The nation's cartoonists' take on the week in politics The crowd loved it. He was gay and working for a Republican and convinced it was possible to be both at the same time. Like dozens of other gay colleagues in the Bush White House, many of them closeted, Levine had been sure that Bush himself was personally tolerant even if the GOP was not—and uncomfortable with gay-bashing as a way to win elections.
But this was a rebuff, and it was hard not to take it personally: These are my friends. As the taillights disappeared down Pennsylvania Avenue, Levine left town. A few months later, one of his gay friends who had also worked in the White House sat down in front of Facebook and counted the Bush White House staffers he knew to be gay.
He came up with at least 70 only two of them women. Alberto Gonzales, the former Bush White House counsel and attorney general, for example, says he never knew dozens of gays had served on the White House staff. He told me he was entirely unaware he had company. And their sole purpose was to pray for me in my office.
Evertz was sure Rove had sent him as a nice gesture. It was only much later that Evertz learned Hernandez, who had been with Bush since serving as his driver and personal aide in the early s, was gay. Their accounts offer a time-capsule view of a Republican Party—and a president—at war with itself over an issue on which public opinion and the law have now changed dramatically. At the time, it seemed to be great politics for Bush: As for George W. Bush, we are left to wonder: Was he expressing his true views on that stage in Indiana, or acting out of political calculation?
Those who served in his administration tell stark stories of what that ambivalence meant in practice, of a White House where the personal was at times strikingly at odds with the political.
For some of his gay aides, it was a struggle to reconcile the decency they usually saw up close with the frequent reminders, both large and small, that theirs was a party very publicly committed to the view that they were not entitled to the same legal protections as other Americans.
She threatened to quit the campaign in protest, according to her memoir, and her family spent hours counseling her. Other gay aides told me of similar conflicts between the duty they felt they had to serve the president and their own feelings of alienation and betrayal. When he came out in , Bush aide Ken Mehlman said he regretted running a campaign that marginalized gays.
Dick Cheney's gay daughter, Mary, nearly quit the campaign over Bush's opposition to gay marriage. The reality is you need people in the party and outside the party to make change. Bush started out as perhaps the most gay-friendly Republican president ever, an astonishing fact when you consider that, in his first year in office, 71 percent of Republicans thought homosexual behavior was morally wrong, according to Gallup.
And even when his own reelection was on the line four years later, he went out of his way to endorse civil unions—though he omitted the fact when campaigning against gay marriage. Back in , the Austin 12 had warned Bush that the Republican right would press him to rescind an executive order signed by President Bill Clinton banning discrimination among federal employees.
So if it seemed like this would be a different kind of Republican in the White House, in some ways it was. John McConnell was on the Bush-Cheney campaign in and went on to serve as a top White House speechwriter for all eight years. McConnell laughed as he recalled how the ever-proper White House social office called him one day after he had brought Alessandro to a couple of White House occasions.
Evertz, trying to decide which friends he would invite, asked what the show was. A holiday choral performance, he was told.
They discussed the logistics further, and Evertz asked a couple more times for more details on the program. Finally, he insisted on knowing who was performing. In a lowered voice, the receptionist told him: He sat at his desk for what felt like an hour thinking: Do I resign in protest?
What was the point? It was because he was going to kill terrorists and was good on economic issues. Louis to teach a campaign seminar when Bush came out for the marriage amendment that February. Gurley had ordered it before the trip to St. Louis and planned to hang it in his office when he got back.
It took several weeks before I could put it up on my wall. He was overruled, and the flier went out anyway. As Gurley had warned, the press blasted the Bush campaign for it. If no one thought twice about Gurley being gay before, his prospective new bosses did mind the details of his profile once Rogers made it public. But what we do care about is controversy. Early in the reelection campaign, when Bush was weighed down by the Iraq intelligence disaster, and then in June , when control of Congress was slipping away in the midterm elections.
Even Laura Bush urged her husband not to endorse the gay marriage ban. And his vice president was personally offended. Bush and Cheney in the White House. Gay rights activists bent on defeating George W.
Bush helped reelect him by overreaching on same-sex marriage. If Rove saw political gain, other Bush aides saw a legal preemptive strike—against exactly the court-driven change that is now playing out.
It certainly was not anti-gay. His brother James Francis was a top fundraiser for the Bush campaign, and Charles was a Bush family friend and early supporter. Then the gay closeted staff, the gay silent staff and the rest of the staff went silent on us.