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Paul Kirk in '85: Gay Rights a 'Fringe' Issue


Paul Kirk, who is stepping in to become the interim junior senator from Massachusetts following the death of staunch gay ally Ted Kennedy, once asserted that gay rights had no place in the Democratic Party's platform, labeling them a "fringe issue" as DNC chairman in 1985.

"Fringe issues and life style issues such as gay rights cannot be the priority in the dialogue of a major party," Kirk said during a meeting with Alabama governor George Wallace on April 20, 1985, according to a back issue of The Advocate. "The dialogue must focus on central issues such as the economy, a strong defense, jobs, and education for our children if [the party] hopes to reclaim its rightful heritage."

Lance Ringel, president of the Lambda Independent Democrats in Brooklyn, told The Advocate in the May 28, 1985, issue that he was outraged at Kirk's statements. "How dare [he] dismiss the question of basic civil liberties for 22 million Americans with a few preemptory words," Ringel said.

Kirk's tune changed three years later when, under his leadership, the Democratic National Committee's 1988 platform included advocating for federally funded HIV/AIDS care as well as nondiscrimination provisions based on sexual orientation, in addition to race, gender, national origin, and other characteristics.

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