Betty Ford and the Homosexuals
Soon after Richard Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford became president, and moving his family into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Time magazine profiled Ford's kids and included a picture of Steven playing basketball. It caught my young teenage eye, and recently flashed in my mind, along with the lust I had for Steven Ford, hearing the news that his mother Betty had passed away.
I couldn't recall her speaking out about gays, either as First Lady or after she left the White House, but given her frank and early support for discussing sex publicly, legalized abortion and full equality for women, it's safe to say she supported gays and would love her gay relatives and friends. Many gays, myself included, felt an emotional bond with her.
So it pleased me to read Rick Perlstein's warm and fond remembrance of Betty Ford in Monday's New York Times opinion pages, and learn about her public discussion of gays:
Experts considered her a political liability. A syndicated humor columnist imagined aides seeking her resignation — before it was too late: “The networks and women’s magazines ... are making incredible offers to get the First Lady to sit down and openly discuss adultery, drinking, homosexuality and a proposed postal rate hike.” ...
When Americans sent gifts to the Fords, they usually sent them to Betty.
The authors, most of them obscure, had written recovery memoirs and cancer memoirs and feminist manifestos, autobiographies bearing witness to struggles of every description. They had never met Betty Ford. But they wrote to her with an intimacy that was almost embarrassing for an outsider to read, as if they were writing to a loved one. Which, in a certain sense, they were. She had taught them how not to feel ashamed.
I’ll never forget something else. A surprising number were gay men. Take that, Mr. Satirical Columnist Whose Name No One Remembers: Betty Ford openly discussed homosexuality. I didn’t know she had made the insanity of shaming same-sex desire any sort of special cause. Only one obituary I found noted, in passing, any interest in gay rights. I didn’t find any references in an online search of historical newspapers. ...
Betty Ford's honesty and casting off of her own shame and guilt, sure resonated with me in the 1970s, as I came to terms and acceptance of my same-sex attractions. Thank you, Betty, for helping a lot of folks who never had the chance to meet you to live full, sexually happy and healthy lives, and to speak up for the right thing.