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Clinton Addresses 600 at Rally of Gays, Lesbians

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Almost anything Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton said to the audience of gay and lesbian activists who turned out at a fund-raiser for his campaign in Hollywood on Monday night seemed less important than the simple fact that he was there.

As it turned out, Clinton had quite a bit to say: He promised a “Manhattan Project” to seek a cure for AIDS and repeated his promise to end the ban on homosexuals serving in the military. And, as is often the case, Clinton found his most eloquent pitch in denouncing discrimination--in this case, bias based on sexual orientation.

“Every day that we discriminate, that we hate, that we refuse to avail ourselves of the potential of any group of Americans, we are all less than we ought to be,” he said. “This country is being killed by people who try to break us down, and tear us down and make us little when we have to be big.”

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Though many in his audience found those remarks compelling, the most powerful statement may have been Clinton’s willingness to hold such an event with homosexual activists in the full glare of the national spotlight. Though he has raised money among gays before, those events have tended to be private and small. Monday night’s gathering of more than 600 at the Palace nightclub in Hollywood was neither.

For that reason, many in the room seemed to see the event as a dramatic statement of political arrival for the gay community--whose agenda remains controversial for many voters and a target for conservatives. Organizers said the Palace event, which raised $100,000, was the largest single fund-raiser ever held for a presidential contender among gays.

“We have all come a long way tonight,” gay activist David Mixner told the crowd as he introduced Clinton. “No one handed us this event tonight . . . we earned it, inch by inch, step by step, moment by moment.”

Through much of the campaign, Clinton’s relationship with the gay community has been fitful. Last fall, he made a strong impression on Los Angeles gay activists at a private luncheon by endorsing the California gay rights legislation vetoed by Gov. Pete Wilson.

But especially in the early stages of the race, he faced frequent heckling from gay activists who maintain he has devoted insufficient attention to the AIDS crisis. That confrontation seemed to reach a crescendo in New York, when Clinton engaged in a shouting match with a demonstrator from ACT-UP, a militant organization of AIDS activists.

At the fund-raiser, Clinton also released an AIDS policy paper in which he promised to increase federal funding for research, appoint an “AIDS czar” to coordinate federal efforts to combat the disease and encourage sex education efforts, including the distribution of condoms in schools where local authorities support that policy.

Clinton also said that his proposed health care reforms would prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to anyone suffering from a “pre-existing condition"--including the HIV virus.


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