Former U.S. Representative William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) died earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times reported on July 15. The old homophobe was 89.
Dannemeyer spent three decades in politics, mostly dehumanizing homosexuals, stigmatizing people suffering from AIDS, and defending the white male patriarchy. Long before right-wing extremists like Donald Trump and Mike Pence took over the Presidency, men like Dannemeyer used their public trust to promote vicious homophobia and attempt to turn the U.S. into a creepy Christian theocratic state. In this way, Dannemeyer is a grandfather of today’s Trumpism.
The archival record is bursting with examples of the disservice Dannemeyer did to this nation. What follows are but drops in the miserable bucket of hate.
In 1985, Dannemeyer paid Paul Cameron, a notorious homophobe, $2,000 to advise him. “Cameron, who says the quarantine should be ordered to stop the spread of [AIDS], has linked homosexuality to criminal behavior, including mass murder and child molestation,” the Associated Press reported on Aug. 19, 1985. “Backed by Cameron’s advice, Dannemeyer last week announced he will send a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler calling for a national ban on blood and organ donations by male homosexuals, including monogamous couples.”
This same year, Dannemeyer pushed to ban children who had contracted AIDS from attending public school. “In preliminary remarks Tuesday, Dannemeyer created a stir when he declared, ‘God’s plan for man was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” the Los Angeles Times reported on Oct. 3, 1985. “His graphic speech on the House floor was laced with anatomical details of how homosexuals transmit AIDS.”
Four years later, Dannemeyer–along with fellow extremist Rep. Bob Dornan (R-Garden Grove) and Assembly members Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) and Nolan Frizzelle (R-Fountain Valley), wrote a letter to the City of Irvine calling for the repeal of its law prohibiting discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation. “The letter from the four Republican lawmakers charges that Irvine is attempting to ‘advance homosexuality’ and is espousing a ‘perverse lifestyle,'” the Los Angeles Times reported on Jan. 9, 1989.
By this point, Dannemeyer’s homophobia was well known across the country. In fact, in a June 7, 1989, story, the San Francisco Examiner called Dannemeyer “the House’s chief gay prosecutor,” then noted that he had recently sponsored Proposition 102, which banned anonymous AIDS testing in the state.
Decades before the immensely wealthy Donald Trump declared his imaginary war against the “elites,” Dannemeyer banged the drum for all it was worth–at a time when people who publicly acknowledged their homosexuality risked alienation, violence and death.
“I believe there is a clear agenda on the part of the homosexual community to develop statistical data, which they can twist to their own conclusions to justify perversion in American sexual practices,” Dannemeyer told the Times in 1991. “When these elites have been infected with this philosophy that there is no God, of secular humanism and moral relativism, then you begin to get these elites tolerating homosexuality, which is a perversion and morally wrong. There’s money involved here, too. Homosexuals … have above-average incomes and they don’t raise children, so they don’t spend their money that way. They invest their money in politics. They contribute handsomely to campaigns of people who will advance their agenda.”
It’s all nonsense, of course, but like with Trump today, dehumanizing rhetoric won Dannemeyer a strong fan base. In the summer of 1990, the Times ran a batch of letters to the editor on Dannemeyer, and not all of them criticized the congressman.
“Thank God for William Dannemeyer,” one woman in San Gabriel wrote. “Dannemeyer has the down-to-earth morals and principles I thought were completely gone from this Earth. … Keep it up, Rep. Dannemeyer. We need a few dozen more just like [him], then we might return to a ‘Nation under God.'”
Another reader, a man in Santa Barbara, heartily agreed. “Congressman William Dannemeyer deserves the continued support of his Orange County constituents and the continued approval of our American citizenry,” he wrote. “He is a wise, articulate and courageous leader.”
William Dannemeyer may be dead, but his bigotry is still very much alive.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.