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Gerald Ford
reached out to gays and lesbians

Gerald Ford
reached out to gays and lesbians

President Gerald Ford, the only former Republican president to reach out to gays and lesbians and call for their inclusion in the GOP, died in Rancho Mirage, Calif., near Palm Springs, on Tuesday night. He was 93.

The 38th president of the United States was most remembered for restoring the nation's political stability following the resignation of President Nixon amid the Watergate scandal in 1974. At that time he was criticized for pardoning the disgraced president, a move some say cost him the White House in 1976.

But the former congressman from Michigan was praised by some for ignoring his own political viability in favor of helping the nation heal and come together after Watergate. That unifying spirit was again evident in 2002 when Ford joined the Republican Unity Coalition as a member of the organization's advisory board. The coalition is a fund-raising organization dedicated to making homosexuality a "nonissue" for the Republican Party.

"I have always believed in an inclusive policy, in welcoming gays and others into the party," Ford told The Detroit News in 2001. "I think the party has to have an umbrella philosophy if it expects to win elections."

Upon hearing of Ford's death, many gays and lesbians and members of the media recalled the time when Ford was saved from assassination by a gay man in San Francisco. As Ford emerged from the St. Francis Hotel on the afternoon of September 22, 1975, he paused before getting into his limousine to wave to the crowd across the street. That's when two shots rang out. The first narrowly missed Ford and the second was deflected by gay Vietnam veteran Oliver "Bill'' Sipple, who grabbed at the arm of the shooter, an FBI informant named Sara Jane Moore.

According to the San FranciscoChronicle, Sipple's act of heroism also was his undoing. The paper ran a story on September 24, 1975, saying that one reason the White House had yet to thank Sipple for his potentially lifesaving gesture was that he was a gay man. It turned out that Sipple's family had not known he was gay, and the disclosure resulted in him being alienated from his relatives.

Sipple sued the Chronicle for damages, but his case was eventually dismissed. He slid into alcoholism and died in 1989 at age 47. Among his prized possessions was the letter of thanks he eventually got from the White House.

Ford is survived by his wife, Betty Ford; four children; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother, Richard, of Grand Rapids, Mich. Details of the final schedule for Ford's funeral services in Washington, D.C., and Grand Rapids and the periods of public repose in Washington, Grand Rapids, and Palm Desert, Calif., were expected to be announced on Wednesday. (The Advocate)

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