>Jesse Helms’ legacy will always be tied to bigotry

>Yes, I said it. And I do believe it.

This New York Times article about the lifting of the ban on immigrants who are H.I.V. positive caught my attention not only because it ended two decades of discrimination, but it addressed a bit of revisionist history on the part of some of Helms’ most fervent supporters.

Just a bit of background, the ban was put into place in 1987 during the Reagan administration (surprise, surprise) and required those who were either living here to return to their home countries or were not allowed into our boundaries. An attempt to lift the ban in 1993 was blocked a Congressional amendment introduced by the late Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who died in 2008. Now with the ban lifted, Helms’ most ardent supporters are working to re-write his legacy.

From the article:

Despite Mr. Helms’s storied opposition to “a homosexual lifestyle,” the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate, N.C., is challenging the idea that he was a “homophobe” or obstructive in the AIDS fight. According to the center’s Web site, “It was Senator Helms who worked most tirelessly to protect the very principles of freedom that homosexuals are denied in many other nations.” 

John Dodd, president of the Jesse Helms Center Foundation, recently disputed an editorial in the British newspaper The Guardian that vilified Mr. Helms for his role in the ban. Mr. Dodd argued that “two million Africans were alive” because of the senator’s work fighting H.I.V. 

Okay, let’s stop right there. For those who don’t know, let me give you a rundown of Sen. Helms’ and his stance on key social issues:

-In his three decades in the Senate, Helms waged high-profile fights against the Panama Canal treaty, AIDS funding, abortion and affirmative action. (NPR). NPR also pulled a memorable quote Helms made about gay rights:

“Seldom a day passes by when there’s not another lawmaker coming up with some new idea which would further destroy parental authority in our land,” he said in a speech kicking off his 1990 re-election campaign. “Just think about it: homosexuals, lesbians, disgusting people marching in our streets demanding all sorts of things, including the right to marry each other and the right to adopt children. How do you like them apples?”

-led efforts to repeal the naming of MLK Day as a federal holiday.

-called AIDS a result of “unnatural” and “disgusting” homosexual behavior. (NY Times)

-During his 1990 re-election bid against Harvey Gantt, he used a racially charged television ad criticizing affirmative action.The ad stated: “You needed that job and you were the best qualified, but they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair? Harvey Gantt says it is.”

Here’s the full television ad:

How you like them apples? It should be noted that every southern Republican has used an image of the late Sen. Kennedy in their television or radio ads–and it has worked to their advantage every time. 

Okay, I’ll throw Helms’ a bone for meeting for a scripted photo op with Bono and his “efforts” to fight AIDS in Africa. I’ll give him an A for effort for that. But let’s be realistic, Jesse Helms was not a champion of AIDS funding and gay rights. He could have cared less about the plight of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered folks in this country. He could cared less about the rights they were fighting for.

I’m pretty sure he’s flipped over in his grave on multiple occasions when a state or city announces it will allow same sex couples to wed. I’m pretty sure he also turned a few times when a gay or lesbian couple takes home a little boy or girl for permanent adoption.

Jesse Helms is and always will be tied to the bigotry and hatred he often spewed from his mouth on the Senate floor. He will always be remembered for his resistance to change and his efforts to undermine women and minority advancement in this country. His good ol’ boy nature will always be synonymous with being part of the Old Guard in the “New” South.

So, Mr. Dodd, Jesse Helms’ legacy is one of racism, discrimination and down right hatred. And I’m sure he’s just fine with that.

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