Ten days after Terry Dolan, the founder of the National Conservative Political Action Committee, died of complications of AIDS last Dec. 28, his family and hundreds of friends and political allies gathered for a memorial service. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Gordon Humphrey, and Dolan's brother Anthony, a White House speech writer, praised Dolan for his contributions to shaping the conservative movement. Former White House chief of communications Pat Buchanan and former senator Paul Laxalt attended the service at the Dominican House of Study.

Two days later there was another service. At St. Matthew's Cathedral, the Rev. John Gingrich, the cathedral's longtime liaison with the gay community and Dolan's priest for much of the final six months of his life, celebrated the mass. Former congressman Robert Bauman, who wrote a book about being a gay conservative, attended, as did about 50 of Dolan's friends. Among the mourners were several who had been at the first service as well, gay men who still keep their homosexuality a carefully guarded secret. But others were absent -- afraid, one mourner says, that the press had heard of the event and would be waiting outside the church, cameras poised to catch the faces of men and women who, like their dead friend, preferred not to be known as gay.

Gingrich says the friends were "saddened" by the separate farewells, "and they were certain that's not the way Terry would have wanted it." But perhaps it was fitting that Dolan should have been mourned in two separate services, one public and one private.

During his life, Dolan publicly denied he was gay and that he had AIDS. For many, he came to symbolize the contradictions that can torment gay men and lesbians, and that can be especially brutal for conservative gays. To others, his actions seemed less contradictory than hypocritical, since as head of NCPAC Dolan had allied himself on some issues with people who openly condemned homosexuality and who used antihomosexual rhetoric for fund-raising purposes.

After his death at age 36, when obituaries revealed that he had died of AIDS, Dolan was one more reminder of the silent presence of gay men and women throughout the political world, most of them still frightened of being discovered years after the gay rights movement was born.

In the past, there had been other reminders: Bauman lost his reelection campaign after receiving a suspended sentence in 1980 for soliciting sex from a teen-age male prostitute, and in 1983 Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) was censured by the House for having a homosexual affair with a House page. And now with AIDS there will be more, as the disease pulls the private lives of prominent men into public view. Last week, Rep. Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn.) died of complications related to AIDS. His doctor said he believed McKinney contracted the disease from 1979 blood transfusions, but knowledgeable sources said that McKinney had had homosexual relationships.

"It's a commonplace saying that if one day all gay people turned purple, you'd be shocked to see how many people around you are gay," says a gay Washingtonian. "In fact, that day has come, only you don't turn purple, you get sick and die."

Inside the Closet

"The closet is living hell, and I experienced that and I think Terry in his own way experienced the same hell," says Dan Bradley, who came out of the closet in the pages of national newspapers when he quit as head of the Legal Services Corp. in 1982. He now practices law in Miami, and speaks frequently about the subterfuge and psychological contortions of life in the closet. He has AIDS. He didn't know Terry Dolan, but he knew the world Dolan inhabited.

"I had a lot of ambivalent feelings about Terry Dolan years ago in Washington, where I knew him to be a closeted gay male who was espousing what I called the right-wing philosophy of hate. But I think there's an affinity. I certainly can't imagine anything I believe in that Terry Dolan fought for or believed in, but at the same time, I always had -- I still do have -- a special kind of kinship with other gay men and lesbians in the closet."

It is a kinship of deception that includes members of Congress, administration officials, journalists and members of the liberal and conservative establishments who show up at gay bars and parties. Living in the closet means more than simply not speaking about one's private, sexual life. Gay activists whose names have been in the paper are warned not to leave messages when they call friends at work. Ads placed in the gay paper The Washington Blade seek lesbians interested in "possible marriage of convenience," to serve as covers.

Such tactics seem to work, supported by the general public's desire to avoid the subject of homosexuality. Sen. Humphrey (R-N.H.), who spoke at the family's memorial service for Dolan and calls Dolan's assistance in his 1978 campaign "pivotal," says he never believed the "rumors" that Dolan was gay. "It seemed to me it would be virtually impossible for someone who is so much under the spotlight -- that anyone could live a life like that and keep it private."

The constant debate among many gay people remains whether the danger warrants this kind of self-protection. But everyone knows someone whose career was hurt when a boss "found out," and stories of people who have lost their jobs because they have AIDS, or simply tested positive for exposure to the virus, have only given new force to the old anxieties.

One federal government employe whose colleagues know he is gay says, "The bottom line is, as long as you don't confront people, they don't have to think about it, it's okay. You don't deny anything, and you don't blab anything either -- you just hope people leave you alone to live your life."

Given the hardships of recent years -- a longtime lover's death from AIDS, his own diabetes, the discovery that he has been exposed to the AIDS virus -- the government employe says the importance of public acceptance has faded. Colleagues and bosses have always been supportive, even when he quit one job to care for his dying lover -- but if they hadn't, "at this point in my life, it doesn't make any difference to me."

But the barriers to such acceptance are many.

"It's not easy to be a gay man or woman," says the Rev. Gingrich. "If you're Irish, Catholic and Republican, it makes it even more difficult."

A Political Life

Terry Dolan grew up in Fairfield, Conn., in a Democratic family that eventually switched to Republican and was always active in politics. At 9, Terry was working for Richard Nixon. His mother Margaret created the Committee to Replace Sen. Lowell Weicker, his sister Maiselle Shortle later worked at the White House for former liaison director Morton Blackwell, and his brother Anthony, the White House speech writer, is the man responsible for the president's description of the Soviet Union as an "evil empire."

In 1968 Terry came to Georgetown University. (He later said of his alma mater, "I managed to survive four years of their socialist doctrine.") Law school followed. Then, in 1975, with several other young conservatives, he founded NCPAC. One of the earliest to capitalize on new federal election laws that set no limit on the expenditures of independent political groups, Dolan flooded the 1980 election with money. NCPAC targeted six liberal senators for defeat, including George McGovern, Birch Bayh, John Culver and Frank Church. His PAC spent more than $1.2 million on fiercely negative campaign advertising, which shocked at the time but has since become commonplace. Of the targeted senators, only Thomas Eagleton and Alan Cranston survived the challenge.

In the years following NCPAC's initial successes, however, the political climate shifted, Dolan's debts rose, and his influence seemed to wane. About six months before his death, he left NCPAC. Publicly, he denied rumors he had AIDS and said anemia and diabetes forced his departure from the political scene.

From the start of his public career, Dolan seemed to delight in outrageous statements, in playing the bad boy, in remaining what he called a "constitutional libertarian," disappointed by most politicians for perceived failures to stick to the conservative truth. The Washington Post was a frequent object of criticism. His language was studded with what Gingrich smilingly calls "bright and stiletto quotes." In 1980, responding to criticism of NCPAC's negative advertising, he said, "I'm not after respectability. That doesn't bother me. The only thing I care about is if we're effective."

Former NCPAC press secretary Craig Shirley, now a political consultant, remembers that after a NCPAC-produced film on Ronald Reagan aired in 1983, Reagan called Dolan to tell him he enjoyed it. "Terry thanked him and proceeded to give him hell for the next 10 minutes about appointing Henry Kissinger to the Central America commission ...

"That was the wonderful thing about Terry. Too many of us have come to Washington and joined the establishment, and we worry about what The Washington Post said or how it played on CBS or how we're thought of. Terry, he didn't give a damn. He wore suits that had labels, 'Do not wear near open flame.' He didn't care what people thought of him."

At the family's memorial service, his brother Anthony spoke. "I doubt anyone cared less for ceremony than Terry," he said. "He was, of course, never grim and always good-humored; but single-mindedness and not a little impatience were his way ... I know I will never have a greater privilege than fighting alongside Terry and my family for Terry's life."

When approached about this article, Dolan's family and many of his friends objected to what they saw as a journalistic invasion of privacy. Some of them also felt Dolan was being used, after his death, by gay activists to bring publicity to their cause. McKinney's widow too said that she and her husband "knew that his death would be used by certain people."

Shirley agreed to speak about Dolan because he said he did not want the controversy over Dolan's death to overshadow his political achievements. He says he has no idea what Dolan died of and doesn't know what his sexual orientation was. He says, "I never asked."

Publicity and Backlash

"As little as Terry Dolan came out of the closet, Terry Dolan sacrificed a lot," says gay activist Leonard Matlovich, who worked with him on a gay political group called Concerned Americans for Individual Rights (CAIR).

In 1982 Dolan gave an interview to the national gay magazine The Advocate, in which he said the federal government has "no business in setting any social agenda," that "some of the rhetoric that some of my friends in the right have used on gay activism has been excessive" and that "sexual preference is irrelevant to political philosophy."

In the same year, a book called "God's Bullies" was published. Written by the gay writer Perry Deane Young, "God's Bullies" was a highly personal portrait of the religious right that contained an interview with Dolan in which he again denied he was gay, adding, "I don't see that's a question."

When "God's Bullies" was published, The New York Times reported that Dolan "said in an interview that he was not gay ... that he had never knowingly been to a homosexual bar and that he had never heard of his chief accuser, Richard Anderson, a young federal employe who has signed an affidavit saying that he had a homosexual encounter with Mr. Dolan on Dec. 22, 1980."

"In the last two years I've been accused of being a liar, a Nazi, a womanizer, of having a three-way sexual affair with a congressman and his wife and of stealing money from my organization," Dolan told The Times. "In all these cases I have taken the position that anytime I get distracted from what I am doing, the other side wins. A libel suit would be a distraction."

But while he did not sue (which he said would be against his libertarian beliefs), before "God's Bullies" was released, he privately warned his conservative colleagues of what the book would say.

His warnings, some think, were not enough. Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation, and others are reported to have pressured NCPAC to get rid of Dolan. Weyrich now says he has promised Dolan's family not to make any comments on him, but soon after Dolan's death Weyrich told The Washington Times that he "never tried to oust" Dolan. "I did send an emissary to him to ask him about those stories," Weyrich told The Times. "Terry got very hot under the collar. 'How dare you question me?' he said. Since that time, I have ignored him."

About the pressures on NCPAC, Shirley says, "I think that's been overstated. NCPAC was Terry. There was no way anyone could get him out. He didn't run NCPAC like a democracy."

The following year the American Conservative Union attempted to kick ACU cofounder Bauman off the board after he spoke out in support of gay rights. Dolan wrote letters to board members on Bauman's behalf.

ACU President David Keene says he wanted Bauman out because he thought Bauman was using his ACU connection for his own purposes "to become a conservative gay lobbyist." Of Dolan, Keene says, "I don't think he was ever seriously hurt with the conservative movement by whatever private life he had."

But Humphrey disagrees. "His political standing, I would say, had declined within the Washington conservative establishment," he says. "At one time he was one of the bright stars in the conservative movement, and I think because of these rumors some of the luster wore away."

Humphrey says the "rumors" of Dolan's homosexuality and his death from AIDS "disturb" him. "It disturbs me because if it was true, it would be a great personal tragedy. It is tragic when anyone embraces an unhealthy personal life style, whether it's alcoholism, drug abuse, homosexuality, venality ... But even if it were true, that does not diminish in any way the contribution Terry made in his public life. We're all human. We all make mistakes. Some of us pay more dearly for our sins than others."

The Gay Conservative

Leonard Matlovich, a decorated Vietnam veteran who was kicked out of the Air Force in 1975 when he publicly stated he was a homosexual and spent five years attempting to gain readmittance in a landmark gay rights case that was settled out of court, thinks that in the last years of his life Dolan was slowly moving toward the closet door. "How old was he when he died?" asks Matlovich. "He was young. I was 32 when I came out of the closet. At 29, 28, I would probably have been a tyrant if I'd had a gay man under me in the military. It's an evolutionary process. Terry was beginning -- it was a long process. I can't condemn him for that. He was having more and more courage all the time -- the fact he moved into Dupont Circle with a Dupont Circle address, that took courage."

Terry Dolan did not talk publicly about how he reconciled his private life and public principles; the gay community conspired to protect him and the press generally did not address the issue. Now, however, after his death, some gay friends want to speak.

Dolan often insisted that NCPAC itself had never engaged in gay-bashing, but the group did send one fund-raising letter appearing over the signature of Rep. Phil Crane that included the sentence "Our nation's moral fiber is being weakened by the growing homosexual movement and the fanatical ERA pushers (many of whom publicly brag they are lesbians)." Dolan later apologized for the letter and said it had been written and distributed without his approval. "I truly regret that we ever put into print anything questioning the morality or patriotism of any person," he told The New York Times. "That's totally inappropriate."

Matlovich has suffered from pangs of doubt about his political affiliation. "I wonder myself, 'Am I really the "good Jew" in Germany who invited the Gestapo over for dinner and served ham?' " he says. "Being a gay conservative is not easy. It is not easy, because generally speaking the conservatives are working against us. We, all of us, are walking a thin line."

Early last month National Public Radio detailed another example of the ironies of gay conservative life in a story on fundraiser Carl "Spitz" Channell, who pleaded guilty on April 29 to conspiring to defraud the government by soliciting contributions for military aid to the Nicaraguan contras under the cover of a tax-exempt charitable foundation. According to NPR, some of the more than $10 million raised by Channell's organization -- with help from Lt. Col. Oliver North -- was paid to the male companions of the group's gay executives, including Channell, for unspecified consulting services. NPR reported that one key Channell supporter was simultaneously funding what he called "an organization to oppose the homosexual expansion," and that Channell himself had contributed to that group.

"Conservative philosophy, certain aspects of it at least, are hostile to gay rights," says Duke Armstrong, a gay San Francisco lawyer who knew Dolan for several years and who, after Dolan's death, spoke to The Washington Blade about Dolan. "There is a certain conflict and uneasiness in how to deal with it. Terry always had problems with it, I think ... For everyone, it's a very personal thing -- coming out of the closet is very difficult for everyone. In certain ways it's an act of great courage and dignity, but everyone has to do it himself, so I certainly was not pushing him."

Keene of the ACU, however, is less willing to see contradictions in Dolan's story or between the words "gay" and "conservative."

"Terry associated politically and in his life with people who agreed with him on many things," says Keene. "Terry was a libertarian conservative and there are others who are not, just as there are disagreements among liberals. I hear that kind of talk about him, and I wonder, 'Do all these people talking have a unified theory of beliefs? Don't they disagree on anything?' "

The Conspiracy of Silence

If talk of Dolan's private life did make it into the papers several times, many were surprised that Dolan was confronted by the issue so infrequently. For some critics, Dolan became a challenge to one of the most basic laws of the gay community: Whatever else, do not drag someone out of the closet. Within that community, a conspiracy of silence operates across political divisions. In some ways the code is comparable to the unspoken agreement that protects politicians with alcohol or drug problems, but the history of gay discrimination in America has forged a bond stronger than simple discretion.

"Pulling people out -- that's the thing that people who hate gay people do," says a gay Hill staffer. "That was the tool that was used by the haters, so we weren't about to use it on our own community ... In a sense, the whole purpose of the gay movement is to say that sexuality isn't an issue, shouldn't be an issue. For gay people to reveal Terry Dolan's sexual preference -- it really would be for them to counter one of the basic theses of the gay movement."

Virginia Apuzzo, former director of the National Gay Task Force and currently a New York State official, has struggled with the question of disclosure and found it admits no satisfactory resolution. So the conspiracy of silence remains.

"There is no point at which I would give any support to pulling people out of the closet," she says, "unless they participated in creating policy or perpetuating a power structure that attacks my people ... I'm not sure why I didn't act on it. I think there is a code in the community that respects privacy, and I respect that. But we're in the midst of a holocaust, and when you support people who will only hurt people who are already so vulnerable ... The community is exhausted by AIDS. One might say we're too damn tired to deal with the question of Mr. Dolan."

"Whether or not he was gay was irrelevant," says Jeff Levi, executive director of the NGTF. "The political people he supported were homophobic, and that was the basis on which he was to be judged."

After death, some feel the protection is no longer necessary.

"I knew he had AIDS about two months before he died," says Armstrong. "I did not at that point say anything and would not. After he has died, I feel no compunction whatsoever about saying he died of AIDS. I feel, given the extent of the epidemic, it's important it be brought out because that's the only way the community will deal with it."

Behind the Scenes

When Terry Dolan attended the Republican National Convention in Dallas in 1984, he made the rounds of the usual parties, but did not attend the reception held by CAIR, the gay political group he helped found.

"Terry was really the brains and the guiding light behind it {CAIR} in a very much behind-the-scenes fashion," says California political consultant Bruce Decker, one of CAIR's cofounders who now heads Gov. George Deukmejian's AIDS legislative advisory task force. "He attended some meetings and provided some guidance. He also put us in contact with some folks who were in a position to make some pretty sizable donations."

Craig Shirley says he doesn't believe Dolan was involved in CAIR, since Dolan made no mention of it to him. He says he thinks that Decker is using Dolan's name for self-promotion. But Decker says he met Dolan in the late '70s at a gay resort on the Russian River outside of San Francisco, and several years later he was introduced to Matlovich. Matlovich, Decker, Dolan and Bauman were all involved in getting CAIR going, modeling the national group on local organizations in California, New York and Texas. By '84, Decker says, the group had 400 members, and in Dallas they "passed out fliers, got a lot of press, did all the sort of things you'd expect of Republicans at a convention."

But within a year, CAIR was fading. Dolan, ever the "constitutional libertarian," said he would abandon the group if CAIR officially endorsed gay civil rights legislation. And organizers found that once commitment went beyond sharing cocktails, enthusiasm among potential supporters vanished. Most didn't want their names even on a private mailing list, and others were so uneasy they wouldn't sign their names to checks destined to end up in the account of a gay organization.

The end, Matlovich believes, was inevitable, what with "inside bickering to too big egos to too many closets."

And there was AIDS, a crisis so overwhelming it drained the energy from gay groups nationwide. Decker says CAIR now "lives in a large box in my office."

AIDS and the Closet

The disease that killed Terry Dolan has also irrevocably altered the world in which he lived. Every death from AIDS brings public attention that makes life in the closet more difficult to sustain.

Some feel this will ultimately have a positive effect. "If anything, AIDS has increased generic understanding of the gay community because the press has 'discovered' us, and that means we're not as mysterious, or as frightening," says Levi. Other activists point to gay men and women who have left their closets in order to help, among them Hill staffers who have volunteered their expertise to assist lobbyists seeking more AIDS funding.

Others have a grimmer outlook. A reported increase of antihomosexual violence suggests that the population at large continues to blame gays for AIDS, and the fear of retribution remains.

"I think," says Bradley, "that both of those views are accurate."

Bradley can only work half time now, with the afternoons reserved for chemotherapy. He has, he says, "learned to live one day at a time." But when he does look ahead, this is what he thinks: "It's unfortunate it's taken a life-threatening disease to get people to talk about something like a person's sexual orientation, but AIDS has caused that. Where it's going to lead our country and society I can't imagine."