A Surgeon General's Warnings
You got a lot of criticism from conservatives during your term as surgeon general. Do you still bear scars?
After the aids report came out, under pressure from Phyllis Schlafly, all but one of the Republican presidential candidates boycotted a dinner in my honor: Rep. Jack Kemp, Gov. Pierre DuPont, Sent. Robert Dole. Only George Bush refused to boycott. Interestingly enough, Sen. Jesse Helms, despite our differences, didn't join the boycott. Jack Kemp was the moist disappointing, because the week before he had stood on the steps of Washington's Fourth Presbyterian Church and warmly shook my hand and told me how much he appreciated all I was doing.
I can understand the problems that allegiance to someone like me might create for a politician. But if someone who felt he had to take a public stand had called up and said, "Chick, these are days of tough politics for me," I would have understood it.
Later, over the abortion issue, Cal Thomas wrote that the country would have been better off with an atheist in this job. That kind of criticism affects me in a strange way. I don't like to go to church anymore—he happens to go to the same church as I do.
In the controversy over the aids report, was there a question of your being "soft" on the gay issues?
It was never expressed to me that way. As I've often said, the large part of this nation considers sodomy to be legally and spiritually wrong. And so do I.
Yet I know that some of the people who persist in leading their flocks astray on the aids issue do so out of homophobia. Really, we need a new word. Homophobia has to do with more than just fear. These people combine fear with an unbelievable hatred for homosexuals. I've had conversations with people who, if they could, would push a button and get rid of homosexuals by any means whatsoever.
You use a word like sodomy, and yet the gay community almost reveres you. Do you have any explanation?
In Boston this year I spoke to 12,000 gay people, and they kept chanting, "Koop! Koop! Koop! Koop!" They give unbelievable support, in spite of what I say about their practices. I guess it's because I'm the person who came out and said, I'm the surgeon general of all the people and I'll meet them where they are. In addition, I've asked for compassion for them, and for volunteers to go and care for them.
You use the slogan "Love the sinner; hate the sin." Was that pattern instinctive for you?
Well, let's say it has always been my theology. But many times you have theology but no specific opportunity to put it into practice. When the aids example came along, my obligation seemed pretty clear. I viewed the lifestyle with a certain revulsion, but as a health officer I had to look upon aids patients primarily as sick people. On the same principle, if a fat lady enters the hospital with a gall bladder attack, you can't refuse her treatment on the basis of her lack of discipline in eating.