I actually don’t like revisiting this topic, about how all things gay were ignored in most obits of former NY Mayor Koch. But I recently read NY Mayor Bloomberg’s obit on Koch in the Milestones section of Time Magazine and I found the same double standard for gays I see all the time right next to an obit for Essie Mae Washington-Williams, side by side, on the very same page. I don’t know if this was an accident, or if this was done on purpose as a subtle hint. But either way it’s the kind of irony I see all the time and I wasn’t going to let it go without posting something.
And even though I would rather have ignored this and written a more positive post on something like full frontal nudity in Shameless, or something about Matt Bomer and Fifty Shades of Grey, I find that because of the way we ignore these things all the time our rights and our dignities as gay people keep slipping through the cracks and nothing ever changes much. In a recent episode of Downton Abbey, the subject of a gay servant was approached, and words like “revolting” were used with regard to the gay character, and I’m still seeing that sort of thing nowadays almost 100 years later. And it comes, as it has always come, in the form of a cover up (ignoring it and playing it down) because being gay has always been considered such a “revolting” negative thing to be. The biggest cover-ups have been in either politics or entertainment or professional sports, where image is always more important than anything else.
First, there was no mention of anything LGBT related in Mayor Bloomberg’s obit for Koch, not even a line or two about how Koch was mayor of New York at the beginning of the AIDS crisis or the fact that it was rumored that Koch himself was allegedly gay and in the closet all his life. Bloomberg is not the first to ignore these facts in an obit about Koch. I posted here about how Twitter went wild when the NY Times basically did the same thing, and then they updated the original obit for Koch with a few inaccurate lines about AIDS. Frankly, I expected this obit from Bloomberg, so I wasn’t surprised.
What I find interesting in a general sense is that the present mayor of NYC, who seems to be so interested in how many sugary soft drinks we consume, couldn’t even mention the AIDS crisis once. When you read this obit the only thing you walk away with is this surreal impression that former Mayor Koch, man about town, turned NYC into this frolicking city of peace and love. The only problem with this is that I was around back then and I remember NY well. While Koch was mayor of NY you couldn’t get out of the Lincoln Tunnel without being stopped by thugs, holding knives and wet rags up against your windows. If you didn’t pay them to “clean” your windshield, they would pull the knives on you and make threats. Trust me, you paid fast. That’s not hearsay, and that really happened to me many, many times at the tunnel. So the NY Bloomberg remembers during Koch’s time in office is not the same one I remember.
Ed was a savior for a city in desperate need of one. Through his determined leadership and responsible-fiscal stewardship, he helped lift the city out of its darkest days and set it on course for an incredible comeback. And no mayor has ever embodied the spirit of New York like Ed: brash and irreverent, full of humor and chutzpah.
I think Rudy Giuliani did far more to make New York a safer city to be in, but that would be a different post. I’m focused on one thing here: the fact that Bloomberg mentioned nothing at all about AIDS, or that frightening time in the history of the city of New York, and that he still gets away with ignoring that terrible time over thirty years later. By remaining silent it makes it sound wrong, and that’s what I’m tired of. And I’m not even talking about the gay allegations directed toward Koch all his life. I’m only talking about AIDS right now. It’s still obviously a place where politicians and the press just do not want to go unless there’s something in it for them…some kind of grand standing that makes them look like heroes.
In any event, you can read more about the gay allegations directed at Koch here.
He was 88 years old and died without ever publicly acknowledging his homosexuality. And his inaction during the crucial early years of the AIDS pandemic –– which emerged in 1981 on his watch –– has never been forgiven by large numbers of gay men and others who lost so many loved ones and friends to the virus.
I could tell tales out of school so to speak (the rumors run rampant to this day), but that would all be hearsay at this point. If Koch had been gay (we really don’t know for certain) and he’d been in the closet all his life to protect his political career and image I would understand that. I might even respect it because of the times in which he lived. But I cannot respect the fact that the cover up never seems to end. And it’s the kind of cover up that makes being gay look “revolting” and that’s what I’m talking about right now.
But here’s the most interesting/ironic thing about the recent Koch obit in Time Magazine. Right next to what Bloomberg wrote about Koch, there’s an obit about Essie Mae Washington-Williams.
Essie Mae Washington-Williams, a Los Angeles teacher and school administrator who was 87 when she died on Feb. 4, made headlines in December 2003 simply by declaring: “My father’s name was James Strom Thrumond.”
To sum it up: she outed him. She did this right after Thrumond’s death, not while he was alive. For those who don’t know, Essie Mae’s mother was of African descent and Thrumond was a white senator from South Carolina who fought against integration. You can read more about it here.
Of course I see nothing wrong with Essie Mae Washington-Williams announcing that Thrumond was, indeed, her father. In fact, I applauded her for doing it at the time because interracial relationships have always been on the taboo list, too. Oh, you don’t talk about that, not even in death. So we wind up rewriting history once again.
It takes courageous people like Essie Mae to stand up and break the old rules and come out with the truth, so history is not rewritten. I just find it ironic that her obit was on the same page as the Koch obit written by Mayor Bloomberg who obviously doesn’t think breaking the old rules is all that important…not even enough to mention AIDS. I think it would be nice if there were an Essie Mae Washington-Williams in Ed Koch’s past who would be willing to stand up and say, “I was Koch’s lover.”