by MK Scott
I must confess, I wasn’t a fan of the 41st President George H.W. Bush, but what I do admire is that he constantly evolved. Compared to other Republican Presidents, he wasn’t all that bad. His record on AIDS wasn’t that good, but it was something. With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, this law did help people with all disabilities including those suffering with HIV and AIDS.
Last April, I reached out to James Holm, a Seattle native and former Dorian Group president and former CEO for the National AIDS Network in Washington, DC, to provide a statement on the passing of former First Lady, Barbara Bush.
When asked about his historic meeting with the First Lady, Holm stated, ‘First Lady Bush saw me at the White House as part of her outreach when she was doing AIDS [education] work. I was CEO of the National AIDS Network at that time.’ Holm continued, ‘Everyone knew I was gay.’
‘Soon after President Bush held a meeting of LGBT and AIDS activists/professionals who met to facilitate, finally, a federal response to AIDS.’ Holm added, ‘They nearly kicked me out of the meeting. Her staff had to authorize me in person, bypassing the Secret Service, to let me into the White House.’
Holm was the first AIDS agency staff member to visit the White House. This meeting helped open communication with the White House for years to come.
Now, with the recent death of President Bush, I once again reached out to Holm to respond to the passing of Barbara’s husband, George Herbert Walker Bush.
He told me via Facebook, ‘Barbara started reaching out to the HIV community. Her kissing AIDS babies in Washington, DC changed EVERYTHING. I WOUND UP MEETING HER AND George Bush ON separate OCCASIONS. George SEEMED GENUINELY INTERESTED IN HELPING. I believe she pushed him. George was a true patriot politician. He was a genuinely nice guy whose party was not up to scratch on our issues. We struggled with the Log Cabin Republicans, the LGBT Republican group based in CA. The Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (full disclosure, I was Co-chair of NGLTF) started coordinating efforts along with the gay AIDS lobby. George broke the ice. Later came significant reform. Compared to our current leadership George was a sterling example of a last of the breed of Rockefeller Republicans, who cared about people and was not afraid to be moderate. He was a better man than Reagan. Too bad he had only one term but we needed Clinton when we got him for AIDS. I found the memorials in DC very moving. He was the sine qua non of the international politician. He got us in and out of Kuwait with the largest coalition ever which he did by knowing all these leaders personally and treating them like as gentleman. George is not an unsung hero but he laid groundwork for change.’
While I was chatting with Holm via Facebook, I then noticed the posting by long term Gay activist and co-founder of the Human Rights Campaign and Victory Fund, Terry Bean, who resides in Portland. I reached out to Bean for permission to reprint his statement.
Bean does share the sentiment of Bush as a true patriot, but does put some blame on him for not doing enough for AIDS. Both Holm and Bean agreed that the Clinton White House had to happen for something to get done. Bean wrote:
‘I’ve gone back & forth deciding whether or not to comment on the passing of President George H. W. Bush. By all accounts, he was a loving father, a remarkable friend & dedicated American. He signed the Americans with Disabilities Act & the new Clean Air Act, and in many ways was the best Republican President since Eisenhower. Especially after his time in office, he showed growth & sensitivity to many cultural issues that he had previously ignored. In general, he was an accomplished statesman, and I understand the sense of sadness & loss from those who loved & looked up to him.This said, to look upon his legacy solely through these rose colored glasses does a disservice to the tens of thousands of lives lost to the AIDS crisis. These too were loving fathers & friends, brothers & coworkers, dedicated & passionate & brilliant people, all whom were denied the privilege of living to 94. In the 1980s, I was a political & civil rights activist in Eugene, Oregon, and watched with horror as I lost two partners and over 30 close friends to the disease, all while those with the power to address the AIDS crisis CHOSE to do nothing & embrace conservative religious movements. We cannot overlook that in someone’s legacy, even in death, if accountability means anything. To expect silence & only veneration now is to erase the horror, pain, & injustice suffered by millions of us & opens the door to it happening again. Now more than ever, we must acknowledge history’s truths. I can not be complicit in the erasure of Greg & Mike & Bill & the many other brilliant people we’ve lost too soon because of Reagan/Bush’s policies. I think back to a speech I gave on the Right to Privacy Pact in 1992, talking about the need to elect Bill Clinton: ‘We all have too many friends with just too few T-cells in their blood to be able to survive four more years of George Bush. This is the politics of survival.’ I have two partners and many friends who might still be alive today if the Reagan & Bush administrations handled the AIDS crisis like Clinton/Gore administration (Al Gore worked tirelessly behind the scenes to fund research & coordinate the CDC & NIH), and I can not sit quietly while the reality of their deaths is written over. We need to mourn him as a loving father & friend, a patriot who served his country with honorable intent; but let’s not forget his lack of compassion against those with HIV/AIDS.’
MK Scott is a Seattle-based political and arts writer. Check out his site at uniteseattlemag.com