Interview of the President by the Advocate (9/27/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release                                    October 23, 2000

                        INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
                              BY THE ADVOCATE

                           Aboard Air Force One
                          En route Dallas, Texas
                             September 27, 2000

12:47 P.M. EDT

     Q    Thank you for agreeing to this interview.  I thought we'd jump
ahead in the questions a little bit, because I noticed this morning at the
press briefing you talked about the hate crimes legislation and opposition
to including sexual orientation in it.

     There was the front page of the Washington Post today, a man walks
into a gay bar in Virginia and starts shooting.  With all the evidence
about this particular aspect of hate crimes, why is there still so much
opposition in Congress?

     THE PRESIDENT:  First, let's talk about the good news here.  There's
57 votes for it in the Senate, and about 240 votes for it in the House.
Virtually all the Democrats, but four or five of them, are for it.  And
we've got 41 Republicans on a motion to instruct the conferees to leave it
in the defense bill.  So there's no question that we now have a majority
for it.

     How would it not be included in?  The leadership of the Congress and
the leadership of the Republican Party is still well to the right of the
country on this issue.  Same thing in Texas, you know, they could have had
a hate crimes bill after James Byrd was killed, if Governor Bush had just
lifted a finger for it.  But he was unwilling to take on the right wing in
his own party, and so it died.

     And it's the same thing in Washington.  If the leaders of the House
and the Senate can be persuaded to instruct their conferees to follow the
will of the majority, it will prevail.  If it doesn't prevail, it's because
the leadership of the Congress and the leadership of the Republicans is
still to the right of the country on the issue.

     Q    As you may remember, the murder of Matthew Shepard, the student
in Wyoming --

     THE PRESIDENT:  I remember it vividly.

     Q    -- really changed the way Americans see hate crimes against gay
people.  What was your initial reaction to that murder?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think it was particularly horrifying and
heartbreaking because he was so young and so small, and the way they killed
him was so graphic.  But it did galvanize the country.  You know, the
American people are fundamentally decent.  But like human beings
everywhere, since the dawn of time, they're afraid of something that's
profoundly different from the life they know and the experiences they've

     Usually, the way civilization progresses is something happens that
forces people to see things in a different way, in a more human way.  And
that's what Matthew Shepard's death did.  I think the fact that his
parents, who are obviously not left-wing activists, just mainstream,
hardworking Americans, became advocates for the hate crimes legislation.
And the fact that that police commissioner there, O'Malley, was so eloquent
in saying that the experience of dealing with Matthew's death and dealing
with his family and his friends had changed his life, as well as his

     I think those three people deserve an enormous amount of credit for
the way the country has moved.

     Q    With the depth of the problem that you've just described,
people's psychological response to difference, is hate crimes legislation
really the best way to deal with the problem, does it really get at the
roots of it?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think it's just one piece of it.  I think it's
really important to pass ENDA, and there are big majorities for ENDA in the
country, too.  And it hasn't passed for the same reason.

     The other thing I think that's important -- and ENDA would really feed
into this -- is that we just need people, all the American people, to have
the opportunity to interact on a human level -- in the work place, in
social settings -- with gays and lesbians, and know that they're
interacting with them.  Personal contact -- it may sound old-fashioned and
naive, it's not a substitute for laws, but it will change attitudes.

     I'll never forget in the administration's early debate over gays in
the military, there was a national poll published which showed that
Americans who knew a gay person, and knew they knew a gay person, were 2-1
in favor of changing the policy.  So if you believe that most people have
goodness in them and will, other things being equal, treat their fellow
human beings in a decent and fair way, then you have to overcome ignorance
and fear.  And it takes time and it takes contact.

     Q    One of the things for which your administration will be
remembered is, early on, you talked a lot about gay people in a way that
Americans hadn't heard from that level of government, which is in terms of
tolerance, inclusiveness, a place at the table, having no one to waste.

     How did you come across that approach to including gay people in, sort
of, the rhetoric of the civil rights movement?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Personal contact.  In 1977, when I was Attorney
General, there was an attempt to make -- we had just adopted a new criminal
code, and the criminal code had gotten rid of all the status offenses,
including homosexuality -- I imagine those old laws are still on the books
in some states.

     And one of our legislators went home -- and he lived in a very
conservative district -- and he was roundly abused by the religious right
at the time.  And that's just when they were getting up and going there, in
the mid-'70s.  So he came back and introduced a bill, essentially, to make
homosexuality a crime again, but turning it from a status offense into an
act.  And I tried to kill it then, it just struck me as wrong.

     And I remember, it was the first thing that sort of, I don't know,
brought me to the attention of some of the gay community in my home state.
It was never a big issue.  And I failed.  I thought I had it done, and I
failed -- literally in the last 30 minutes of the last day of the
legislative session they voted it out.  And we knew we had to kill it in
committee because the legislators would be afraid to vote against it back

     I knew from the time I was a boy growing up that I knew people who
were gay, even though they didn't talk about it.  So I always felt that.
And then when I started running for President, and people who were active
in the gay rights cause started to talk to me -- starting with David
Mixner, who had been a friend of mine for, by then, way over 20 years -- I
just decided that it was one thing I was going to try to make a difference
in.  And I started actively seeking out members of the gay community.
Marty Rouse helped me a lot in New York, took me to a big meeting there --
I never will forget.

     I know it seems sort of -- it probably seems strange to everybody, I
was running on a new Democratic platform, I was a governor of a southern
state, and on issues like fiscal responsibility and some foreign policy
issues I was, I suppose, to the right of where most activist Democrats
were.  But it just struck me as a human rights issue from the beginning,
and a personal issue.

     Q    Having set that tone in the White House, is there -- how do we
maintain it after you're in office?  How do we make sure it doesn't back to
pitting groups against one another?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I think that it will never be
quite the same.  I think we have to give -- you can't give me too much
credit and give the gay community too little, or give the American people
too little credit.  I mean, I don't think it will ever be fashionable for
people in national life to demonize gays again.

     But I think the extent to which we continue to progress will depend
entirely on who's elected.   Al Gore is for the hate crimes legislation and
the employment and nondiscrimination act, and has been at least as open, if
not more open, than me in pursuing this cause.  This is something that he
really, really feels strongly about.

     And I don't believe Governor Bush is a bad person, with a bad heart; I
think he basically has a good heart.  But I think that -- you know, he
passed on the hate crimes bill in Texas and I don't think he'll be for the
employment and nondiscrimination act.  And if he wins and he keeps his
majority in Congress, I just don't think we'll get very far legislatively.
And there won't be nearly as many appointments and I don't think the
approach to AIDS, both at home and abroad, will be nearly as aggressive.

     Q    With all your success in setting a different tone on the gay
rights debate, the legislative and policy related areas have been more
challenging.  How do you think -- I mean, what needs to be done to actually
make concrete legislative gains in terms of the military policy, et cetera?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think two things.  I think, first of all, on
the concrete legislative gains, I think the most important thing is to
change the composition of Congress.  It doesn't have to change a lot -- you
know, 10 or 12 seats in the House, even if the Democrats didn't win a
majority in the Senate -- if we picked up three or four seats, so that it
was effectively a split, I think it would change the landscape

     So I think if you had a President who was committed, and some changes
in the Congress, even modest changes, I think it would make a huge
difference on the legislative front.

     On the gays in the military issue, I think it's important to remember

     Q    That was a case I'm sure a lot of Democrats who opposed an
initiative --

     THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, we got killed.  I think a lot of people forget --
and I don't want to be too defensive about this -- but a lot of people
forget that I did not accept General Powell's proposed compromise until the
Senate had voted 68-32 in a resolution against my position.  The House, we
knew there were over 300 votes against us, so we knew they had a veto-proof
majority.  But we thought we might be able to sustain a veto of an attempt
to ratify the old policy, until the Senate voted 68-32 against it.  So that
meant they had a veto-proof majority in both Houses.

     So my guess is that what the next move should be is to try to get the
Congress to restore to the military and the executive branch, discretion to
make this decision and then to try to explore -- because I think there have
been some changes in attitudes to the military, too -- whether there is --
you know, what kind of steps could be taken from there.

     I don't think that the Congress would be willing to legislatively
reverse it and adopt the policy that I favor.  But they might be willing to
give the policy back to the executive branch and to the military on the
condition that the President pledge to kind of work through this thing with
the military.  And I do believe there has been some progress there.
There's still a lot of resistance, too, as you know, but I think there has
been some progress.

     Q    You were pilloried on both sides of that issue in '93.

     THE PRESIDENT:  The worst of all worlds, everybody was mad at me.

     Q    Because you had your friend, David Mixner, was protesting.  And
you said at the time that you had spilt a lot of blood on the issue.  What
did you mean by that?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Well, just that.  I mean, I cared a lot about it, I
thought I was right.  I didn't agree to compromise until I was beat.  One
of the things I learned the first two years is that -- I don't think it was
apparent to 90 percent of the people in the gay community who cared about
this that we were beat.  That is, I don't think that we made enough of the
Senate vote; and maybe what I should have done, if I just was concerned
about my own standing and clarity, is just let them pass it and veto it.
Then they'd override the veto, we'd be back where we were.

     But the way they implemented the changes that we announced in the
first few years were just about as bad as it was before.  Now, it's gotten
a little better now.  Bill Cohen has gotten on it and changed a lot of the
training.  There is no question that as a practical matter, even though
it's unsatisfying as a matter of principle, that if the policy as I
announced it or implemented it, it would be better than the policy before.
But for years there was a lot of resistance to that.

     I think it is going to get better now if the next Secretary of Defense
hews to the line that Secretary Cohen has set out.

     Q    The gay rights movement I think eventually came to see that it,
itself, had failed to provide you a certain amount of political cover to
create the conditions in America in which people supported such a change.
You've experienced gay rights leaders for a long time now.  How do you
think it could become a more effective, mainstream political force in the
long run?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I don't think that they failed any
more than I did.  Look, I fight a lot of fights I don't win.  The NRA beats
me more than I beat them in Congress.  The insurance companies beat me on
health care and, so far, they're beating us on the patients' bill of
rights.  The drug companies, so far, are beating us on adding a Medicare
drug benefit.

     So it shouldn't be surprising or, I would argue, discouraging that the
first time you come out of the box on some of these issues you don't win.
America has always been, like all societies, a place where organized,
entrenched interests initially have more power than even popular causes
that are not equally well organized, particularly when the issue may not be
a voting issue yet with the American people.

     There are lots of issues where a majority, maybe even two-thirds,
agree with me, and I still can't pass it in Congress because to the people
who are against it, it's a voting issue, or a contribution issue; and to
people who are for it, it isn't.

     Now, I think the gay community has come a long way just since I've
been here, both in terms of the sophistication of it's arguments and the
quality of its organization and its active participation in the political
process, including contributing to campaigns of the people you agree with
and believe in.  So I think all that is to the good.

     But I still say, I think the most important thing -- I was just
looking over the people that are going to be at this lunch that we're going
to and what they do for a living.  They have normal jobs in big companies
that are important, and they're in a position to exercise influence over
people with whom they work.  The thing I think is important is to try to
get more non-gay supporters of these issues who see it as civil rights
issues, and see it as a voting issue, an important political priority.  And
I think that it's going that way.

     Q    In '96 -- I think I actually had the year wrong -- you signed the
Defense of Marriage Act.  Do you think Americans -- and, politically, that
was a hard issue for everyone in Congress, as well as you.  Do you think
Americans will ever come to the point where they can find same-sex marriage

     THE PRESIDENT:  I don't know the answer to that.  But, again, I think
that under the law, gay couples who have manifested a genuine commitment
should have all the legal options that others do, whether it's how they
leave their estates or cover their partners with health insurance on the
job or such simple things as the right to visit hospital beds during family
visiting hours.  You know, the whole panoply of things.

     And then I think that when people come to respect that, and people
will put their own words to whatever the relationship is and it will -- the
main thing is that we recognize the integrity of commitments and the right
citizens have to leave their property and take care of the health of people
they love and all the things that people do.

     Also, I think one of the things that may impact this debate in the
future is the parallel debate that's going on in some places still over
adoptions.  Because you see more and more gay couples adopting kids.  Very
often, they're children who wouldn't be taken by other people, or who
haven't been.  And I think that's going to have an impact on people.

     I've always felt that all those anti-adoption laws were wrong.  I
think that the present law is the right -- the historical, almost common
law standard in America, although it's in statute now and our country is --
these decisions should be made based on what's best for the child.  I think
that responsible child rearing is the most important work of any society.
And insofar as people see it being done by gay couples, I think that will
add to a bill's support for fair treatment.

     Q    Have your own views on same sex marriage, itself -- not on civil
union or domestic partnership legislation -- changed since '96?

     THE PRESIDENT:  My views were and are that people who have a
relationship ought to be able to call it whatever they want.  And insofar
as it's sanctified by a religious ceremony, that's up to the churches
involved.  And I always thought that.
     I think what happened in the Congress was that a lot of people who
didn't want to be anti-gay didn't feel that they should be saying that as a
matter of law, without regard to what various churches or religions or
others thought, that the United States policy was that all unions that call
themselves marriages are, as a matter of law, marriages.  I don't think
we're there yet.

     But I think that what we ought to do is to get the legal rights
straightened out and let time take it's course and we'll see what happens.

     Q    Just two or three more questions.  With your political troubles
with the GOP and the House, polls showed that gays and lesbians, along with
African Americans, were among your staunchest supporters.  They really
rallied to your cause and thought it was very, by and large -- you know,
there are certainly gay Republicans who would disagree -- felt that you
were being treated unfairly, your private life being used against you.

     How do you feel about that support that you got from --

     THE PRESIDENT:  First of all, I was honored to have it.  And,
secondly, I think that partly it came out of the same wellspring of
experience that prompted so many African Americans to stick with me --
they've been there.  The people who've been targeted, who've been publicly
humiliated and abused I think identified with what was going on.  Because
they knew -- the whole world, if anybody had been paying attention, knew by
then that the whole Whitewater thing was a fraud, it never amounted to
anything, which has now been acknowledged; that the civil lawsuit against
me was also totally unmeritorious, as even the judge said.

     So they knew that basically the whole thing was just a vehicle to try
to find some last, desperate way to undermine the result of two elections
and what I was trying to do for the America people, and the fact that I
tried to be a President for people who had been left out, left behind,
ignored and kicked, as well as for the vast majority of the American people
that just needed somebody to do the right things in Washington.

     So I think that there were a lot of people that knew what it was like
to take a bullet, and they saw it for what it was.
     Q    Gays and lesbians are often the target of really unrelenting
attacks from the right wing, especially religious conservatives like
Falwell and Robertson.  They've sometimes turned their focus on you, as
well.  Does that enhance your empathy for the plight that gays and lesbians
sometimes experience?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, although I always --

     Q    I mean, has it surprised you, the --

     THE PRESIDENT:  -- my empathy level was pretty high.  Does it surprise
me that they hated me as much as they did?  A little bit.  But I think
there are two things.  First of all, for all their railing against
entitlements on behalf of poor people, a lot of those people have a sense
of entitlement to cultural superiority and political power.  And they don't
think anybody that's not part of their crowd has a right to cultural
legitimacy or political power.  And before '92, I think most of them
thought no Democrat would ever win again.  They thought they had this
little proven formula, you know, to sort of portray us as enemies of
ordinary Americans -- to use a phrase that Newt Gingrich used against me
and my wife.  I think that was part of it.

     And I think the other thing is, I think that one of the reasons they
disliked me especially is that they see me as an apostate because I'm a
southern white male Protestant, and southern white male Protestants have
been the backbone of their political and social power, because we tend to
be more politically and socially conservative.

     So I think those are the two things that prompted it.  Maybe they just
don't like me.  You know that old joke about the guy that falls off the
mountain?  He said, God, why me?  And He said, son, there's just something
about you I don't like.  (Laughter.)  So maybe that's it, I don't know.

     Q    Boy Scouts of America, the Supreme Court decision upholding the
Scouts' right to determine their own membership criteria and exclude gay
Scouts.  Members of Congress have asked you to resign your honorary
position.  Would you be willing to do that?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Let me ask you a fact question, first.  The Girl
Scouts have a different policy, don't they?

     Q    Yes, they have no policy.

     THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I can tell you that my present inclination is
that I shouldn't do it, because I think the Scouts do a world of good and
because I think they can be persuaded to change.  I think the policy is
wrong, and I've made it quite clear that I think their policy is wrong.
And they certainly know where I stand on it.  I believe they'll change and
I think we should keep working on them.

     But I don't know that it wouldn't do more harm than good, especially
now, at the end of my tenure, for me just to do what would be a symbolic
act of resignation.  I also really appreciate a lot of the good they've
done, especially with inner-city kids and poor kids and I don't think we
should negate the good they've done or we try to change what's wrong.

     I think they're afraid.  And I think there are all these, sort of,
preconceptions -- that I think are totally wrong -- that gay adults are
more likely to abuse children than straight adults.  And if you look at the
evidence every year in cases of child abuse that have a sexual component,
there's just no evidence to support that.  But I think there's a fear
factor there.

     Q    But aren't those kids that you're talking about, that are being
helped by the Scouts, being taught that they can mistreat gay kids, gay
kids are second-class?

     THE PRESIDENT:  If I thought they were doing that -- you know, one of
the things that bothered me about the military situation is I thought there
was an affirmative, anti-gay bias in the military.  And there still is in
some places.  But as I said, I'm convinced Secretary Cohen is making an
aggressive effort to deal with that now.  If I thought they were, that
would have some impact on me.  I don't -- if that's going on, I don't know
about it.  It may, but nobody --

     Q    Just the policy of exclusion would imply --

     THE PRESIDENT:  -- nobody has ever given me information about that.  I
think it's much more a function of their buying into the presumption that,
particularly, gay Scout leaders would be more likely to have some sort of
improper influence on the kids, rather than being inherently anti-gay.

     Q    Can I just throw in one question, because we haven't addressed

     THE PRESIDENT:  Sure.  Yes, do that.

     Q    We probably should get that in; I'm sorry.  Because of the
advances of AIDS treatment and the decline in death rates, it's hard to
maintain the sense of urgency about ending this disease.  You've worked on
it a lot during your two administrations.  How can we maintain that sense
of urgency to conquer it?

     THE PRESIDENT:  The first thing I think we have to do is to keep in
mind, keep the public in mind that there are 40,000 new cases every year,
and that more than half of them affect children and young people under 25.
That's a lot.

     The second thing I would say is, I do believe there is overwhelming
bipartisan consensus in the Congress and in the country to continue looking
for a cure, and to continue investing in that.

     And, thirdly, there is overwhelming bipartisan consensus to continue,
I think, the very large funding levels that we've achieved in CARE.  So I
think we're in reasonably good shape on that.

     The next big step that I think will keep a sense of urgency is to
really internationalize the struggle, to recognize America's responsibility
to deal with the global AIDS crisis and to understand that the relationship
between AIDS at home and AIDS abroad is quite a close one, especially with
borders being as open as they are now, a lot of immigrants coming here
every year, and our responsibilities and the rest of the world and our
hopes for the rest of the world -- particularly in our outreach to Africa,
to the Indian subcontinent, and increasingly to the states of the former
Soviet Union, where the AIDS rates are growing very rapidly -- our ability
to do what we're trying to do in those areas will turn, in no small part,
on our ability to work with them, to help them reverse the epidemic.

     You're going to have African countries -- I've had an unprecedented
outreach to Africa, and we just passed this big trade bill with Africa and
we're trying to get debt relief for the poorest African countries that are
being well run.  But there are countries over there that last year had very
high growth rates, that within 10 years to 15 years will have more people
in their 60s than in their 30s in those countries because of the AIDS
epidemic.  Their economies, their societies are very likely to become
largely dysfunctional, along with their political systems, unless we can do
something to turn the AIDS epidemic.

     I think we can keep more edge on the fight against AIDS at home if we
marry it more closely to the fight against AIDS around the world.

     Q    Thank you very much, Mr. President.

     THE PRESIDENT:  I enjoyed the visit.

     Q    I appreciate it very much.

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thanks.

                       END                       1:20 P.M. EDT


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