Jesse Helms, gay rights advocate? That’s what his estate says
Yes, friends, it’s a world turned upside-down, via Towleroad: Jesse Helms estate tries to recast late senator as gay rights hero.
“Efforts to lift the ban were blocked by a 1993 Congressional amendment introduced by Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina. Those who fought the law say Mr. Helms, who died in 2008, perpetuated decades of discrimination. But just as the ban has disappeared, the curators of Mr. Helms’s legacy are trying to touch up the relevant history. Some want him seen as a savior to those with AIDS and a defender of gay rights. Despite Mr. Helms’s storied opposition to ‘a homosexual lifestyle,’ the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate, N.C., is challenging the idea that he was a “homophobe” or obstructive in the AIDS fight.
According to the center’s Web site, ‘It was Senator Helms who worked most tirelessly to protect the very principles of freedom that homosexuals are denied in many other nations.’ John Dodd, president of the Jesse Helms Center Foundation, recently disputed an editorial in the British newspaper The Guardian that vilified Mr. Helms for his role in the ban. Mr. Dodd argued that ‘two million Africans were alive’ because of the senator’s work fighting H.I.V.”
W.T.F. are they smoking? Helms fought needle exchanges and other programs to curb the spread of the disease; all of his homophobic bigotry was raised just last year when Elizabeth Dole tried to have an AIDS relief bill named after the deceased former senator.
Helms didn’t soften his stance about fighting AIDS at home among people who acquired the infection through homosexual activity.
“I don’t have any idea on changing my views on that kind of activity, which is the primary cause of the doubling and redoubling of AIDS cases in the United States,” Helms said.
He also famously opposed Roberta Achtenberg’s nomination to be assistant secretary for fair housing at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, saying:
“she’s a damn lesbian. I’m not going to put a lesbian in a position like that. If you want to call me a bigot, fine.”
That hardly sounds like a gay rights champion.
I would watch good old Jesse back in the day when he was a commentator on WRAL in Raleigh. I remember as a child listening to him rail on race on our black and white TV. I wondered why this man was so hateful. You didn’t have to be an adult to get the clear message that he didn’t like black folks encroaching on his lily-white world. They belonged in their place.
And those nasty homos…Jesse had no use for them, except when he hired “good fags” to run racist campaigns like Arthur Finkelstein, who worked with Jesse Helms on his Senate run against Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt in 1990. That was the campaign with the infamous “white hands commercial” by political consultant Alex Castellanos showing a close up pair of a flannel-shirtsleeved white hands crumpling a termination notice, with an ominous voiceover explaining that a well-deserved job went to someone else because of affirmative action. This appealed to the blue collar, textile working folks in the rural areas, and Helms won handily.