Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pop History Moment: Gay Man Saves President's Life

[In the photo above Oliver 'Bill' Sipple appears at the extreme left of the frame, while Sara Jane Moore's face is just visible to the right of that pole intersecting the frame. I don't know who the lady in the hat and the stripey top is, but she's got the right idea: get the Hell outta there!]

On this day in 1975 a gay man did a heroic thing, and among those who remember it, many - most of them Christians - are still trying to come to terms with such a possibility; after all, aren't gay men all supposed to be flighty, effeminate twits, synonymous with stupidity? I mean, 'that's so gay' doesn't exactly mean 'that's so brave', now does it?

A n y w a y... US President Gerald Ford had just arrived outside San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel on this day in 1975 when Sara Jane Moore pointed a gun at him from a distance of about 40 feet; fortunately retired Vietnam vet Oliver Sipple grabbed her arm, deflecting the shot and, while slightly injuring a fellow bystander, probably saved the President's life. Sipple then tried to wrestle her to the ground in order to prevent her from firing a second time, following which the Secret Service took over. Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme had also tried to kill the President just 17 days earlier with (fortunately) similar results; that killing was prevented by Secret Service agent Larry Buendorf without any shots being fired.

In the aftermath of the assassination attempt, Sipple sought to fade back into anonymity - and might have done so too, had it not been for crusading gay politician Harvey Milk, who tried to use Sipple's heroism for political ends. While the idea of making a gay male hero out of a hero who just happens to be gay may have suited Milk's own 70s-style militancy, and even have been the right thing to do, it was Sipple himself who was forced to live with the consequences. For a time after the revelation he was estranged from his parents, who'd disowned him when they found out he was gay*, whereupon began Sipple's descent into madness and addiction.

Oliver Sipple died in February 1989, aged 47, President Ford in December 2006 at 93; Sara Jane Moore - then 77 - was paroled in December 2007 as posing no further threat to the American public. A year before her release she recanted, claiming she'd been 'blinded by her radical political views' - the sell-out...

*They were later reconciled.

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