Another Jesse Helms Legacy Begins To Fall
July 30th, 2008
President George Bush today signed the sweeping President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) into law. This bill vastly expands U.S. aid to combat HIV/AIDS overseas. It also carries a repeal of the so-called Helms Amendment from 1993, which barred foreign travelers and immigrants with HIV from entering the country.
While the travel ban is now removed from law, it is still in place as a matter of public policy. In 1987, the Department of Health and Human Services used its existing legal authority to add HIV to a list of communicable diseases that disqualifies HIV-positive visitors from entering the country. While the HHS is no longer required by law to keep the ban in place, it is authorized to designate any communicable disease as a reason to refuse admittance.
So far, neither the Administration nor HHS are commenting on whether administrative policies will change now that the ban is lifted. According to The Washington Blade:
Some Capitol Hill insiders have speculated that the Bush administration might decide to leave the HHS policy in place, preferring to let the next president decide whether to repeal it. That would leave the ban in place until at least late January.
A spokesperson for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said Obama opposes the ban and would take action to end it if he’s elected president.
A spokesperson for the campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, did not return a call seeking McCain’s position on the issue.
Jesse Helms: “If You Want to Call Me a Bigot, Fine.”
July 5th, 2008
Note: We are pleased to be able to offer occasional posts from Dr. Gregory M. Herek, Professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis. He has published scores of articles in numerous professional journals, much of which focus on anti-gay violence and stigma, as well as HIV/AIDS-related stigma inside and outside the LGBT community.
An obscure section of the 1990 Hate Crimes Statistics Act includes language affirming that “American family life is the foundation of American Society” and that the Act should not be construed as promoting or encouraging homosexuality.
This passage is a legacy of Jesse Helms, who died today at the age of 86.
Throughout his 30-year tenure in the US Senate, Helms was consistently associated with antigay stands. When the US was confronted with the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, for example, Helms was instrumental in preventing the government from funding effective prevention programs among gay and bisexual men. The Senate twice endorsed his amendments prohibiting federal funds for AIDS education materials that “promote or encourage, directly or indirectly, homosexual activities.” By constricting the scope of risk-reduction education, Helms’ actions were widely believed to have contributed to the epidemic’s rapid spread.
In my latest post at Beyond Homophobia, I reflect upon Helms’ efforts to enact an antigay agenda into law, and the failure of many of his contemporaries to publicly oppose him.
Jesse Helms Dead at 86
July 4th, 2008
Former Republican Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina died today. He was 86.
You can search the archives of this web site and see that I have never before called anyone a bigot. It’s just something that I generally don’t do. But the word was coined precisely to describe people like Helms. He was a genuine, unabashed bigot, and he made his bigotry a hallmark of his career. Now that he is dead, his bigotry will be enshrined as his lasting legacy.
Throughout his public career, Helms was always on the wrong side of history. During his daily editorial broadcasts on Raleigh’s WRAL-TV, he railed against desegregation, calling the University of North Carolina the “University of Negroes and Communists.” In 1968 when Duke University students staged a vigil in response to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, he remarked, “They should ask their parents if it would be all right for their son or daughter to marry a Negro.”
He held a special antipathy toward gays and lesbians. In a 1995 radio broadcast he remarked, “Homosexuals are weak, morally sick wretches.” He opposed governmental funds for AIDS research, complaining that “It’s their deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct that is responsible for the disease.” He opposed funding for research, treatment, and providing medically accurate information about the disease. We may never know how many people died partly because of his intransigence.
Twenty years later, we are still trying to undo Helms’ damage. He was responsible for the HIV travel ban, barring visitors and immigrants with HIV from entering the United States. The U.S. is one of only twelve countries in the world with such a ban. We share that distinction with the likes of Sudan, Russia, Libya and Saudi Arabia. The ban’s repeal is awaiting a vote in the Senate, which may come as early as next week.
The bigot is dead. Happy Independence Day.