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Despite President Richard Nixon's conservative poltical stance, it seems he had a relatively progressive opinion of gays and limited exposure to girls who curse.
On Thursday, Vanity Fair released excerpts from 3,700 hours of audio recordings made during Nixon’s first term in the White House. While past Nixon recordings have focused on Watergate and his eventual resignation, these excerpts reveal a president musing on a number of topics.
The new recordings are just the latest insight into the fractured presidency and life of a man who continues to capture the public’s attention nearly 40 years after he left the White House and 20 years since his death.
Nixon’s thoughts on whether homosexuality is a genetic or learned behavior are surprisingly liberal considering both that time in history and that Nixon had expressed offensive views on race, gender and culture in other recordings.
Of course, the excerpts also contain unusual and unsubstantiated theories on gays from Nixon, including his apparent belief that groups such as the Boy Scouts, the YMCA and teachers “bring them in that direction.”
Here’s Nixon’s full exchange on “the gay thing” with national security adviser Henry Kissinger and chief of staff H.R. Haldeman:
Nixon: Let me say something before we get off the gay thing. I don’t want my views misunderstood. I am the most tolerant person on that of anybody in this shop. They have a problem. They’re born that way. You know that. That’s all. I think they are. Anyway, my point is, though, when I say they’re born that way, the tendency is there. [But] my point is that Boy Scout leaders, YMCA leaders, and others bring them in that direction, and teachers. And if you look over the history of societies, you will find, of course, that some of the highly intelligent people ... Oscar Wilde, Aristotle, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, were all homosexuals. Nero, of course, was, in a public way, in with a boy in Rome.
Haldeman: There’s a whole bunch of Roman emperors...
Nixon: But the point is, look at that, once a society moves in that direction, the vitality goes out of that society. Now, isn’t that right, Henry?
Nixon: Do you see any other change, anywhere where it doesn’t fit?
Kissinger: That’s certainly been the case in antiquity. The Romans were notorious—
Haldeman: The Greeks.
Kissinger: —homosexuals. . . .
Nixon: The Greeks. And they had plenty of it. ... By God, I am not going to have a situation where we pass along a law indicating, “Well, now, kids, just go out and be gay.” They can do it. Just leave them alone. That’s a lifestyle I don't want to touch.
The new recordings are being released just two years after an acclaimed documentary, “Our Nixon,” was released, highlighting more than 500 hours of previously unseen Super 8 camera footage captured by Nixon aides.
Vanity Fair contributing editor Douglas Brinkley and historian Luke A. Nichter are compiling the audiotapes, which have been cleaned up and enhanced, into a new book that provides further insight into the strange and often provocative musings captured on tape during Nixon’s abbreviated presidency.
In a later exchange recorded in April 1971, Nixon appears to register some surprise when told that women swear just like their male counterparts:
Nixon: Why is it that the girls don’t swear? Because a man, when he swears, people can’t tolerate a girl who is a—
Haldeman: Girls do swear.
Haldeman: They do now.
Nixon: Oh, they do now? But, nevertheless, it removes something from them. They don’t even realize it. A man drunk, and a man who swears, people will tolerate and say that’s a sign of masculinity or some other damn thing. We all do it. We all swear. But you show me a girl that swears and I’ll show you an awful unattractive person. ... I mean, all femininity is gone. And none of the smart girls do swear, incidentally.
You can read more of the excerpts and listen to some of the audio at Vanity Fair.