Koch: An unfair and unnecessary smear

In an interview, former New York Mayor Ed In an interview, former New York Mayor Ed Koch said he will tell Jewish voters that President Obama deserves their vote. (Sept. 6, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty Images

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Former Mayor Ed Koch wrote a weekly column for New York Newsday from 1999-2000. This column first appeared in December 2000.

ON DEC. 12, 1999, The New York Times Magazine published an article by Andrew Sullivan appropriately entitled "Not a Straight Story." That very day was my 75th birthday. In the article, Sullivan names half a dozen public figures about whose sexual orientation he speculates. I was one of them.

The next day a reporter asked my reaction. I said: "There are two kinds of outers - one, the homophobic heterosexual; and the other, the self-hating homosexual. Both are no different from the Jew-catcher of Nazi Germany. Having reached the age of 75 years, I am flattered by any interest in my sexuality.

But, I am truly offended by the assaults on the privacy of the women (Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and Attorney General Janet Reno) referred to in the article. They have done nothing to deserve his venom." Sullivan, a former editor of The New Republic, responded: "There was certainly no venom. I don't believe in outing people, but people should be as open about their homosexuality as they are about their heterosexuality." When queried, a spokeswoman for The New York Times said: "(Sullivan) is not invading anyone's privacy." Really?

Sullivan wrote: "In Clinton's cabinet, almost everyone is married or divorced, but for two who aren't, Donna Shalala and Janet Reno, their orientations are shrouded in deep ambiguity." This is not an attempt at outing? What did he mean by describing them as "shrouded in deep ambiguity" because they've never been "married or divorced"? Sullivan, self-identified as a homosexual who has HIV, is surely aware that Oscar Wilde was not only married but had two children when his relationship with Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas was made public.

If Shalala and Reno were or had been married, they apparently would have satisfied the Sullivan litmus test of sexual orientation. What an outrage.

Sullivan went on to say that: "At a time when the stigma against homosexuality is far weaker than even 10 years ago, a gay person doesn't need to lie to maintain social standing ..." Sullivan's conveniently ignoring the murders of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and Pvt. Barry Winchell at Fort Campbell, Ky., both killed because they were homosexuals, is mind-boggling.

Now as to me. Over a period of 25 years, I ran for five different elective positions. In almost every one of them, my opponents' campaigns attacked my sexuality because of my single status. The most notorious example of this occurred during the mayoral race of 1977 when posters were hung up and down Queens Boulevard which read: "Vote for Cuomo, not the Homo." We never knew who it was. The smear campaign continued through Election Day.

I believe an individual's sexual orientation is a private matter. I have declined to discuss mine because it is no one's business. If someone denounces homosexuality and is himself a homosexual, then revealing that hypocrisy is reasonable. That happened in Congress in the case of former Republican Rep.
Robert Baumann of Maryland.

I have never denounced homosexuality or heterosexuality. In 1962, I ran for the New York State Assembly urging the repeal of the sodomy laws. In 1974, I was one of two New York members of Congress, the other being the late Bella Abzug, who sponsored a national gay rights bill. At that time, only three other members of Congress supported this bill.

In 1978, in one of my first acts as mayor of the City of New York, I issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination in government based on sexual orientation. In 1986, I signed a local law, whose passage I had urged for many years, that prohibited discrimination in the private sector based on sexual orientation.

I recently wrote my 12th book, "I'm Not Done Yet," in which I say: "I'm well aware of the occasional speculation, but it doesn't matter to me whether people think I'm straight or gay ... Life is gentler and more comforting when you have someone to share it with. In my case it wasn't meant to be, although it is only lately that I find myself reflecting on it. I honestly didn't think about it much when I was younger, but I do now." To Sullivan, I say: I'm not vulnerable to your venom.

To The New York Times, I say: On this occasion you failed to live up to the motto established by your creator Adolph S. Ochs-"All the News That's Fit to Print." To both, I say: You owe two fine public servants, Donna Shalala and Janet Reno, an apology.
 

You also may be interested in: