December 22, 2014 at 7:24 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Is Jeb a kinder, more gay-friendly Bush?
Jeb Bush, Republican Party, Florida, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeb Bush has warned the Republican Party against appearing anti-gay. (Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Amid hints that Jeb Bush may hold more moderate views on LGBT issues than other Republicans expected to seek the presidency in 2016, a statewide LGBT advocate in Florida is calling on him to clarify whether he’d be a friend to the LGBT community if elected to the White House.

Bush, who served as governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, announced last week in a Facebook message that he’s decided to consider a presidential run.

“As a result of these conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs, I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States,” Bush wrote.

Bush also said in January he plans to establish a political action committee to “help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America” and to support people and initiatives aiming to “expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.”

The name of the former Florida governor is but one that has emerged as a potential presidential candidate that on the Democratic side includes Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren and on the Republican side includes Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio.

Bush has made remarks about the Republican Party’s relationship with LGBT people that puts him at odds with social conservatives seeking to maintain the party’s anti-LGBT positions.

During a keynote speech at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference, Bush warned against an anti-gay image for the Republican Party.

“Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on,” Bush said. “Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidate — even though they share our core beliefs — because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party.”

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, said Bush wasn’t an ally to LGBT people when he held office and should affirm whether comments like these mean he’s changed his views.

“In recent years he seems to be trying to strike a different tone without committing to any actual change when it comes to discrimination,” Smith said. “If he does jump into the presidential race he’ll have to clarify his positions on a range of issues.”

In 2002, Bush made what was considered to be a homophobic joke when he implied during a meeting with Republican lawmakers two sisters under arrest in the case of a missing child were, in fact, a lesbian couple.

“As [Geralyn Graham] was being arrested,” Bush was quoted as saying, “she told her co-workers, ‘Tell my wife I’ve been arrested.’ The wife is the grandmother, and the aunt is the husband.” Bush reportedly used his fingers to make quotation marks as he emphasized the word “grandmother.”

Seemingly unaware a reporter with Gannett Regional Newspapers of Florida was in the room, Bush reportedly said, “Bet you don’t get that in Pensacola.”

Ten years later after he had left office, Bush made decidedly different comments about LGBT people. Although he stopped short of endorsing marriage equality, he said during an interview with Charlie Rose in 2012 that gay parents who are raising children well should be held up as an example.

“I don’t think people need to be discriminated against because they don’t share my belief on this, and if people love their children with all their heart and soul and that’s what they do and that’s how they organize their life that should be held up as examples for others to follow because we need it,” Bush said. “We desperately need it and that can take all sorts of forms, it doesn’t have to take the one that I think should be sanctioned under the law.”

The general consensus seems to be that Jeb Bush would be more LGBT friendly than his brother, former President George W. Bush, who made the Federal Marriage Amendment a cornerstone of his 2004 re-election campaign.

Ric Grenell, a gay Republican strategist who worked briefly on the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, spoke generally about the importance of a change in leadership for the country when asked how he thinks LGBT people should perceive a Jeb Bush candidacy.

“The U.S. is at a crossroads and our future isn’t guaranteed,” Grenell said. “Every great civilization has lasted roughly 250 years. The Democrats are dividing us and killing the economy through political correctness. We need a president that won’t apologize for American ideals and strength. We need someone that will put Americans back to work. There are a few Republican governors that would make an ideal president.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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