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The end of the Bush era
The end of the Bush era
by Chris Crain - SGN Contributing Writer

Asked how his presidency will be remembered, George W. Bush famously said, "You never know what your history is going to be like until long after you're gone."

We can chuckle all we want at Bush-isms like that one, but we needn't wait "until long after we're gone" to know that on issues important to Gay and Lesbian Americans, history will judge Bush unkindly.

The Texas governor and son of an ex-president campaigned as a "compassionate conservative," but the contested election of 2000 made it almost impossible for Bush 43 to deliver on his promise to be "a uniter, not a divider." He would squander his second chance to unite the country, after the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001.

The Iraq War again divided the country and re-election prospects were looking grim, but the landmark Gay marriage ruling in Massachusetts presented Bush the perfect political opportunity to follow the cynical divide and conquer "strategery" of his political "brain," Karl Rove. In the January 2004 State of the Union address, a speech itself mandated by the Constitution, Bush signaled his support for amending the nation's founding document to ban Gay marriage.

In one of many cruel ironies from the Bush years, W. used the "G-word" for the first time as president during that 2004 campaign, while reassuring a voter that he would do everything within his power to save "traditional marriage."

Sadly, the wedge politics worked even if the federal amendment never came close to passing. Across the nation, Republican politicians responded to the president's call by proposing state constitutional amendments to ban Gay marriage. The resulting ballot measures brought conservatives to the polls in November, tipping battleground states like Ohio for Bush and ensuring a second term.

Even in the waning months of his presidency last year, Bush reached out to remind Gay Americans that we were second-class citizens. His White House staff threatened to veto the most basic Gay rights legislation: a hate crime bill and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

There were some indications that ENDA amendments agreed to in the House, stripping gender identity protections and strengthening exceptions for faith-based employers, might have resulted in the president actually signing the legislation. Perhaps for that reason, as well as the divisive fight over Transgender protections, the Democratic-controlled Senate never took up ENDA, and President Bush was never forced to decide whether to sign or veto.

The stormy Bush legacy on Gay issues has a few silver linings. Some controversial executive orders ping-pong between presidents of different parties, signed by one only to be repealed by the next. Bush left in place a Clinton-era order that protected federal workers against anti-Gay discrimination. But Bush did little when one of his own appointee watered down the protections until they were effectively meaningless.

Bush was the first GOP president to send openly Gay nominees to the Senate for confirmation. During the Clinton years, appointees like Roberta Actenberg and James Hormel faced stiff resistance from Republicans like Jesse Helms based solely on their sexual orientation. Although Bush made precious few out Gay appointments, his willingness to do so at all marked an end to the Helms era even before Helms himself passed away.

Another Bush highlight was his massive commitment to the fight against AIDS outside the U.S., especially in Africa. Without taking anything away from that effort, it was hard not to see it as a signal that the heterosexual population affected by AIDS in Africa was more sympathetic to the president that the largely homosexual population here at home.

Because on the domestic AIDS front, Bush reverted to the Reagan-Bush policy of "malign neglect," setting policy with almost total disregard for the health of Gay and Bisexual Americans, who remained at the greatest risk of contracting HIV.

HIV prevention policy under Bush emphasized abstinence only until marriage, ignoring the cruel irony that this same administration was actively working to prevent Gays from marrying. Did he really expect Gay men to abstain from sex our entire lives?

It wasn't just in AIDS policy that W. treated us not just as second class citizens of this country, but worse even than foreigners. In yet another irony, this additional smack in the face came from a regulation that may actually mark the first time the U.S. government recognized same-sex relationships, and in immigration of all areas.

Foreigners who come to America on work visas are permitted to bring their unmarried partners with them, and the Bush administration decided that regulation includes same-sex partners as well. The motivation was not Gay rights but competitiveness, since U.S. employers would otherwise lose out on talented young Europeans who are marrying later or entering into civil unions.

As positive as this recognition was, it only highlighted how Gay and Lesbian Americans now have even less rights than non-Americans to sponsor foreign same-sex partners to live in the United States.

It will take months if not years for the incoming administration and Congress to undo the harm done in eight years of George W. Bush, not to mention his Democratic predecessor. For that reason alone, January 20 can't come soon enough.

Chris Crain is former editor of the Washington Blade and five other Gay publications and now edits GayNewsWatch.com. He can be reached via his blog at www.citizencrain.com

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