While George W. Bush took very public stands against LGBT rights, especially marriage equality, there were at least 70 gay people on the White House staff when he was president — and many “experienced episodes of cognitive dissonance,” says a new article from Politico.
“For some of his gay aides, it was a struggle to reconcile the decency they usually saw up close with the frequent reminders, both large and small, that theirs was a party very publicly committed to the view that they were not entitled to the same legal protections as other Americans,” says the article by Timothy J. Burger, published online and in Politico’s July-August print magazine.
“Although former staffers say they never believed Bush personally had anything against gay people, many still experienced episodes of cognitive dissonance,” Burger writes. This happened especially when Bush promoted an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage.
When Bush first called for such an amendment, during his 2004 State of the Union address, it “really felt like somebody punched me in the gut, to be honest,” Dan Gurley, who worked for the Republican National Committee at the time, told Politico. “I understand the politics of it, but it doesn’t make it any easier to acquiesce to.”
Another RNC staffer, Jeff Berkowitz, had a similar reaction. “This was something I didn’t agree with and didn’t know was coming,” he recalled to Politico, and he wondered if he should resign in protest. But he stayed on. “I wasn’t on the reelect because I thought Bush was good on marriage equality,” he said. “It was because he was going to kill terrorists and was good on economic issues.”
Opposition to marriage equality became a centerpiece of Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, and a plethora of state-level ballot measures on the issue helped bring conservative voters to the polls that November. And Bush returned to the theme in 2006 while stumping for Republicans in the midterm congressional races.
Gay former White House aide Steven Levine had helped set up for a Bush appearance in Sellersburg, Ind., that year. The crowd applauded when the president said, “Just this week in New Jersey, another activist court issued a ruling that raises doubt about the institution of marriage. We believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman, and should be defended. I will continue to appoint judges who strictly interpret the law and not legislate from the bench.”
To Levine, “It was a slap in the face,” he told Burger.
Levine and a friend came up with an estimate of 70 gay staffers, of whom only two were women, in the Bush White House. Burger says his research indicates that estimate is low, but since many of the gay workers were out only to a select few colleagues, top Bush administration officials were unaware there was such a large gay presence. Read the full article, in which several of the gay staffers go on record for the first time about their experiences, here.