Editor’s Note: The day that Hillary Clinton became First Lady, speculation about her sexual orientation started in earnest. That speculation has continued for at least the last 30 years. The truth is, we don’t know whether she is gay, straight, bi, or whatever. What is clear is that Hillary, at least politically if not personally, supports gay rights. Hillary’s Girlfriends is an article we published in 1993 about the rumors that Hillary was gay.
Hillary’s Girlfriends: Out of the Closet and Into the Rumor Mill
by Liza Featherstone for the Hillary Clinton Quarterly
With some justification, 1992 was billed as the “Year of the Woman”. There are more women senators and more women in executive-level positions of power than ever before. Riding the symbolic crest of it all, of course, is our own Hillary Rodham Clinton, taking the power and influence that a First Lady has always had, and acting as if she is entitled to exercise it.
Meanwhile, 1993 has been a historic year for lesbians, gay men and bisexual people. Bill Clinton declared his intentions to lift the military ban on homosexuals. Last April, the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Rights drew anywhere from 300,000 to a million people (the numbers are much disputed). An openly gay man, David Mixner, was appointed to a Cabinet-level position. A lesbian activist, Roberta Achtenberg, was appointed to be an assistant secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
These gains have not been met with equal enthusiasm by all. Indeed “family values” conservatives have lashed back at both Hillary and gay people. And, in a strange merging of far-right nightmares, Hillary, and two almost equally powerful women, Department of Health and Human Services head Donna Shalala and Attorney General Janet Reno are imagined to be lesbians. To quite different ends, some gay activist groups have also played around with these rumors.
Four years ago, in 1989, a controversy erupted at the University of Wisconsin, Madison over whether the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) should be allowed on campus. A substantial portion of the university’s liberal community thought that it should be banned, because ROTC, like the rest of the U.S. military, discriminates against gay men, lesbians and bisexual people. Donna Shalala, then University Chancellor (now head of the Department of Health and Human Services), opposed ROTC’s exclusionary policy, but did not want to risk losing state funding by angering the conservative citizens of the state of Wisconsin.
Madison’s gay and lesbian activist groups were furious with her, particularly since she had long been rumored to be a lesbian. At an ACLU conference, activist Miriam Ben-Shalom called Shalala a lesbian. Ben-Shalom told the New Yorker, “I thought there was a great deal of hypocrisy in her position on the (ROTC) issue. I did not intentionally out her at the conference, but at the time I thought it was common knowledge that she was a lesbian, and I said that.”
When Shalala was named to Clinton’s cabinet last December, Queer Nation, a direct activist group, tried to out her at the press. According to Michael Petrelis of Queer Nation/Nation Capital, “We in the gay community need visibility. Closet cases like Shalala send the message that there is something shameful about being a lesbian.” Shalala told the Associated Press: “Have I lived an alternative lifestyle? The answer is no.” Her friends concur. Journalist Molly Ivins, a close friend of Shalala, told the New Yorker, “Donna’s interested in men. She’s very aware of what you have to give up to get ahead when you’re a woman.”
Despite these denials, not everyone is quite convinced. She has a review blurb on the back of the paperback edition of Rita Mae Brown’s lesbian coming-out, coming-of-age classic, Rubyfruit Jungle, That book is only famous because it is about lesbians. Either she is a lesbian, or she actively wants to be mistaken for one.