In the modern political climate gay rights are a commonly discussed issue and the last year or so has been a monumental time in making strides for equality. With the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy repealed, LGBTQ armed forces are now free to have their own sexual identities while fighting for the country. Similarly, after a long fight, gay marriage is now legalized which provides a level of equality to the LGBTQ community that is well deserved.
To highlight the long road that it has been for gay rights activists we took a look at where the anti-LGBTQ politics started and unfortunately the homophobia has political roots. Although back in the 1800s gay rights weren’t a commonly talked about issue, civil rights was a hot topic. For this reason, we’ve used anti-civil rights as well as anti-LGBTQ Presidents in this list so that we could include the entire spectrum of the 44 Presidents of the United States. Although American gay rights aren’t completely equal to the rights of straight Americans, they are still more tolerant than laws found around the world. LGBTQ people in Russia and many Asian countries are persecuted for their sexuality to this day; so there is still a big fight ahead for gay rights activists worldwide.
15. Barack Obama
Alright, alright, we agree this one is a bit of a stretch. But in California the election of Barack Obama actually has been said to have solidified the anti-American and anti-LGBTQ Prop 8 passing. This is because the ability to vote for an African American president drew out a lot of African American voters who otherwise might not have casted their ballot. The African American community is commonly anti-LGBTQ which is why more African American voters meant less rights for gays that year.
Obama also did some great work for LGBTQ rights in his last year as President, but up until then he hadn’t worked as much of an advocate for the community. Although the first seven years didn’t give the LGBTQ community much change at least gay marriage has been legalized and military rule “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed. We put Obama on this list begrudgingly, because in the long run he hasn’t been completely anti-LGBTQ.
14. James A. Garfield
The 20th President of the United States was first elected to the Senate until he was eventually elected President. His run in office was the shortest ever as the Dark Horse Republican candidate that was assassinated only three months into his presidential run. Garfield was a major general in the Union Army and was very against the Confederate secession. He was a mover and a shaker in his short time spent as President and took on some very heavy hitters in the US. His main focus in his very short presidency was on removing corruption from the U.S. Postal Service and control of senatorial power. It was probably this focus that garnered him enough attention to be assassinated in the first place. With his rigid stance on most issues leads us to believe that he would be against LGBTQ rights if given the chance but we are just guessing with this one.
13. Andrew Johnson
This President was only made the 17th President of the United States because he was the Vice President when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Andrew Johnson was also the very first president to be impeached after which he was acquitted by the Senate. He was a Southern Unionist and was the only serving Senator from a Confederate state that didn’t secede from his seat. This made him an obvious running mate for Lincoln in the election for the 16th President. Although he didn’t secede with the Confederates, Johnson was against most Amendments and laws that gave rights to African Americans and former slaves. Many rank him among the very worst Presidents that have served office. With this information about how racist Johnson is we gather that if gay humans were allowed to be out in this time period that Andrew Johnson would surely fight their ability to have equal rights.
12. Woodrow Wilson
Born as Thomas Woodrow Wilson, this politician and academic served as the 28th President of the United States and passed some laws that devastatingly punished a homosexual lifestyle, specifically in the armed forces. Before being elected in 1913, Wilson served as Governor of New Jersey where he cleaned up the power, corruption and economic issues that were plaguing the state. It was when Wilson was entering his second term when he started to sign bills into law that persecuted the LGBTQ lifestyle.
In 1916 Woodrow Wilson signed the Immigration Act of 1917 that barred individuals deemed “mentally defective” or those who displayed a “constitutional psychopathic inferiority” from entering the United States; both of which were medical terms for homosexuality at the time. Aside from this law Wilson also made “assault with intent to commit sodomy” and sodomy itself as crimes in the army that were punishable by court-martial. All of these laws persecuted the lives of LGBTQ and earn Wilson a spot on this despicable list.
11. Herbert Hoover
The 31st President of the United States was very focused on ending poverty which was a very relevant domestic stance to take only three months before the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929. Despite this immediate blow to his presidential reputation Hoover jumped right on planning regulations over the economic system so that the country could recover from what would eventually turn into The Great Depression. He also focused much of his political energy on foreign relations by pulling military and influence out of Latin American countries and mediating between Tanca and Africa.
One thing that Hoover didn’t invest political energies into was civil rights, although he made certain comments that if the African community could educate themselves then they could get a rightful place in society. Our guess is that he didn’t mention civil rights much because he had somewhat racist views on the matter, leading us to believe that he’d be close minded about LGBTQ rights as well.
10. Gerald Ford
This is a President that gained steam for the feminist movement in a time that being pro-choice or pro-women’s equality wasn’t that popular with the status quo. Gerald Ford served the United States as the 38th President during the mid to late ‘70s. The politician served as Vice President under Richard Nixon until the disgraced President resigned in 1974, leaving Ford to serve in his place. He was a controversial President that pardoned Richard Nixon despite his Watergate scandal and an outcry from the American people. He also declared the Vietnam war over and helped release the tension of the Cold War by signing the Helsinki Accords. Ford was a major proponent of Women’s Rights, declaring August 26 Women’s Rights Day and supporting the Equal Rights Amendment. He fought for each state to regulate their own abortion laws and came out as pro-choice after his run as President. Although he was so for women’s rights, when asked about gay rights Ford would not respond. He admitted there was an issue with LGBTQ rights in the country but wouldn’t go any farther on the subject; making him neutral and therefore a negative influence on LGBTQ rights in general.
9. Warren G. Harding
At the time of his death Warren G. Harding was one of the most beloved Presidents by the American public, but it turns out he was just good at covering up scandal. After he passed on Harding’s many illicit affairs were made public and his reputation will be forever tarnished. Of his most gossiped about scandals was Teapot Dome in which government officials were accepting bribes for competitive oil rates. This was the biggest scandal in America before Watergate with Richard Nixon.
It was at the 50 year celebration of the founding of Alabama that Harding spoke in front of 100,000 white and African American citizens. It was also the first and last time that he would mention civil rights as an issue. Although previously speaking out against public lynching, Harding received absolute silence after referencing that African Americans should be allowed to vote; and dropped the issue until his death.
8. William Howard Taft
Elected in 1908 as the successor of beloved President Theodore Roosevelt and served as the 27th President of the United States. Later, President Warren G. Harding appointed Taft the Chief Justice of the United States where he would serve almost until his death. Taft was a supporter of Booker T. Washington’s program for the advancement of African Americans but he gave what some might consider demeaning advice to the black scholar. Taft let Washington know that ‘his people’ should completely avoid politics, that there were other places for the African community to thrive. Taft gave Washington the ‘free advice’ that his people should focus on getting and education and entrepreneurship before even thinking about getting involved in politics. Aside from this brief moment of talking down to an African man in power, Taft stayed completely out of civil rights and issues therein. His ability to ignore what was a very real problem at the time of his presidency leads us to believe that he would do the same with gay rights if they had been prevalent at the dawn of the century.
7. Franklin Roosevelt
Colloquially referred to as FDR, this is a president that is still well known in modern America. As the 32nd President of the United States FDR dominated his party and served as a person of strength for Americans during a terrible economic time. FDR served as President from 1933-1937 during which he signed both the New Deal and the Second Deal. His second term was from 1937-1941 and in this time FDR pass much less major legislation. Before being elected President Roosevelt took it upon himself to infiltrate the goings on in the Navy while working as Assistant Secretary in 1919. In this time he requested an investigation into Naval “vice and depravity” which launched a sting operation in which Naval officers and seamen were seduced into homosexual affairs. As a result, 17 sailors were jailed and court-martialed before public outcry halted the operation. Congress also passed a few homophobic laws while FDR was in the seat of President which only furthered his Anti-LGBTQ stance on civil rights.
6. Harry S. Truman
This is the President that approved dropping the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the man who was in power at the mark of the catalyst that began the Cold War, the 33rd President of the United States from 1945 to 1953. During this time countless atrocities against the LGBTQ community were also put into law, like the first sodomy law in the District of Columbia that could lead to up to 10 years in prison and $1,000 in fines. Two years later, Truman signed the Uniform Code of Military Justice into law which would forbid sodomy among all military personnel, citing any penetration with a person of the same sex as punishable under the code. This would mark the beginning of the almost 75 year battle to get the homophobic tendencies of the American military repealed and the lives of LGBTQ forces instead protected by American law. Truman was not a friend of the LGBTQ community and seemed to have been a starting point for much of the struggle that the community faced over the years.
5. Ronald Reagan
From 1981 to 1989, Ronald Reagan served as the 40th President of the United States after serving out his elected position of Governor of California. He had a lot to do with a complete upheaval of American economics and turned a deficit into a surplus, but eventually this would backfire. However, what we’re focused on is gay rights, a topic which Reagan had a lot of opinions. During his initial run for president gay rights had just become prevalent in the US and Reagan was clear that he could not, and would not, condone the ‘alternative lifestyle’ of LGBTQ Americans. Many gay rights advocates were upset with Reagan’s ability to completely ignore the AIDS epidemic that had taken thousands of lives by the end of the 1980’s to which his administration responded that since homosexuals and drug addicts were dying of the disease they were simply “getting what they justly deserve.” During the Reagan administration not one civil rights or LGBTQ rights law was passed and until his death Reagan was firm on his anti-gay political stance.
4. Richard Nixon
37th President and shamed politician Richard Nixon was in office from 1969 until he resigned in 1974 to eventually be pardoned by Gerald Ford. Though he was the President to end the war in Vietnam and subsequently pull American troops out of the jungle, that was where his liberal views ended. Going on the record, Nixon stated in August of 1970 that gay marriage was far off; that he was still trying to wrap his head around interracial marriages for the moment. Almost exactly one year later Nixon went on the record as saying that homosexuality led to the fall of the Ancient Greek empire and that in certain more gay friendly parts of San Francisco where he refused to shake hands with residents. Despite these horrific remarks about LGBTQ people there was still a coalition of gay individuals in San Francisco that formed with a goal to re-elect Nixon in 1972.
3. George H. W. Bush
As the elder Presidential Bush, George H.W. brought a little more to the table than his first born son. Elected in 1989 after Ronald Reagan, Bush continued the reign of Republicans over the country after the 80’s. Bush became involved in politics in the House of Representatives after founding his own oil company. By the age of 40, the Texas oil tycoon had already become a millionaire. In an interview the elder Bush cited that if he found out that one of his grandchildren was gay he would love them anyways but he did tack on quite the homophobic comment. The President stated that if he found out his grandchild was gay he would let them know that a gay lifestyle wasn’t natural and would talk them out of being gay rights activists. Despite these anti-LGBTQ views George H.W. Bush was kind of a champion of gay rights throughout his time as president and passed anti-hate crime laws that protect LGBTQ people to this day.
2. George W. Bush
As governor of Texas in 1994, Bush ignorantly said that he would veto and effort made to repeal a Texas sodomy law citing that it was a way to instill “traditional values” in citizens. The next year he signed a bill into the Texas Family Code that would prohibit the marriage of any persons of the same sex in the state of Texas. He has been a constant opponent of gay rights since his days as Governor and even let a Texas bill die that would protect American citizens from hate crimes against their race, religion or sexual orientation simply because he did not want to protect gay and lesbian Texans. Similarly, after the Boy Scouts of America famously passed a law that forced them to allow gays into their troops Bush spoke out against the law citing that it was a private organization that had a right to refuse entry. By his election in 2000, Bush had flipped the script and began to speak out against sodomy laws but remained firm on his stance against gay marriage.
1. Dwight Eisenhower
After serving in the armed forces Dwight, or “Ike”, was elected as the 34th President of the United States in 1953 and served continuously until 1961. He was commonly conservative and passed some pretty homophobic laws in his late ‘50s Presidential terms. In his first year as President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 into law which prohibited Federal employees from any acts or groups considered subversive, cited in the list of subversive activities were “sexual perversion”. Those found guilty of subversive fraternizing would be deemed a security rise viable for termination or denial of employment. This was a law set into place because homosexual employees were considered a blackmail risk. Americans commended the decision because it would help preserve integrity in government positions, unfortunately Americans were generally anti-LGBTQ in the ‘50s. After signing this monumental Executive order into law Ike remained quiet on the issue of gay rights and maintained his conservative political stance.