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Jesse Helms Revised as Gay Rights Fighter

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The Jesse Helms Center Foundation is trying to recast the late U.S. senator from North Carolina, a vociferous opponent of gay rights, as an advocate for equality.

The New York Times
reports on the effort in the context of the recently rescinded HIV travel and immigration ban.

"Efforts to lift the ban were blocked by a 1993 Congressional amendment introduced by Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina," reports the Times. "Those who fought the law say Mr. Helms, who died in 2008, perpetuated decades of discrimination.

"But just as the ban has disappeared, the curators of Mr. Helms's legacy are trying to touch up the relevant history. Some want him seen as a savior to those with AIDS and a defender of gay rights.

"Despite Mr. Helms's storied opposition to 'a homosexual lifestyle,' the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate, N.C., is challenging the idea that he was a "homophobe" or obstructive in the AIDS fight.

"According to the center's Web site, 'It was Senator Helms who worked most tirelessly to protect the very principles of freedom that homosexuals are denied in many other nations.'

"John Dodd, president of the Jesse Helms Center Foundation, recently disputed an editorial in the British newspaper The Guardian that vilified Mr. Helms for his role in the ban. Mr. Dodd argued that 'two million Africans were alive' because of the senator's work fighting H.I.V.

"Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, whose partner Tim Curbo died from AIDS, said the Helms Center sought to sanitize the record. 'It's spitting on the graves of all the people who suffered,' Mr. Ammiano said, adding, 'He was truly evil and very cavalier about it. He should be in the hall of shame.'"

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