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FBI Looked Into Rumors GOP Icon Jack Kemp Was Gay


Conservative icon Jack Kemp's career was consistently overshadowed by rumors that he was gay. Those lavender rumbles ran so rampant, in fact, that the FBI did its own investigation in 1989, when President George H.W. Bush nominated Congressman Kemp for his cabinet.

Kemp, a professional football player who dabbled in politics, got his legislative start in California, where he worked for Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign and then Ronald Reagan's 1966 gubernatorial campaign. It was during his time with Reagan that Kemp and another man bought a lake house together.

That lake house, Salon's Justin Elliot reports, would help spark the "Kemp's gay" gossip.

The columnists Jack Anderson and Drew Pearson broke the news in 1967 that what they called "a homosexual ring" had been "operating" in Ronald Reagan's California gubernatorial administration.  And while Reagan publicly denied it, he had in fact fired his chief of staff and another aide after an internal investigation concluded that they were gay.


Kemp, then in his early 30s and the quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, was at the time working on Reagan's Sacramento staff during the off-season. He had purchased a cabin in Lake Tahoe in partnership with Reagan's chief of staff; that's where some of the "homosexual parties" reportedly happened. Kemp later maintained that the cabin was merely a real estate investment and he never visited it. But the columnists had referred to an unnamed "athlete" who was a member of the "ring," a clear reference to Kemp. The rumor that would follow Kemp for the rest of his life had been born.

Despite the rumors, Kemp, who died in 2009, continued climbing up the political ladder, and was elected from New York to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1971. The married Republican remained there, and consistently voted against gay rights, until 1989, when he joined the first President Bush's cabinet as Housing Secretary, but not before the FBI did its digging.

Through a series of interviews, including one with Kemp himself, the FBI picked apart the "Kemp is gay" rumors, and eventually concluded that they amounted to nothing but gossip. From the FBI file obtained by Salon and concerning agents' interaction with Kemp:


While the matter may have officially been settled, the chatter continued to follow the late Congressman, including during his tenure as Bob Dole's running mate in the 1996 presidential election.

It also makes you wonder how many other politicians have been put under the Spooks' gay microscope.

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  1. That FBI report doesn't look too conclusive. It seems like they basically trusted what he was saying when he said he wasn't gay.

    I don't really have an opinion or care about his comments, but I think smart politicians who are closeted know that they need to corroborate their stories and find really savvy ways of covering up. And we know the FBI has been wrong in the past (and would probably be kind to a republican politician anyway).

    Posted by: Joe | Oct 5, 2010 10:01:28 AM

  2. Typical in so many ways -- let's remember that DADT had its genesis in Kemp's heyday. Dole/Kemp was going to use Clinton's support of gay rights against him, so DADT was born to protect Clinton from Dole and Kemp. Thanks, Jack! Thanks, Bill! Thanks, Bob!

    Roy Cohn would be so proud.

    Posted by: TC | Oct 5, 2010 10:04:57 AM

  3. He is gay....

    Posted by: alan brickman | Oct 5, 2010 10:09:23 AM

  4. They were investigating possible blackmail material. I'm fine with that, I don't want senior government officials being blackmailed.

    Posted by: Fan | Oct 5, 2010 10:16:45 AM

  5. Why not ask Reagan's former chief of staff? Kemp is dead anyway.

    Posted by: anon | Oct 5, 2010 10:39:25 AM

  6. FAN the one being blackmailed was J. Edgar Hoover, the gay, closeted cross dressing head of the FBI. He was blackmailed by Roy Cohen, the closeted creep who had photos of Hoover in drag and having sex with men. Cohen held this over his head until Hoover died, after 48 years as the first head of the FBI.

    Cohen is best known for being the lap dog for Joseph 'have you no shame' McCarthy during the red witch hunt in Congress, portrayed so well in Angels in America. That the FBI would let Kemp slide is not a shock, he was 'one of them' a right wing closet case.

    Kemp was careful, only sleeping with likewise closeted republicans. They would never rat on him, so the FBI had nothing solid to go on. Sadly this is why we still have so many closeted in the GOP. Look at how fast Lindsey Graham went back to the right when he was threatened with being outed.

    Posted by: patrick nyc | Oct 5, 2010 10:59:59 AM

  7. Patrick, do you mean Roy Cohn? Sure sounds like it.

    Posted by: Mike in the Tundra | Oct 5, 2010 11:07:57 AM

  8. Saint Reagan was a real piece of two-faced, smarmy, homophobic work, wasn't he? It's hard to think of a more despicable man elected to the White House and revered by so many brain dead rubes. Was Kemp gay? Who cares, he's dead and pretty much forgotten. I long ago came to the conclusion that the only good Republican is a dead one anyway.

    Posted by: Bob R | Oct 5, 2010 11:18:54 AM

  9. Yea Mike, my friend spells with the e, my bad.

    I agree ROB R, make America safe, eat a republican baby. Thank God Christie O'Donnell has not bred any litter.

    Posted by: patrick nyc | Oct 5, 2010 11:28:13 AM

  10. Classy, Bob. Nice to see how far our community has advanced with a Democrat President and HUGE, veto-proof Democrat majorities. Oh, that's right. Nada.

    You are your "brain dead" ilk are the ones who guarantee that the gay community are taken for granted, Bob. Your simpleton "all Democrats are angels and all Republicans are evil" guarantee that the Democrats take us for granted and the Republicans have no reason to ever support us.

    Posted by: LincolnLounger | Oct 5, 2010 11:35:19 AM

  11. i thought it was the Mafia that had the photos of J Edgar, which would explain why he stopped preessuring the Mob after JFK was murdered

    Posted by: von lmo | Oct 5, 2010 11:41:32 AM

  12. this is really shallow of me and plays into all stereotypes of gay men as sex obsessed, but back in the day i always thought he was one hot daddy jock type

    Posted by: jerry | Oct 5, 2010 12:47:51 PM

  13. @TC, DADT dates from 1993. It had absolutely nothing to do with a Dole/Kemp ticket that didn't exist until the summer of 1996.

    Posted by: Clay | Oct 6, 2010 12:49:14 AM

  14. I remember the rumor back then, and recall the articles by Anderson and Drew Pearson... and they were the RIGHT WING nut's of that period,as Russ Scumbag and Fox News are today. Arthur Miller wrote a story called Focus, in the 1950s, about a mixed neighborhood in Brooklyn. And someone with a Jewish sounding name, came to the aid of a candy store owner who was Jewish... and it was perceived that the guy must of been Jewish,too. However he was not! His neighbors started to turn garbage cans over on his lawn, and called him Antisemtic
    names... and Jack Kemp had gay friends back then... (as did Ronald Reagan),and it was not politically correct in the 60s just to know someone who was gay.

    Posted by: jerry pritikin | Oct 6, 2010 10:09:30 AM

  15. At a house party on Fire Island in the early 1950's one week end with a lesbian friend who was a publesist (sp?)for MGM's New York office, she pointed out Jack Kemp who was a house guest of the owner for the weekend.

    Posted by: Jerry6 | Oct 6, 2010 9:43:44 PM

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