The Republican presidential candidate's Texas past offers a glimpse into our future if he wins the White House
Although he's a Democrat, Glen Maxey knows George W. Bush well. Maxey, a gay state legislator in Texas. has been watching the governor (and presumed Republican presidential nominee) in action for years. But as he sits in his office in Austin, surrounded by pictures of Democratic officials, from Vice President Al Gore to former Texas governor Ann Richards, Maxey doesn't have much good to say about Bush.
"Governor Bush doesn't stand for anything," Maxey says. "He has no empathy for the plight of gay people at all. He has no understanding of our issues. He's simply turned the state over to his right-wing allies."
Charles Francis could not disagree more. Another openly gay Texan, Francis is a public affairs consultant who has only kind things to say about the governor, a longtime family friend, Describing himself as an "enthusiastic supporter" of Bush, Francis has made it his mission to serve as a "bridge between the campaign and a broad spectrum of the Republican gay community." Francis is convinced his pal can win over gay and lesbian voters if allowed "to communicate in a personal and honest way with his gay Republican supporters."
Will the real George W. Bush please stand up? Is he the amoral political sycophant that Maxey describes? Or is he the compassionate conservative whom Francis depicts as supportive when Francis came out as a gay man? As the presidential campaign shifts into high gear, these are among the many questions gay and lesbian voters are asking about Bush's political elusiveness. Elucidating those questions will, in turn, help solve the biggest mystery of all: How exactly would a Bush White House act when it comes to gay-related issues? The answer may lie in how Bush has behaved during his years in Texas.
From nondiscrimination policies to Supreme Court appointments, gay men and lesbians have enjoyed unprecedented access--if not always the desired results--during the Clinton administration and could look forward to even more of the same under Vice President Al Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee. When it comes to Bush, however, gay rights advocates at the national level are starting from scratch.
The success of Bush's early campaign has left gays scrambling for access. In the meantime they are scrutinizing Bush's spotty record, which includes dogged opposition to gay adoption and a campaign stop at antigay Bob Jones University--signs of both the stranglehold on the GOP that the religious right's virulently antigay elements still maintain and Bush's willingness to pander to them.
If Bush's campaign seems to swing from tolerance to intolerance, it's only a reflection of his record as governor. Call it the two sides of "Dubya," as the governor is known to friends. In interviews with dozens of those friends and with critics a similar portrait emerged time and again: a coldly calculating, ruthlessly ambitious governor who sometimes has sided with the state's most antagonistic antigay activists.
At the same time, he is viewed as the gay-friendly presidential candidate who condemns discrimination in all forms and campaigns for gay votes. "On a personal level, Bush is the kind of guy with whom it would be fun to throw back a few beers on a fishing trip and just spend time chatting," says Annise Parker, a Democrat and openly lesbian member of the Houston city council. "I don't consider him to be personally homophobic. But on social policy he spent way too much time deferring to the right wing in the state for his own political gain. It's nice to believe in Santa Claus--just don't expect any gay rights presents under the Christmas tree."
But Mary Matalin, the well-known conservative commentator who is serving as an unofficial adviser to the campaign, says that "as a longtime friend of the Bush family, I know what's in George's heart, as he would say, and I know he's not of the gay-bashing persuasion. …