Gay rights activists are bracing for setbacks in the Republican-controlled Congress, their fears fueled by legislation introduced by Sen. Jesse Helms and promises of a hearing on schools and homosexuality.
“The early signs are not good, and the Republican leadership has a fundamental decision to make, and that is whether they are going to lead with hate and discrimination or with common sense,” said Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the nation’s largest gay lobby.
On the first day of the 104th Congress, Helms, R-N.C., introduced a bill to stop government agencies from using taxpayer funds “to encourage its employees or officials to accept homosexuality as a legitimate or normal lifestyle.”
He also dropped in a bill to protect federal employees from being fired for speaking out on their own time against the federal government’s policies toward homosexuals.
Helms says the two bills are necessary because the Clinton administration has extended homosexuals “special rights in the federal workplace, rights not accorded to most other groups and individuals.”
Earlier this month, House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he had promised the Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, a hearing on whether the federal government should provide money to school districts that “promote” homosexuality.
Sheldon, leader of the conservative national church network based in Anaheim, Calif., says he does not know how much federal money is spent for such purposes. But, he added, “It isn’t so much the money as it is … that the first- and secondlargest school districts in America are promoting it: New York and Los Angeles.”
Then on Friday, House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the House, called Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts “Barney Fag” during an interview with reporters. Armey quickly apologized and said the comment was a slip of the tongue.
Frank, who is gay, told Armey he understood the remark was not intentional. But after listening to a tape of the interview, he said, “I could not accept that it was wholly accidental.”