The New York Times reports that former Mayor Ed Koch has died at age 88. Koch was something of an enigma. He and Bella Abzug co-sponsored the first gay and lesbian rights legislation introduced in Congress—but as a response to the persistent rumors that he was gay, in 1977, when he was running for Mayor of New York and Anita Bryant was in full anti-gay form, he pretended that he and Bess Myerson were a couple and explicitly denied he was one of those dreaded homosexuals.
But that pretense turned ugly when the AIDS crisis hit and Mayor Koch was arrogantly MIA. AIDS activist Larry Kramer was the most visible and loudest critic. Randy Shilts wrote in And The Band Played On about Koch’s reaction in the early days of AIDS:
No, the city would not provide housing or hospice space for AIDS patients kicked out onto the street. That would be perceived as being “special treatment” for gays. New York, Mayor Koch noted, had a gargantuan homeless problem. How could he single out one group for help? As for gay requests for a health center in Greenwich Village, that was impossible. On a general level, Koch said he would match San Francisco’s spending on AIDS, “dollar for dollar,” but he never indicated where that money would be spent. ... The mayor did not seem vaguely concerned about the epidemic. ...
The New York fight against AIDS would be left to a handful of doctors and overtaxed gay organizations, and many would die there, while AIDS came to be seen as a San Francisco phenomenon because that’s where the action was.
As to rumors of his homosexuality, longtime gay and AIDS activist and journalists Andy Humm posted this on the New York Times website: