There he sits, brimming with credentials. In 1968, he worked for Gene McCarthy and then he organized a huge peace march in Washington and then he went to work for McGovern. After that, he went west and worked for Common Cause in Colorado. Then he worked for six western governors as their Washington liaison and he ran the re-election campaign of Los Angeles Mayor Thomas Bradley. Sometime in the middle of all that he came out of the closet, announced he was gay. Now it goes without saying that Reubin Askew would not hire him.
His name is David Mixner and Askew might have hired him once. He might have hired him in the days when Mixner hid his sexual orientation from his friends and his employers. He listened to the fag jokes and watched silently when homosexuals applying for jobs were set on their way. He bit his lip, said nothing. It took him more than 30 years to come to grips with what he is sexually and now, of course, people don't talk badly about homosexuals in front of Mixner.
But Reubin Askew does. Askew, the former governor of Florida, has been nominated by President Carter to be America's new trade negotiator, replacing Robert Strauss. Testifying before the Senate Finance Committee recently, Askew said he would not, if confirmed by the Senate, hire what he called "known homosexuals," adding: "I have said that I will not have a known homosexual on my staff."
"Then you are saying that to the extent the federal law allows, you will not hire a known homosexual?" he was asked.
"Yes sir," he replied.
And that, as they say, was that. No one yelled, no one screamed and no one much bothered to report the story. It was mentioned on the radio, and one Washington newspaper carried the story on its financial page, but the network news gave it a pass. In a day, it was like nothing at all had been said. A day after that, Askew was confirmed by the committee on a voice vote.
In Washington you get used to such things. The town, in many respects, is morally obtuse. It grovels before Henry Kissinger, values the party invitations of foreign despots and dedicates the FBI headquarters to the late J. Edgar Hoover, a bigot, martinet and smear artist.
Little wonder, then, that no one said peep when Askew said he would refuse to hire homosexuals. No one asked him why. No one asked if he thinks homosexuals' work is sloppy, if they smudge their carbons, if they come in late and sneak off early for some heavy sex, if they make advances to other workers, if they goose people at the water cooler, the way men do women.
No one asked Askew how homosexuality is in any way related to job performance. Those questions would certainly have been asked had Askew made the same statements about, say, blacks and women, although not too long ago people said just that sort of thing about them.
But it still is routine, apparently, when it comes to homosexuals. The reason for that, in Askew's case anyway, is not what you might call gutter prejudice, but morality -- religion. Askew, like Anita Bryant whom he supports, has heard from God on this matter. He knows a sin when he sees one and sinners, unlike the rest of us, are not entitled to their civil rights. They cannot, just for starters, teach children in the schools and they may not work for Reubin Askew.
It is impossible, of course, to argue with someone's religious beliefs. You believe what you believe and, as a general matter, there is nothing wrong with that. It only becomes a concern when your beliefs get in the way of someone else's civil rights, and then it does no good to thump the Bible and take from it a passage or two to buttress your position.
This is what was done years ago in defense of racial segregation. It is done to this day by certain ministers, one of whom recently expelled a pupil from a private school for dating a black boy. The court ruled in that case that the minister has every right to be a bigot when it comes to his own time and his own money. That's the American way.
But Askew is not on his own time and it's not his money. It's our time and our money -- some of it, in fact, coming from tax-paying homosexuals who, for their dollar, have every right to the same protection as everyone else. That, too, is the American way.
Anyway, back to Mixner. He is a friend of mine, and while he would not work for Askew (he does not -- knock on wood -- need the job), he makes you look at Askew in a new way. People like the former Florida governor present gay people with a terrible choice. They can either stay in the closet and suffer, or be honest and risk their jobs.
There is a better alternative, and it would be good if the Senate insisted on it. It is for people like Askew to keep out of public life and stay in the closet with their prejudices.