Don’t tell anyone that Ed Koch was gay

It’s “inning” time!  That time of the year when someone famous, and gay, dies and the media cures him.  Today’s patient, former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, who has just died.

Koch was gay.

But you  might not know it from the huge, 9-page NYT obit that mentions the word “gay” twice, and then only to subtly mock the notion of Koch being gay:

Mr. Koch, for whom the headline “Hizzoner” seemed to have been coined, was a bachelor who lived for politics. Perhaps inevitably there were rumors, some promoted by his enemies, that he was gay. But no proof was offered, and, except for two affirmations in radio interviews that he was heterosexual, he responded to the rumors with silence or a rebuke. “Whether I am straight or gay or bisexual is nobody’s business but mine,” he wrote in “Citizen Koch,” his 1992 autobiography.

Because what heterosexual isn’t uncomfortable admitting and expressing their heterosexuality?  Let’s see… there was this guy:

Former RNC chair Ken Mehlman.

Former RNC chair Ken Mehlman.

And this guy:

Lindsey Graham chick-fil-a

GOP Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

And then there’s this guy, a family values Republican who is anti-gay but who gets awfully upset when you ask him if he’s gay or straight, and then gets awfully uncomfortable while trying to answer a simple question about why he opposes gay marriage:

GOP Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL)

GOP Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL)

More on Ed Koch’s death from Andrew Sullivan, who is none-too-pleased with the imminent “inning” of Ed Koch:

Perhaps it’s better to see how Koch approached the subject. He saw it in two ways: about sexual behavior alone and about privacy. In that way, he was, in fact, quite typical of many in a generation of gay men his age, who defined their orientation understandably but entirely in terms of sexual freedom and protection from government scrutiny and prosecution. But AIDS, of course, ripped that sub-cultural eco-system apart. Of course, no one – straight or gay – is entirely defined by their sexual orientation. But it’s a core part of your personality – and Koch was simply too old, too self-loathing, and too prickly to change. Here’s the money quote when he was asked about it:

What do I care? I’m 73 years old. I find it fascinating that people are interested in my sex life at age 73. It’s rather complimentary! But as I say in my book, my answer to questions on this subject is simply “F*ck off.” There have to be some private matters left.

Of course they do. And I sure don’t want to know about Ed Koch’s sex life, if he had one. But the plain fact of your orientation is not the same as the details of your sex life. And when you are such a public figure and single and your city is grappling with an epic health crisis among gay men, it does become other people’s f*cking business – especially if he was inhibited from a more aggressive response because of not wanting to seem gay.

History will judge that. And so will the souls of countless gay men, who perished as their mayor panicked.

More from Michael Musto:

It’s a shame the ex-NYC mayor never came out.
It’s tragic that he hid behind excuses like the fact that he was old and wasn’t sexual at all anymore.

Old people are still sexual–and if you’re gay, you’re still gay–and besides, he could have commented on his past.

But Ed was so paranoid on the subject that when I interviewed him in the ’90s, he propped up a tape recorder to tape me as I recorded him. It was a creepy double game of “gotcha!” that led nowhere (though he was otherwise gruffly charming).

The media doesn’t like to “out” people as gay, though they’re happy to out politicians as just about everything else, including speculating just the other day that a Democratic Senator might have been with prostitutes.  Yet “the gay,” they run in fear.  In part it’s because the media thinks they’re helping us, protecting us (us, being gay people).  And the concern is natural.  Once upon a time it was extremely dangerous to be gay.  And it still can be.  But once you’re dead, the danger is gone.  No one is going to bully you.  You’re not going to lose your family.  And other than the San Francisco 49ers, who else is going to have the vapors by the un-revelation that you’re gay after you’re dead?

Larry Kramer outs Ed Koch.

Larry Kramer at a March 28, 1989, ACT UP demo in Manhattan. Photo by Rex Wockner

So the media’s usual defense of defending the living doesn’t really apply, even if it were a valid argument for the living, and I’m not sure it is.  So why “in” the dead, especially if their homosexuality was little more than a thinly-veiled secret?  We don’t respect the famous dead’s wishes in any other subject area of their CV that I can think of.  So when we know, the majority in society now know, and certainly the majority in the media know, that being gay is is not a “bad” thing, who are we protecting when we “in” the one person who possibly needed protection, but no longer does because he’s dead?

And as for history’s sake, if Ed Koch was gay, and neglected to address the AIDS crisis sufficiently, in part because he was a closet case, and men (and women) died because of it, then it is absolutely part of the historical record of both Ed Koch and the disease.  I repeat what Andrew said above:

[W]hen you are such a public figure and single and your city is grappling with an epic health crisis among gay men, it does become other people’s f*cking business – especially if he was inhibited from a more aggressive response because of not wanting to seem gay.

Ed Koch was gay.  He was conflicted, afraid, a bit paranoid, and very old-world about his sexual orientation.  Which is perhaps understandable considering the age he grew up in.  Any reporter under the age of 88 doesn’t have the same excuse.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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43 Responses to “Don’t tell anyone that Ed Koch was gay”

  1. cambridgemac says:

    Why do you hate America?

  2. cambridgemac says:

    Don’t try to excuse Koch by saying, “Everyone was doing it.” Not all Mayors were insensitive, mean or cowardly. Here in Boston, Ray Flynn was head and shoulders above Koch. Here in Boston AIDS activists felt TERRIBLE about what Koch was doing and not doing. (I was Volunteer Director at the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts.)

  3. NitaNorbert says:

    You seem to have trouble understanding what you read, SC. You conveniently left out the part where I said gay or straight, male or female. They MUST tell those that may be exposed. If they don’t, they would, (or will eventually be), guilty of murder if the person gets whatever disease that person has.
    My and others attitudes about that subject are not simplistic at all, nor are they (at least I am not) applying my feelings towards any one sex or sexual indentity. If someone tries to harm anyone intentially then they are a piece of crap no matter what their sex or sexual identity.

  4. NitaNorbert says:

    Your comments illustrate your emotional state. Good luck with that.

  5. NitaNorbert says:

    What is your point “Moderator3”?.
    I am aware that my other posts can be accessed. So what? I stand behind what i say 100% with both my real name and withtohut threatening or attacking those with differing views. You as a moderator here appear to not be doing your job allowing Skeptical Cicada to threaten and curse at people. Something which I have never done. If he had actually bothetred to read exactly what I said, he would understand things better. Instead, he makes comments having nothing to do with my comments and goes off on a tangent about straight people versus gay people, that I agreed with one or two of Kurts points (not most of them), and other strange outbursts.

  6. hollywoodstein says:

    The ending paragraph begins with, Ed Koch was gay. How do we know that?
    I met the man, heard the rumors, there is that bachelor thing, the weird denials, and I knew someone in NYC who knew someone who knew he was gay, so signs point to yes.
    I believe he was gay, and agree with the criticism of him and the media critique, but how can we definitively say as fact, Ed Koch was gay?
    Supposition? Circumstantial evidence? It would be irresponsible not to speculate?

  7. Houndentenor says:

    They could very easily have written that he never married and not mentioned the rumors at all. Instead they mentioned them and trashed the people who talked about actual relationships in Koch’s life. It wasn’t a secret among people who knew him and it’s mean-spirited to attack people for stating what everyone knows. it’s not trashing the man to point out that he was a homosexual. There’s nothing wrong with being gay. There is something wrong with lying in print and attacking people who refuse to go along with that lie.

  8. Houndentenor says:

    Back in 2008 I was watching Morning Joe. They were talking about possible running mates for John McCain when Charlie Crist’s name came up. Chuck Todd chuckled knowingly because everyone knows that Crist is gay and wasn’t going to be on the ticket, but the rest of the panel came down on him and hard that he would dare suggest anything (though no one named it) like that. It went well beyond keep someone’s secret or respecting their privacy. Mocking anyone who would dare say what everyone already knows is quite another matter and that’s what Koch’s obituary does. There are plenty of rumors about people which are probably not true. But these go far beyond rumors so either fess up to what is obviously true or avoid the topic altogether, but dismissing people for stating what is common knowledge in what purports to be the newspaper of record is disgraceful.

  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    Nothing about the death of a KAPO is sad.

    We’ll never know how many people died as a result of Koch’s malign indifference to the plague.

  10. Skeptical Cicada says:

    OMG I completely forgot about Koch’s awful warmongering. Thanks for the reminder, dula.

  11. dula says:

    Ed Koch became a Teabagger in regards to his irrational support of the war of choice against the innocent people of Iraq. How many millions of people did he help kill by going on the TV as a Democrat and giving cover to George W. Bush while he was drumming up support for that illegal war. Do you ever think of those DEAD innocent Iraqis he helped kill? He also wrote for a conservative magazine(Newsmax) and endorsed Republican candidates because they were willing to put the interests of Israel above those of the US. It would be difficult to sink as low as Ed Koch did in his later years. He was more motivated by a fear which we are still paying for economically, politically, and psychologically/spiritually.

  12. die fags says:


  13. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Hey, Mike. You know, after multiple comments, I think he’s past deserving the benefit of the doubt. I’m appalled at the arrogance–as if I’d roll up into a Jewish chat room (as a non-Jew) and start lecturing people about Jewish attitudes and maligning them as Tea Partiers if they objected. It would be one thing if the comments here were somehow attacking Koch for being Jewish, then I could see a justification for the attack attitude, but no one has even hinted at anything like that. We’re somehow so beneath him that we’re supposed to defer to him on gay matters he doesn’t even know anything about. It’s truly bizarre.

    Your personal comments made the tears well up, and that’s even as I confess to coming of age just a few years after those terrifying early days. So I can’t even fully relate myself. OMG the good guys we lost, and the way they were shunned, and the people who sat in their ivory closets and did nothing. Huge praise to you and your husband for acting up!!! You changed things as quickly as you possibly could have. You guys were the heroes, not that precious mayor.

  14. Moderator3 says:

    Perhaps Nita didn’t realize that it’s possible to view all DISQUS posts made by a poster – even ones made in another blog about Honey Boo Boo. That’s just in case she thought you were stalking her.

  15. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    Good morning SC. I admit that the words hetero supremacy went through my head. He doesn’t see that what he says is a slam on all gay men and women. I was trying to give him a benefit of a doubt, but I don’t think he wants to pay attention to anything we write. No one can really understand what it was like to be a gay man during the 80s unless they were there and gay. I kept flashing back on a friend’s face and body as he slowly shrank away from us. I can remember what it was like to help my husband make a block for the quilt. That was for another man. If Ed Koch has spoke his truth back then, it may have helped speed HIV research along. That’s true for all gay men who were well known, but chose to remain closeted. We were out there “acting up” as they watched from their ivory closets.

  16. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Fuck you, troll.

    Let’s allow readers to ponder your simplistic attitude about AIDS transmission: “Anyone who knowingly exposes another to a deadly, communicable, & incurable disease, without full disclosure BEFOREHAND is a murderer/attempted murderer.”

    So that would be execution or life without parole for those gay men, then?

  17. Skeptical Cicada says:

    I don’t agree that he isn’t trying to be superior. Every one of his sanctimonious comments reeks of heterosexual superiority. Can you imagine the arrogance of a heterosexual prancing into a gay chat room with no understanding of anything he’s talking about but presuming to bark orders at every gay commenter there? We are clearly expected to do as we’re told. After all, we afflicted with “the gay.” We’re such pitiful creates that need the firm hand of a lording heterosexual.

  18. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Ah, so you were a child in the ’80s and have no connection whatsoever to the events your talking about. You are absolutely prancing around being a superior heterosexual and trying to order around every gay person on this comment board.

    No, shill, every public figure did not react the same way to AIDS in the ’80s, and Koch’s problem was not that he was “overwhelmed.” You have no fucking idea what you’re talking about and are just making up stories because you can’t stand that your fucking ethnic hero wasn’t perfect. Well, get the fuck over it and stop presuming lecturing gays about our own damn history.

    And, no, smug outsider, you don’t understand the first thing about the gay community’s complex attitudes toward the closet and the people who hide in them, especially those who harm the gay community while hiding in their closet. Who the fuck are you to lecture us when you don’t even know what the fuck you’re talking about?

    Yes, I’m sure no Jew said a bad word about any Nazi or Nazi-sympathizer until days after their deaths. Fuck you, you smug hypocrite. Go worship Ed Koch on a fan site.

  19. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    “doesn’t he deserve your pity and not your approbation” How horrible of
    me. I indicated he probably was gay. We all know there’s nothing worse
    than being gay. Only the dregs of society are gay. You probably consider
    yourself an ally, and you probably are in many ways. However, you still
    view being gay as something bad. Go back and read some of what you
    wrote. You said you’re not trying to be superior. I’m certain you’re
    not, but it’s obvious you think being straight is superior to being gay.
    The sad part is that Ed Koch probably thought the same thing. That is
    self loathing, and I do pity him for that. I do pity him for locking
    himself into a jail of his own making. A closet is a pretty horrible
    place to live. In fact living in a closet is living only part of a life.
    I’m sad that my husband died after 28 years of being together, but I’m
    sure as hell happy that he always acknowledged who I was, and I also
    acknowledged that he was the man I loved. Ed Koch had nothing like that.
    He may have had a significant other, but that person always remained in
    the shadows. Why did that happen? Because Ed Koch thought there was
    something wrong with being gay. It was so wrong, he couldn’t acknowledge
    and essential part of himself. He thought being gay was so bad, he
    locked himself into a prison of his own making. One must really hate
    one’s self to do that.

  20. NitaNorbert says:

    While I don’t agree with most everything “kurtsteinbach” says, he does make a few (just a few), good points. I do however, find it pretty hypocritical & laughable that someone calling themselves, “Skeptical Cicada”, talks about publicly being out & gay rights. At least “Kurt” appears to be using his REAL NAME and not a fake one like you, “Mr Out & Proud”. If you expect others to present themselves as such you need to do it yourself.

    By the way, if Koch was gay, I find it pretty sad he lied twice publicly saying he was heterosexual, as well as unforgivable lying about it during the health crisis of the 80’s. I agree with those that are pissed about that 110%.

  21. kurtsteinbach says:

    Like I said, I grew up in New Jersey, until about age 11. After that, my parents moved because of my dad’s job. As a History teacher (and English-ESL teacher), as I recall, pretty much every Mayor dropped the ball in the mid-80s when it came to HIV-AIDS and HIV-AIDS policy. They were overwhelmed by something they didn’t understand. Pretty much most cities, dropped the ball on HIV-AIDS in the 80s. The whole country screwed the pooch on that one (that’s a pilot’s term). My point was, that people were hating on a man who as some of you say was exceedingly, stupidly in the closet. Well if so, doesn’t he deserve your pity and not your approbation. And, yes, I have lost a few friends to HIV-AIDS. Some were fellow sailors in the Navy with me in the 90s, and some were people I knew later. Some I don’t know about because we just lost touch. The point is, and I’m not trying to be superior, I don’t trash a person just hours after he or she dies, I leave that to the Tea Partyers in the GOP because that’s their modus operandi, to attack people for who they are rather than what they do.

  22. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    If you think we are bashing him, you must think that being gay is a negative attribute. Now about the closet thing – if every LGBT person would come out, we would suddenly find ourselves strengthened politically.

  23. slappymagoo says:

    I’m not by any definition a “Trekkie,” but I’m familiar with the Trek concept of Pon Farr, the period every 7 years where a Vulcan, no matter how logical and unemotional eh or she tries to be, has to get his or her freak on.

    I get the feeling (and I’ve no way of knowing) that Koch was a Pon Farr homosexual or bisexual. Just ignored or sublimated his sexual tension most of the time, and then he’d do what we had to do when he had to do it, then go back to being relatively asexual. All the while, employing the “logic” that if he wasn’t pursuing a romantic long term relationship with another man, he couldn’t possible be “really” gay.

    It would’ve been great if he had been out and proud. The city, perhaps the world, might have been different if someone as high profile as Ed Koch admitted being gay. But for all he could’ve been and all he should’ve done, I do feel a little bad for him, because he had to live with the fact that he wasn’t brave, that he could’ve done more and didn’t. You know, “a coward dies a thousand deaths, the valiant taste of death but once,” that sort of thing.

    And who knows why? It’s possible that at some point he continued the charade not because he didn’t want people to know, but the fact that he denied it for so long, changing his tune was more embarrassing than the admission would’ve been to him (and I’m not saying being gay is embarrassing; but spending your life saying “this isn’t true” – whatever “this” is – only to eventually say “yeah, it’s true” can be embarrassing). I don’t blame anyone for being angry or disappointed for his steadfast insistence on staying in the closet, but hey, not only am I not gay now, as things are to some degree “getting better,” I wasn’t gay then, when things were far worse.

  24. Thom Allen says:

    It gos to show that the media regards being gay as a negative trait. Therefore, when someone has denied being gay, the media plays along so as not to speak “ill” of the dead.

  25. Thom Allen says:

    Possibly, but when he wrote his autobiography he was finished in politics. He could have come out then or later.

  26. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Do you even understand what it means that the New York Times is a “newspaper of record”? It means that in 100 years, a New York Times obit will be a prominent resource for people who want a good summary of a public figure’s life. That’s what its obits are. They are news stories, covering all the highlights of a person’s life, positive and negative. This one was disgustingly de-gayed and stripped of the AIDS legacy–making it a false record for future reference.

  27. Skeptical Cicada says:

    How many of your friends did you watch die while Koch did nothing? Answer the damn question.

    I’m not talking about any legal right to speak. You can say whatever you damn well please. I’m talking about moral authority. If you’re going to sanctimoniously condescend to people who had dozens and dozens and dozens of friends die while Koch did nothing, you better have some basis to justify your smug sense of superiority. So I repeat: Who the fuck are you to be lecturing? NO ONE. That’s who. You’re a fawning ethnocentric fan of Koch, who wants your hero’s failure erased from history. Well, that’s never, ever going to happen. It’s his legacy.

    And how dare you belittle gay-bashing by calling it “bashing” when a newspaper ACCURATELY reports a story. How many times have you been gay-bashed?

    Yes, you support gay rights ON YOUR TERMS–as long as we compliantly bow down before your superiority and obey your decrees. But the second we have a thought of our own that you’d don’t like, you presume to assert domineering control. You don’t even understand the word equality. It doesn’t mean that you run the show and we do as you say.

  28. bbock says:

    And the contents in the closet.

  29. bbock says:

    They should honor him in death as he lived his life: bury him in an armoire.

  30. Indigo says:

    It seems Hizzoner was content in the closet. Let it be (known that he was content in the closet).

  31. kurtsteinbach says:

    Bashing a man who just died is still wrong. And I am supporter of gays rights, a liberal, a teacher against bullying in any and all forms, and as a Jewish American who is pro-Equal Rights and expressing his 1st Amendment Rights against your bashing of an unburied fellow human being. My right to lecture you about gay rights comes from our creator and if that is not good enough for you, it also comes from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The same Constitution and Bill of Rights that I often site in my advocacy of GLBT Equal Rights, including rights against bullying. If my comparison of the response of some herein to the tone of gay bashers strikes a nerve, well it is you taking exception to a comparison that I did not ascribe to you personally, but it seems to have struck a chord with you personally. Maybe you should wonder why because I don’t have to wonder why….

  32. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Your fan boy pal at the New York Times was grudgingly forced to revise his worshiping obit and finally grunt out the word AIDS:

  33. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Again? You’re still on the same pout.

  34. karmanot says:

    Oh well, here we go again.

  35. karmanot says:

    Hey down arrow, how can ya not love that?

  36. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Stop your childish whining and petulant condescension. How many of your friends died from AIDS while that queen was sitting in his closet fucking boys and doing nothing?

    Koch’s ranting about privacy is the standard ranting of a closet case. Who the fuck are you to lecture the rest of us about what gay rights requires? Go worship your closet queen.

  37. kurtsteinbach says:

    And thanks so much for bashing a guy who just died. I grew up in New Jersey watching and listening to this guy on TV. He always had something mushuganah to say; something sure to excite some and upset others. He drove us up the (one) wall, and down the other. He was the very definition of colorful and was a real mench. He will be missed! P.S. Who cares if he was gay. If you are so pro-GLBT Rights, then it is the right of a person to remain in the closet or to come out at their own pleasure when they feel comfortable. “Whether I am straight or gay or bisexual is nobody’s business but mine,” he wrote in “Citizen Koch,” his 1992 autobiography. He was right then and so is everyone else gay or straight who tells you their sexual orientation is none of your business. By the way, thanks so much for trashing a guy who just died last nigh, the only difference here is that when i here such bashing of the recently deceased, it’s usually a GOP-Teabagger doing it. Are we now going to sink to their level?

  38. SkippyFlipjack says:

    I liked the Ed Koch character in ‘Short bus’

  39. nicho says:

    There’s always the possibility that he was just a politician and was ruled by political considerations. Whether or not to come out as a gay man, if he really was, was simply a matter of political calculation. Nothing more. We see this with Obama. He makes his decisions based on how many net votes it will get him. It has nothing to do with principle.

  40. pappyvet says:

    Position,money,power,and fame. Powerful drugs that can deny anything in their pursuit.

  41. caphillprof says:

    I remember decades ago Jane Pauley on TODAY interviewing Armistead Maupin about the Gay and Maupin ending up saying to her, Jane you known plenty of gay men, or something to that effect. The NBC cameramen was stunned in a dead pause before the scurried to a commercial break.

  42. dula says:

    Koch must have been ruled by fear considering he remained closeted AND promoted the war of choice based on lies in Iraq along with George W. Bush. For a Democrat to pal around with Bush like that, he must have been irrationally afraid of Muslims.

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