Parting Glances: JFK, Nixon, Ford, Sipple and Me

By |2016-11-03T09:00:00-04:00November 3rd, 2016|Opinions, Parting Glances|

I was working at a discount records shop in downtown Detroit in 1959, the year two ill-fated contenders — Sen. John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Vice President Richard Milhous Nixon — campaigned for the 1960 presidency.
I stood about 50 feet from the red, white, blue podium in Campus Martius when J.F.K. spoke that memorable sunlit summer. I was impressed by his youthful good looks, his commanding speech delivery.
For a moment, I thought he specifically pointed in my direction — “Why me, God?” I joked to myself — and I pledged him my vote. (I also wondered if a Roman Catholic could become our president.)
Later that campaign season, I took a coffee break and walked to a coffee shop just down the hall from my discount records sales job.
Gathered at the Washington Boulevard entrance of the Sheraton Cadillac was a noisy crowd. I stood in line, and moments later Nixon began shaking hands. He reached out to take my hand. I stepped back. Reluctant. But pleased to reject his offer.
I was also aware that Nixon looked directly at me and our eyes locked intensely for seemingly milliseconds too many. To this day, I wonder if it was a “gaydar moment.” (Believe it or not: I was quite a looker at 23. Nixon, however, wasn’t my type. Politically or otherwise).
My fleeting impression was not far-fetched. Nixon, elected in 1968 as our 37th president, was palsy with gay Cuban wheeler-dealer Bebe Rebozo, and closeted queer J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI.
A 2011 Nixon biography by Don Fulsom, veteran Washington reporter, suggests gay intimacies between Nixon and Rebozo.
It’s also recently come to light that President Nixon held — by Republican, conservative standards — flexible attitudes about homosexuals. A published collection of Nixon’s confidential discussions with advisors — “The Nixon Tapes” — contains passing, offhand remarks on gays.
Comments were made in 1972, three years after the Stonewall Riots. (Tape conversations began in 1971 and end in ’73, when word of the tapings became public knowledge).
“Let me say something before we get off the gay thing. I don’t want my views misunderstood. I am the most tolerant person on that score of anybody in this shop. They have a problem. They’re born that way. You know that. That’s all. I think they are. Anyway, my point is, though, when I say they’re born that way, the tendency is there.
“And, if you look over the history of societies, you will find of course that some of the highly intelligent people — Oscar Wilde, Aristotle — were all homosexuals. Nero, of course, was in a public way, in with a boy in Rome.” Nixon’s caveat: “Once a society moves in that direction, the vitality goes out of that society.”
Both Nixon and J.F.K. were ill-fated. Kennedy was assassinated — murdered, many now believe, by a multifaceted conspiracy — three years after defeating Nixon in 1960. Nixon was elected in 1969. His hit-and-miss presidency ended in 1974 for his nefarious part in equivocating about a Watergate “Deep Throat” Break-In.
In 1975, an assassination attempt on Nixon’s vice president and successor Gerald Ford was successfully thwarted by Detroit-born, Vietnam veteran Oliver “Billy” Sipple. The heroic act outed gay Sergeant Sipple, closeted to family, friends and service buddies.
Sipple sued seven San Francisco newspapers for $14 million for outing him as one-time lover of Harvey Milk. Sipple died penniless and mostly forgotten in 1989. The rest is history. (Time marches on. Sometimes gun in hand.)

About the Author:

Charles Alexander