The Last Thing to Bear Jesse Helms’s Name

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Maybe Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) has a really wicked sense of humor.

How else do you explain her current attempt to rename an appropriations bill intended to provide assistance to foreign countries combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases after recently deceased Senator Jesse Helms?

Helms was a throwback to the period when bigots could serve openly and proudly in the U.S. Senate. He fought funding for AIDS research, saying, “The government should spend less money on people with AIDS because they got sick as a result of deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct.” At a different time, he contextualized his comments by saying, “Nothing positive happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, and nothing positive is likely to happen to America if our people succumb to the drumbeats of support for the homosexual lifestyle.” He once said that AIDS prevention literature was “so obscene, so revolting, I may throw up.”

Those his position on AIDS in Africa would soften over time, he remained a steadfast opponent of progress in the States. The man didn’t mince words, and wasn’t ashamed of his positions. “The Bible is unmistakably instructive on the sin of sodomy,” he said in the mid-90s. “I confess I regard it as an abomination.” He once admitted he voted against a Clinton appointee “because she’s a damn lesbian.”

And now an AIDS bill may carry his name. That’s either an incredibly vicious way of marring the bill and insulting AIDS victims, or its an incredibly savvy way of tarnishing Helms’s legacy. Which do you think it is?

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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