Former U.S. Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) said he is proud to have helped arrange for former President Gerald Ford, during Fordâs retirement years, to become the first U.S. president to become a member of a gay rights organization.
In an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade last week, Simpson talked about how he sees no contradiction in his longstanding role as a conservative Republican and his support for equal rights for LGBT people, including equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians.
âAll I know is we have made great strides for gays and lesbians and transvestites,â he said when asked if he thought Congress would soon approve the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, a bill calling for banning job discrimination against LGBT people.
Saying he isnât always certain about the proper terminology to use in discussing LGBT issues, Simpson said he is certain about his longstanding commitment to fairness and equality, even if he is at odds with many of his Republican colleagues.
âLetâs just keep making these strides and it will happen,â he said referring to ENDA, which is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate before Thanksgiving.
âIt will happen because other people know these people and they love them,â he said. âAnd Iâm very pleased. Anyone who is on the side of justice and freedom and caring about fellow human beings is pleased about whatâs going on.â
Simpson said his own views on gay rights were shaped by his and his wife of 59 years, Ann Schroll Simpson’s,Â longstanding belief in fairness and equality for everyone and by gay people they came to know over the years.
âI had a gay cousin who was a war hero in World War II â a wonderful man,â he said.
Simpson said he’s also proud to have been named about 10 years ago by the national gay magazine The Advocate as “one of the ten coolest straight guys in America.”
Simpson spoke to the Blade on Oct. 23 just before delivering opening remarks at a performance at D.C.âs All Souls Unitarian Church of a gay-themed mock trial of deceased former U.S. Sens. Joe McCarthy (R-Wisc.), Styles Bridges (R-N.H.), and Herman Welker (R-Idaho).
The script for the mock trial, which is performed as a play, was written by Wyoming writer, minister and former politician Rodger McDaniel, a friend of Simpsonâs, who based the script on his recently published book, âDying for Joe McCarthyâs Sins: The Suicide of Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt.â
In his book, McDaniel reports, based on extensive interviews and historical documents, that Hunt, a Democrat, committed suicide in 1954 after McCarthy and the other two senators conspired to blackmail him by threatening to publicize the arrest of Hunt in Washington one year earlier for allegedly soliciting an undercover vice police officer for gay sex.
McDanielâs book and the mock trial describe in detail how the three senators, all Republicans, wanted to force Hunt to resign from the Senate, which would have tipped the closely divided body from Democratic to Republican control. A GOP-controlled Senate at the time would have strengthened McCarthyâs campaign to purge large numbers of gays and others he accused of being communist sympathizers from their government jobs.
The alleged scheme unfolded in the midst of the nationâs âred scareâ triggered by McCarthyâs allegations that communists and communist sympathizers were working in high level U.S. government jobs and in the U.S. military.
Simpson told the Blade he was appalled over the facts that McDaniel brought to light in his book, prompting him to agree to write the forward for the book.
Simpsonâs discussion with Gerald Ford over gay rights took place shortly after Simpson accepted an invitation by gay Republican activist Charles Francis to become chairperson of the Advisory Board of the Republican Unity Coalition, a gay-straight alliance that Francis and two other gay Republican advocates founded in 2001.
âI picked up the phone,â Simpson said in describing his conversation with Ford. âCharles asked me to call him. I said OK. And I called and I said, âJerry this is Al Simpson.â And he said, âIâm 80,â or whatever it was. But he said, âIâll do it.ââ
According to Simpson, Ford told him among the reasons he would be happy to join the RUCâs Advisory Board was the false rumor he and his family endured in the 1970s that he ignored a gay man who saved his life in an assassination attempt in San Francisco. As Ford left a hotel where he spoke, the gay man, who was standing in a crowd of people watching Ford, saw a women point a pistol at Ford and deflected her arm, causing her to fire at the ground.
âHe said, âThatâs the biggest damn lie,ââ Simpson quoted Ford as saying in referring to the rumors that he never thanked the man who deflected the gun. âSo Jerry said just for that reason, sign me up. And he went right on the letterhead, and boy that helped,â Simpson said.
Francis said Simpson has continued his outspoken support for LGBT rights since becoming involved in the RNC. He noted that in 2003, Simpson signed on to an amicus brief that RUC filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the case that led to the overturning of state sodomy laws known as Lawrence v. Texas.
Asked whether he has received flak from some fellow Republicans and others over his support for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage, Simpson said, âEverything Iâve done has had flak. Iâm 82 now and Iâve effectively pissed off everyone in America. So yeah, but I just say weâre all Godâs children. Weâre all human beings.â
Simpsonâs longstanding reputation for speaking bluntly emerged when he told the Blade how he reacted to attacks from the Rev. Fred Phelps, the anti-gay minister who heads Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. For more than 10 years, Phelps has led protests of gay events, including funerals of gay people, while carrying signs saying âGod hates fags.â
âI remember writing a letter to Rev. Phelps,â Simpson told the Blade. âAnd I said, âDear Rev. Phelps: For all your good work for God and Christianity I want you to know that some dizzy son-of-a-bitch is writing me letters, homophobic letters, and signing your name,ââ Simpson said, grinning. ââAnd I know that you wouldnât want this to continue so Iâm hoping you will help me track this person down and find out who it is â yours in God.ââ
Added Simpson, âThat must have really pissed him off. But I couldnât imagine doing anything more delightful for him.â
Simpson continued: âSo I have been called out by the goofys and the nuts. And theyâre not all religious. So donât blame it on religion. Donât use that. Thatâs not fair. There are plenty of non-religious people that are homophobes.â
As a graduate of the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Simpson said he, like nearly all Laramie and Wyoming residents, was outraged over the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, then a gay student enrolled at the university.
âThe two crazy sons of bitches that killed him are crazy sons of bitches,â he said. âThey werenât part of the university. They werenât part of the community. They were a couple of sadistic bastards.â
Simpson praised âThe Laramie Project,â a play about the Shepard murder and the response to it by Laramie residents.
âI see itâs playing at Fordâs Theater right now,â he said. âItâs a great portrayal.â
But he added, âThereâs only one weakness in it. It didnât show the power of the president of the university and how restive he was to the horror of the crime. It didnât show the force of how he said this is appalling, itâs grotesque, and it didnât involve the university students.â