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Change In Political Climate Puts Chill Into Gay Groups

Two years ago Rep. Gerry E. Studds stood in the Capitol with his companion, Dean Hara, eager to greet the newly inaugurated president on whom they and many other gay men and lesbians had pinned their hopes.

“I was euphoric,” Studds, Democrat of Massachusetts, recalled, “The sun had suddenly broken out with an intensity that none of us ever really expected to live to see.”

Today lesbian and gay political leaders are anything but euphoric. What they see is not sunlight, but the shadow cast by a hostile Congress and a diffident White House.

Rather than advancing their causes in the next two years, homosexuals are more likely to be fighting efforts to roll back what protection, recognition and support they have won.

“We are going to be subjected to an unprecedentedly heavy barrage,” Studds said. “The question is whether the decent men and women in the majority party will be able to stand up to it and have the courage of their convictions. If they don’t, it’s going to be a God-awful time here.”

A strenuous struggle is expected on Capitol Hill over financing for AIDS services and research. Any chance of passing a federal anti-discrimination bill was dashed in the conservative congressional tide.

On Jan. 4, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., introduced a bill that would curtail the activities of gay government employees.

In addition, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said Jan. 14 that he might schedule a one-day hearing on how AIDS prevention is being taught in schools, to examine whether “taxpayer money is being spent to promote things that are literally grotesque,” as asserted by the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative church network.

And on Jan. 27, House majority leader Dick Armey of Texas referred to Rep. Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, as Barney Fag. Although Armey apologized, insisting that the remark was accidental, it seemed to some critics that his words - however inadvertent - epitomized a prevailing animosity.

“We are living in a complete sea change,” said Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a gay political organization in Washington. “There is no president who is going to ride in on a white horse, and there is no one party that is going to save us.”

A member of the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco, Susan Leal, is helping to organize a meeting at the White House of lesbian and gay officials. “I know the country is in a rightward swing,” Ms. Leal said. “But I’m concerned about this administration and the Democratic Party feeling that, in social issues, they have to step into the Republican bog.”

Nonetheless, after years of casting their lot largely with the Democratic Party, gay political organizations are waking up to the need to court Republicans, too.

“We have to work with everybody,” the executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, William W. Waybourn, said.But the effort to forge a bipartisan alliance is late getting started.

“Nobody visited Republicans on the Hill,” said Richard L. Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, the lobbying arm of the Log Cabin Federation, a network of 43 clubs for gay Republicans. “I was often the first gay leader to talk to them about gay and lesbian issues.”

Tags: politics

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