Ashcroft is on record as opposing hate crime legislation and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit anti-gay discrimination in the workplace.

* He also opposed the nomination of David Satcher as U.S. Surgeon General, who had the support of gay, gay supportive and AIDS activists, and that of Bill Lan Lee, a gay-friendly civil rights advocate, to head the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, as well as other minority nominees.

Yuck! Spit! Phooey! If the Ashcroft nomination is any indication, the Dubya Bush administration's attitude toward gay rights would appear to be one of bringing out bigoted boogeymen to reopen the closet, point toward the inner darkness and say, "After you, Queenie." I wonder how many other homophobic hobgoblins like Ashcroft our frat boy president-select has up the sleeve of his cheerleader sweater.

Even the radical right knows that Ashcroft is an extremist and has already started an offensive on his behalf. A couple of typical plays from these extremists could be found in recent letters to the editor of "USA Today." In one, Ken Murphey of Yucca Valley, Calif., adopts the pretense that only leftists oppose Ashcroft's far-right ways. Murphey suggests that those who oppose the nomination do so "because (Ashcroft) is a Christian." To those who share Murphey's tortured thinking, I would say that I actually know of many people who consider themselves (and whom I also consider) Christian and who find the thought of a homophobic bigot guiding our nation's justice department to be anathema.

Another letter writer, Scott George of Mount Vernon, Mo., applauds Ashcroft for his "determination to uphold the law of the land (which) strikes fear in the hearts fo those who practice legal and ethical chicanery." I wish that were true; quite a few Republican officeholders in Florida --- such as Secretary of State Katherine "Cruella" Harris and Gov. Jeb "First Brother" Bush --- as well as U.S. Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy, Sandra O'Connor, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas --- might be among the fearful. At least they should be.

And speaking of the U.S. Supreme Court --- everyone talks about how omnipotent they are. There is an assumption of invulnerability to reprimand on their part, even if they fail to recuse themselves because of the appearance of prejudice, as in the case of Scalia, who has at least one family member associated with a Bush law firm and who made statements which could be construed as prejudicial in favor of Bush before the case was even heard. A case also could be made that Thomas should have recused himself because of his wife's connection with the Bush election and transition teams. Just something I'm throwing out on the table for us to think about and ponder why elected officials and legal minds are not pursuing these questions of judicial impartiality (or lack thereof) more fully. U.S. Supreme Court Justices are not invulnerable; check the history books for the case of Justice Salmon Chase, who was impeached (although not removed from office).

I intend to write to my U.S. senators, Mike DeWine and George Voinovich, both Ohio Republicans, and tell them approval of Ashcroft is absolutely unacceptable to me as a parent who expects equal treatment from the government for both of his sons --- one gay and one straight. Considering that both senators are loyal to their party and their president, no matter how illegitimately he was chosen, I don't expect much more than a form letter thanking me for my interest in (fill in the blank). But at least I will have gone through the formality of writing.

I'm also trying to gear up enough energy to write a letter to all the senators --- or at the very least, all the Democrats --- who are on-line. I want to ask them to stand united in opposition to the Ashcroft nomination. It doesn't seem like a lot to ask; I'm sure the Republicans would be more than willing to oblige if the tables were turned.

Published 8th January 2001


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