We all find Richard Nixon as detestable as the most Tea Partiest of Tea Partiers, but even he realized the truth about those dirty, filthy homosexuals right-wingers feel don’t deserve equal rights: Gay people were born that way, period. Nixon may have been awful, but even he didn’t subscribe to ridiculous theories about enzymes from sperm causing AIDS when deposited into a man’s anus.
In newly-uncovered 1971 recordings of a conversation with National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, Nixon called himself the “most tolerant person,” though he said he was hesitant to incorporate his views into national policy.
In the recording, Nixon said:
Let me say something before we get off the gay thing. I don’t want my views misunderstood. I am the most tolerant person on that of anybody in this shop. They have a problem. They’re born that way. You know that. That’s all. I think they are.
[But] my point is that Boy Scout leaders, YMCA leaders, and others bring them in that direction, and teachers. And if you look over the history of societies, you will find, of course, that some of the highly intelligent people . . . Oscar Wilde, Aristotle, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, were all homosexuals. Nero, of course, was, in a public way, in with a boy in Rome.
He added, By God, I am not going to have a situation where we pass along a law indicating, ‘Well, now, kids, just go out and be gay.’ They can do it. Just leave them alone. That’s a lifestyle I don’t want to touch…”
Should we view Nixon as a champion of gay rights? Absolutely not. Some of his recorded remarks say quite the opposite. He accused the TV series “All in the family” of glorifying homosexuality and blamed gay people for “destroying the Greeks,” adding, “Aristotle was a homo, we all know that. So was Socrates … Homosexuality, immorality in general…these are the enemies of strong societies.” Nixon said that he didn’t “even want to shake hands with anybody from San Francisco.”
Despite his disparaging remarks, Nixon still managed a better understanding of gay people than modern conservatives can muster. He either found the LGBT community disgusting, but recognized that they are still people who were born that way, or something else. Don Fulsom’s 2011 book claims that Nixon had a gay affair with Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, a Florida banker with apparent ties to the mob. It is entirely possible that the anti-gay remarks were simply to distract from that.
In any case, the former President was miles ahead of the Tea Party in awareness.