Ed Koch’s Mixed Legacy on Gay Rights & AIDS
Koch’s Policy (Or Not) on AIDS
In his book, Soffer lays much of the blame for Koch’s reluctance to take the lead in fighting the new gay disease at the feet of the federal government. New York State at the time had (and, in fact, still has) the country’s largest per capita expenditure on the local level of Medicaid expenses.
According to Soffer, "If Washington had taken over these expenses, New York City would not have had a fiscal crisis, it would not have had to cut services, and city government would have been in a far better position to deal with the public health-related problems of homelessness, AIDS and drugs."
Certainly, Koch was far from the only politician who felt that a disease apparently only afflicting affluent, sexually active gay men in New York and a few other cities was toxic. But the fact remains that, whoever the culprit or culprits, New York quickly became the epicenter of the disease, which decimated its gay male population.
While Koch may have shrugged off Kramer’s pooch-instigated jibe, Kramer never let up on criticism that the mayor’s inaction helped a localized health problem metastasize into a global pandemic. Just last year, he wrote, "We must never forget that this man was an active participant in helping us to die, in murdering us."
Firmly NOT Out
The constant questioning of his private life, from Kramer and others, dogged the mayor throughout his political career and beyond, into his very active retirement.
In a Feb. 1 article, reporters Bill Hutchinson and Bill McShane delve into the subject. The article’s title, "Koch, mayor during AIDS and gay rights, steadfastly kept his sexuality a private matter," neatly sums up the politician’s career-long dance around the subject.
They quote him as variously moving at different points in his life through stages that could be described as not-quite-crawling out of the closet.
While running for his first term as mayor in 1977, he told a reporter, "No, I am not a homosexual. If I were a homosexual, I would hope I would have the courage to say so. What’s cruel is that you are forcing me to say I am not a homosexual. This means you are putting homosexuals down. I don’t want to do that."
Some time later, he "clarified" that remark: "My answer to questions on this subject is simply, ’Fuck off.’ There have to be some private matters left."
Another time, he deflected the question with a parry typical of a man who didn’t exactly mince words: "When was the last time you committed oral sex on your spouse?" he responded to yet another questioner. "Don’t answer that. It’s no one’s business."
The final word on the subject appears in "Koch," a documentary that premiered on the eve of his death, in which he flatly states: "It’s none of your fucking business."
Next: Bess As Beard?