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Former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew in 1979: 'I would not have a known homosexual on my staff' (updated)

Askew

Former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew died early Thursday at age 85.

Askew, according to his obit in the Miami Herald, was a "fiercely determined advocate" for racial equality.

He was no friend to the gay community.

As documented in the new Miami Herald/WPBT2 film by Joe Cardona, The Day It Snowed In Miami, Askew firmly stood by friend Anita Bryant and supported repeal of Miami-Dade County's gay-rights ordinance.

Said Askew in 1977:

"If I were living in Dade County, I would have no hesitation in voting to repeal the ordinance. I do not want a known homosexual teaching my child and I think that a person ought to have the right to determine whether or not they want someone with that known lifestyle living on their premises."

Two years later, during his confirmation hearing to be U.S. Trade Representative under President Jimmy Carter, Askew testified in the Senate that he would not knowingly hire a gay person.

From a 2009 opinion article written for the Miami Herald by former U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood, who took part in Askew's confirmation hearing:

For the first time in congressional history, perhaps, we embarked on new ground on civil rights. I asked Askew whether he had said these words, ``I would not have a homosexual on my staff.''

The official hearing record makes it clear:

Askew: ``Yes sir, I did. I said a known homosexual, and I would not.''

I asked if that was his present position, and he confirmed it was true. His position was well known because of his support for Anita Bryant's efforts in Dade County to deny ``homosexuals'' employment rights and specifically, the ability to teach in schools in 1977.

I followed up again and asked if it was his position to ``not have a homosexual'' on his staff. He responded, ``I would not have a known homosexual on my staff, simply, senator, by virtue of the tremendous problems it presents in dealing with public constituencies.''

I asked, ``If I understand your answer to the extent that you can, within the bounds of the law, you intend to follow the policy as Special Trade Representative of not hiring known homosexuals?''

Askew: ``Let us put it this way, senator, that I would follow whatever the personnel policy of the federal government is, but in the selections I have made thus far -- and I have very little flexibility in hiring -- I have not, and would not.''

A few years later, gay Miami attorney Dan Bradley told The New York Times, that after coming out to his friend Askew, the former Florida governor repudiated his position against hiring an openly gay staff member.

From a 1983 New York Times story, 'Democrats seek homosexuals' votes':

At the Democratic mid-term convention in Philadelphia last year, Mr. Askew asked for a meeting with Mr. Bradley to discuss the issue. ''I told him how much I respected his decency and character and he told me, 'Dan, you know I wouldn't do anything to hurt you,' '' Mr. Bradley said in recalling their meeting, their first since the lawyer publicly disclosed his homosexuality. ''At the end, we both had tears in our eyes.''

Mr. Bradley said he had met with Mr. Askew since then, and that while he had not been converted, the candidate now understood that homosexuality is not a matter of personal choice. ''He has told me he opposes discrimination against anyone if it is based on reasons over which the person has no control,'' Mr. Bradley said.

Bradley, 47, died of AIDS in Coral Gables in 1988.

This report was updated March 14, 2014.

Reubin Askew 1979 confirmation hearing (except)

Comments

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I vigorously reject the validity of your argument. Mr. Askew was on the right side of every KNOWN civil and gender rights issue of his day. Unfortunately, gay rights were not on the radar in the 1970s when Askew governed here in Florida. He was, by far, the most enlightened governor in the history of this state. It is idiotic to assume that he would stand in the way of gay rights in 2014.

The reality in the 1970s, regardless of how incorrect and oppressive, was that gays were perverts! It is the measure of how far gays have come in such a brief time that truly millions and millions of Americans believe that discrimination against gays is as reprehensible as any other process that casts aspersions on individuals because of their race, creed, gender or sexual preference.

In the 1970s the idea of homosexuality offended me; but that did not keep me from being civil to the gay people I knew. Now, some 40 years later I am indeed fortunate to know and love many gay people and consider them to be cherished friends. A gay friend of mine died of AIDS ten years ago and I still can't think of him without crying, so deep is my love for him. I look upon the generous and loving gay men and woman I know to be nothing short of treasures and my life would not be complete without their respect and affection. I have a feeling that Governor Askew would think much the same way.

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