Flashback Friday – Gay Rights (1985)

Back then, even the Democratic party was inhospitable. So we organized – and took to the airwaves.

In 1985, reeling from the reelection of Ronald Reagan, the Democratic party began to partially walk back its already patchy support for gay men and lesbians. (No, not “LGBTQ+” – the people behind those other letters had no political traction at the time.) Only one state, Wisconsin (yes, Wisconsin) had passed a gay rights law, and at both the national and Massachusetts state levels, the party was eliminating G/L caucuses.

And while the party at both levels ostensibly supported non-discrimination laws like Wisconsin’s, the Massachusetts governor (and later, 1988 presidential nominee) Mike Dukakis had pulled kids from a foster home because the parents were a gay couple. Although the legislature and governor’s office were controlled by Democrats, it wasn’t until 1989 that the state became the second in the nation to enact a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Meanwhile, national party chairman Paul Kirk had decreed in 1985 a move away from “fringe issues” like gay rights.

It was in this climate that I formed two G/L rights groups, one in 1983 focused on the local elections in Cambridge, Mass. and the other comprised of delegates to the Democratic state convention like myself.

That latter involvement led me to be invited onto a local version of “Meet the Press,” where I debated the Governor’s de facto liaison to the Black community, Joe Warren (d. 2010), and James Roosevelt, Jr., FDR’s grandson, who was counsel to the state party and was also a candidate for Congress (his run was unsuccessful, but he remains active to this day in the national and Massachusetts Democratic party).

Below, view excerpts from the show, “Eyewitness News Conference,” which aired sometime in 1985 on the Boston CBS affiliate, WBZ (or click here).


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