Al Gore No Friend to Homosexuals
by Sunil Sharma
(Published in the Sonoma County, CA Green Party Voters Guide, Oct/Nov 2000)
Democratic Party presidential contender Al Gore presents himself as a candidate sympathetic to issues of importance for gays and lesbians. Indeed the endorsement of Gore by Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay and lesbian advocacy group, would appear to lend credibility to such an image. As often the case, however, image is one thing, reality another.
A look at Gore’s record in Congress can hardly lead one to the conclusion that Gore has been a defender of the rights of gays and lesbians. During his 1976 run for the House of Representatives, Gore referred to homosexuality as “abnormal sexual behavior.” On July 22, 1980, Gore voted in favor of an amendment prohibiting the Legal Services Corporation from providing assistance to homosexuals who were discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. Just a month earlier, Gore voted in favor of an amendment to prohibit legal assistance in cases arising out of disputes over the issue of homosexuality or gay rights.
During his tenure in the Senate, Gore locked arms with that noted champion of gay rights Senator Jesse Helms, backing three anti-homosexual measures introduced by Helms. The first was a 1986 amendment that overturned Washington DC’s law barring insurers from refusing coverage to persons testing positive for HIV. Next, in 1977, Gore supported Helms’ amendment requiring HIV testing for immigrants, which would effectively prohibit HIV+ people from settling in the US. Third, in 1988 Gore supported Helms’ amendment to the Fair Housing Bill, which would prevent the Bill’s anti-discrimination section from protecting “an individual solely because that individual is a transvestite.”
Senator Gore also supported Helms’ Bill attacking the National Endowment for the Arts for its funding of the controversial Mapplethorpe exhibit in 1989.
During the 1992 presidential race, the gay and lesbian community was told that team Clinton/Gore was on their side. What the new administration gave them instead was the highly flawed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” policy. According to a 1999 study by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, in the five years following the implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the number of gays and lesbians ejected from the military increased by 86%. Women were disproportionately affected by the policy: while female officers made up 14% of the active duty force, they accounted for 28% of gay discharges.
In a debate in New Hampshire this past January, candidate Gore stated he would require that any appointees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff fully support allowing gays to serve openly in the military. In less than a month, however, Gore would backtrack from that position. As the New York Times reported, “After an uproar from military leaders, Mr. Gore reversed himself.”
For nearly a decade, Bristol-Myers Squibb has held a monopoly over the life-sustaining drug Taxol. Taxol is prescribed mostly to women suffering from breast and ovarian cancer, and it is also used to treat AIDS patients with Karposa Sarcoma. The drug was invented by the National Institute of Health in 1991, funded mostly by taxpayer money, and then handed over to the pharmaceutical giant, who has since been charging an outrageous price, far beyond what most people can afford.
The same story is true of AZT, the first drug effective in slowing the development of AIDS. The research and development of AZT as an AIDS combatant was funded primarily by the public. Today, however, Burroughs-Wellcome commands a monopoly over this important drug, and has driven up the annual price for AZT treatment to around $20,000.
The criminal giveaways of the fruits of publicly funded research and development to private corporations has accelerated during the Clinton-Gore years, as subsidy after subsidy has been lavished upon Corporate America. The American public is the loser, paying a heavy price for what it funded in the first place.
While election-year Gore rails against large pharmaceutical companies, a recent article in Business Week observes that “most industry reps in Washington dismiss his over heated rhetoric as ‘phony populism’, according to one prominent drug-company lobbyist.” This lobbyist points out the crucial fact that Gore “never talks about price controls. He never suggests that he will do anything other than make drugs available and affordable.”
This massive price-gouging by pharmaceutical corporations is more than greedy; it’s deadly. One in four South Africans is HIV+. The cost of a single series of treatments with overpriced AIDS drugs far exceeds the yearly income of most South African residents; the cost of treating the infected population would bankrupt the nation. When the South African government appealed to the world for help producing lower-priced generic equivalents to these drugs, the drug companies threatened to sue them under World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations. Where did Al Gore stand on this global humanitarian issue? Squarely behind the drug companies, as he stated publicly early in his campaign.
Pharmaceutical giants such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, and Schering-Plough sponsored mega-dollar events at the Democratic Convention. A Center for Responsive Politics survey shows Gore has thus far received $87,350 from the pharmaceuticals industry for the presidential campaign, while the Democratic Party has raised $2,671,778. Joe Lieberman took in $91,150 from the industry for his 2000 Senate race. As Business Week notes, “Lieberman in particular is a corporate money-raising machine. In his past two Senate elections in Connecticut, he has accepted more than $333,000 in political action committee gifts from two of [populist] Gore’s top targets, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries – and has been their frequent ally in legislative battles.” Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich sums up Gore’s election year populism: “If you lined up the human species according to populist inclination, [1896 Democratic Party champion] William Jennings Bryan would be on one end. Al Gore might be on another.” “I don’t recall a single issue on which the Vice-President has taken what might be called a populist stance. Business should rest assured that if Al Gore is elected, they will not have a populist at the helm.”
Is Al Gore really the man who will stand up to companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, cutting off their umbilical cord to the public trough? On matters of importance to the homosexual community generally, can Al Gore be trusted to deliver on his campaign promises given his long and unsavory record as a Congressman, coupled with nearly eight years of Clinton-Gore backsliding on election year promises?
In contrast Ralph Nader has long been an opponent of such corporate welfare, and has been citing the Taxol and AZT cases for years. Nader’s latest book, Cutting Corporate Welfare (Seven Stories Press, 2000) lays out a detailed blueprint for ending corporate welfare in its many guises.
Ralph Nader endorses the Green Party platform, which is unequivocal in its support of “the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people in housing, jobs, civil marriage and benefits, child custody – and in all areas of life, the right to be treated equally with all other people.” “We affirm the right to openly embrace SEXUAL ORIENTATION in the intimate choice of who we love.”
Ralph Nader has applauded the Vermont Supreme Court’s recent decision legalizing same-sex marriages: "I think homosexuals have the right of civil union. There are economic reasons for that and there are humanitarian reasons for that, and I think the Vermont decision is a good one, and I think homosexuals should be given equal rights and equal responsibilities." Nader also called the decision “a right, a humane and touching decision with a very searching rationale -- it is not only a matter of affinity, but of economics on health care and other issues, which makes it all the more needed.”
Clearly, a vote for Nader and the Green Party is a vote for equal protection and equal responsibilities for gays, lesbians, and transgendered people.
Sunil Sharma is the editor of Dissident Voice. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org