Fri Feb 1, 2013, 02:11 PM
DonViejo (20,105 posts)
Ed Koch’s enduring, uneasy gay legacy
The mayor leaves behind a torrent of criticism about his AIDS record — and questions about his sexuality
BY MARY ELIZABETH WILLIAMS
He was the larger-than-life mayor of New York through some of the most colorful and changeable years of the city’s history. Ed Koch, who died early Friday morning at 88, presided over the Big Apple through the era of Central Park jogger, Bernhard Goetz, Black Friday and gentrification. He was the mayor of punks and club kids and debutantes, of the Gordon Geckos and the young Madonnas. He was, most of all, the mayor during the AIDS crisis. And as much as he is remembered for all the things he did, he’ll go down in history for all the things he didn’t do, at the moment action was needed most – and for the lingering questions of why.
Koch, a lifelong bachelor, was the subject of intense rumors about his sexuality his entire career. More recently, Kirby Dick’s 2009 film “Outrage” accused of Koch of not merely being closeted, but of sabotaging those who threatened to expose him — and that Koch had a lover, Richard Nathan, who was exiled after he became mayor. Nathan later died of AIDS. The brand new film “Koch,” which opens Friday, echoes the charge of closetedness, featuring activist Ethan Geto declaring, “It would have been so incredibly invaluable for a popular mayor of New York to declare he was gay.”
In his later years, Koch, who’d previously asserted his heterosexuality, refused to answer questions about it, saying, “I do not want to add to the acceptability of asking every candidate, ‘Are you straight or gay or lesbian?’ and make it a legitimate question, so I don’t submit to that question. I don’t care if people think I’m gay because I don’t answer it.” And in 1998, Koch told New York Magazine, “The fact is, I did more on AIDS, and more to promote civil rights for gay people, than any other mayor in the country.”
Koch did, in fact, introduce anti-discrimination bills, appoint openly gay staffers and was the first New York mayor to march in the Pride parade. In 1983, he created the city’s Office of Gay and Lesbian Health Concerns. But its “first comprehensive AIDS plan” did not come until five years later. “ Kramer’s thrust was that I was afraid that if I showed concern, people would think I was gay,” he said. “He wasn’t the only one who said that, of course. Listen, there’s no question that some New Yorkers think I’m gay, and voted for me nevertheless. The vast majority don’t care…. My answer to questions on this subject is simply,’ Fuck off.’”
3 replies, 1748 views
Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Ed Koch’s enduring, uneasy gay legacy (Original post)
|Smarmie Doofus||Feb 2013||#3|
Response to DonViejo (Original post)
Sun Feb 3, 2013, 09:16 AM
xchrom (108,903 posts)
2. Ed Koch and the Cost of the Closet
The instant beatification of former New York City Mayor Ed Koch has a lot of folks itching to do some grave-dancing. Leftists will denounce Koch because he was one of the original neoliberal mayors, ushering in a regime of gentrification and finance-driven inequality that defines the city to this day. Minorities regard him with suspicion because he marginalized the city’s black and Hispanic leadership and inflamed racial fault lines to corner the white vote, presaging the Sister Souljah moments that would come to afflict the national Democratic Party. And yet even there, among the new Democrats, Koch was never a stalwart, breaking with the party to endorse George W. Bush for president in 2004 and flirting with the neocons over Israel late in his life.
All that said, there is a special place reserved for Koch in gay hell—because he was mayor during the onset of the AIDS epidemic, which he is widely seen as failing to do enough about, and because it’s commonly assumed that Koch was a closeted gay man. “I hope he’s burning next to Roy Cohn”—or sentiments quite like it—have appeared frequently on my Facebook feed, especially from vets of ACT UP.
You’ll find very little of this criticism reflected in the New York Times obituary, which thinly and inconclusively grapples with Koch’s political legacy only after fawningly and provincially portraying Koch as a real-life, benignly obnoxious, wacky Grandpa Munster. Sure not everyone liked his politics, but Hizzoner sure was zesty! The first version of the Times obit, in fact, mentions AIDS only in passing, alongside the “scandals and the scourges” of crack cocaine and homelessness, and it was only after the Twitterverse flogged the Gray Lady that new paragraphs on AIDS were added.
The gay brief against Koch comes in two stripes. The first is that he should have been out and that had there been an openly gay political leader of national stature urging action on AIDS, the course of the epidemic might have been very different; countless lives could have been saved. I find this counterfactual an exercise in magical thinking and ultimately unfalsifiable and unhelpful. It’s not clear that an out gay man could have been elected mayor in 1977 in the first place, especially given the “Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo” signs that current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is accused of orchestrating on behalf of his father in that primary, or that an out or outed gay mayor would have won re-election in 1981 or 1985. It’s also not hard to envision a scenario in which an out or outed gay mayor would have driven from office by scandal, perhaps only adding to the shame and ostracization the gay community faced then. The point is, we just don’t know, and there are simply too many variables to plot out what kind of impact an openly gay elected official like Harvey Milk, whom Koch fell short of on many levels, would have had on the epidemic.
Response to xchrom (Reply #2)
Sun Feb 3, 2013, 11:30 AM
Smarmie Doofus (14,497 posts)
3. THAT's who Koch reminded me of!
>>>You’ll find very little of this criticism reflected in the New York Times obituary, which thinly and inconclusively grapples with Koch’s political legacy only after fawningly and provincially portraying Koch as a real-life, benignly obnoxious, wacky Grandpa Munster.>>>>
I never made that connection.