Hillary: Up close and personal

In an exclusive interview, the first lady and Senate candidate talks in-depth for the first time about gay issues

BY David Kirby

October 10 2000 12:00 AM ET

Would you take a position on public money going to the Boy Scouts as long as they discriminate? I think people have to look at that on a state and local basis. And make that decision.

What about in New York? Well, in New York, I don’t know what all the statutes are, but I would hope that that kind of confrontation could be avoided and that the Boy Scouts would recognize that changing their policy is appropriate.

So you haven’t formulated a final position on public support of the Scouts? I haven’t formulated a final policy on it. I’m hoping that persuasion and, frankly, lobbying by people who are concerned will lead to a change in policy.

You had a unique vantage point on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Did you always think it was a flawed policy, or did something convince you to change your mind at some point along the way? I think, like a lot of people, we hoped that it would work, that it would accommodate the concerns and positions of many with respect to military service but also be a means of permitting gays and lesbians to serve their country. And the evidence demonstrates to me that it has not worked. And that it is a flawed policy.

When did you change your mind? Sometime over the last several years as the stories came out and as the people who were being discharged spoke out about how they had been pursued and harassed and outed and mistreated in violation of certainly the spirit of the policy. So I am convinced that gay people should be permitted to serve in the military, and they should be judged on their conduct in the military. I’ve thought that for some time.

Let’s suppose the president, even President Gore, appointed a highly qualified candidate for federal judge or Supreme Court justice, one who agreed with you on a number of key issues but who had made rulings that could be construed as antigay. Would you support that nomination? Well, that would trouble me. It would very much trouble me.

Do you have a litmus test, the way you might with, say, abortion? Well, you know, nobody’s ever asked me this question before. I would have to look at what those rulings were. I’d have to question the nominee as to what their beliefs were and what their willingness to enforce the law was because I think the law is rapidly changing, and I want to see it continue to change. And I wouldn’t want somebody on the Supreme Court who came with an preexisting prejudice that would undermine whatever legal progress could be made in ending discrimination.

I want to ask you about attacks from the right wing. The attacks on you and your husband—do you think any of it could be explained by homophobia? Not just because of gays in the military but also the whole whispering campaign against you, which nobody believes is true, but how do you feel about that personally, and how do you feel about using homosexuality as a smear tool in politics? Well, I think there are a lot of people who oppose what Bill and I stand for, what we’ve tried to do in our public lives, the way we’ve tried to demonstrate respect for people and be inclusive and reach out to all people and find an opportunity to use the talents that everyone has to contribute to improving our society. I think there are people who are very much against any changes in the treatment of gays and lesbians, who do not believe that we should be extending civil rights and [think] we shouldn’t be recognizing the legitimacy of people’s life choices, and I think it’s very frightening to them.

Do you think there might be a connection between homophobia and the right-wing attacks on you? Well, there could be.

And how do you feel about gay baiting in politics? It’s abhorrent, and it is an unfortunate relic of a sad chapter in human history. Every time we’ve had great change happen, whether it was overcoming slavery or the women’s movement or civil rights or standing against anti-Semitism, it’s always been necessary to stand against both the evil and the weakness that still stalks the human heart, stand against how people try to lift themselves up by putting others down and how they try to externalize and project their own insecurities and their own fears onto the other. And I am convinced that it remains one of our biggest challenges. And it’s true whether you’re talking about gay baiting or the remnants of any kind of discrimination anywhere in the world. We have got to overcome the tendency of people to revert to the lowest common denominator in the face of change. That’s what I think what the president has tried to do, and he has exemplified what I have tried to do to break down these barriers.

Why should gay and lesbian New Yorkers vote for you, and in a close race like this, can it make the difference? Any vote can make the difference. But I hope that gays and lesbians will vote for me because I intend to be a strong advocate for the rights of gays and lesbians to lead full and meaningful lives without the fear of discrimination and have access to equal opportunity and equal treatment as I think they are entitled to in our society.

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