7 US Presidents who were rumoured to be gay or bisexual
To mark Presidents’ Day, we count down 7 US leaders and influential figures who faced rumours about their sexuality.
There have been 44 Presidents to date – and according to official doctrine, all of them have supposedly been heterosexual.
But given at least 43 of them were serving at a time when homosexuals were still oppressed, there has long been speculation of a few gay trysts flying under the radar.
We look at seven leaders who faced speculation – some credible, some completely ridiculous – about same-sex romances.
1. James Buchanan
Buchanan was the 15th President of the United States, serving just one term from 1857 to 1861.
Considered one of the most ineffective Presidents, the lifelong bachelor has faced speculation about his sexuality.
Many have raised questions about Buchanan’s close and intimate relationship with future Vice President William Rufus King – having lived together for more than a decade.
King described the pair’s relationship as a “communion”, and they were rarely seen apart. Many commentators at the time remarked on the pair’s closeness, with Andrew Jackson referring to them as “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy”.
2. John F Kennedy
From the influential Kennedy dynasty, John F Kennedy served as the 35th President of the United States from 1961 until his assassination in November 1963.
Despite his Catholic upbringing, Kennedy was inseparable from his friend Kirk LeMoyne ‘Lem’ Billings, after the pair first met in prep school.
The pair were inseparable, with Mr Billings helping run Kennedy’s Presidential campaign and serving as an usher at his wedding. Billings even got his own bedroom in the White House, which was incredibly kept secret from many of the administration’s staff working in the same building.
Author and historian David Pitts explained: “Some of the people who were working in the White House very close to JFK didn’t know it. Ted Sorensen, perhaps the closest aide to JFK, saw Lem around the White House all the time… but he told me he didn’t know that he’d had his own room there and was staying there so much of the time.”
Though their relationship was considered platonic at the time, author Jerry Oppenheimer claims the pair had “a friendship that included oral sex, with Jack always on the receiving end”.
3. Barack Obama
Not every rumour about a President is credible, obviously. The 44th President is a strong supporter of LGBT equality – and his emphatic support has sparked speculation among homophobes.
Conspiracy theorist Wayne Marsden claimed previously that Obama “used basketball pick-up games to pick up men”, and had “homosexual trysts with Representative Artur Davis, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Senate majority leader Bill Frist”.
The late Joan Rivers added fuel to the conspiracy theory fire, when she joked of a gay President: “We already have it with Obama… you know Michelle is a tr***y”.
4. Lyndon B Johnson
Lyndon B Johnson served as the 37th President from 1963 to 1969 – leading the country until just before the Stonewall Riots, amid building tensions over the persecution of gay people.
However, he dodged scandals himself when his close personal friend and de-facto Chief of Staff Walter Jenkins was outed.
Ahead of the 1964 Presidential election, Jenkins was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct with another man in a public YMCA restroom in Washington DC, forcing him to resign from the campaign.
Johnson insisted he had no idea about Jackson’s personal life, saying: “I couldn’t have been more shocked about Walter Jenkins if I’d heard that Lady Bird had tried to kill the Pope.”
However, opponents made much mileage out of innuendo of a closer relationship between the pair – with bumper stickers joking: “All the way with LBJ, but don’t go near the YMCA.”
5. Alexander Hamilton
As fans of the musical Hamilton know, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton never got to be President thanks to his tumultuous personal life – but the Founding Father had near-unparalleled influence on the formation of the United States.
Though his extra-marital affair with a woman, Maria Reynolds, is a matter of public record, there has been much speculation about his close relationships with a number of men.
During the American Revolution, his letters to close friends John Laurens and Marquis de Lafayette were exceedingly affectionate and flowery – so much so that they were edited and censored through early biographies controlled by his family.
In one letter, Hamilton described himself as a “jealous lover” over Laurens failing to reply, adding: “Like a jealous lover, when I thought you slighted my caresses, my affection was alarmed and my vanity piqued.”
He wrote in another letter, after the departure of Laurens: “I wish, my Dear Laurens, it might be in my power, by action rather than words to convince you that I love you. I shall only tell you that ’til you bade us Adieu, I hardly knew the value you had taught my heart to set upon you.
He added: “You should not have taken advantage of my sensibility to steal into my affections without my consent.”
Historian Ron Chernow also highlighted the surprising number of accounts from the time period that describe Hamilton as “feminine” – “the more surprising given his military bearing and virile exploits”.
However, as with much of LGBT history, any substantive proof that may have existed will have long since been erased.
Chernow adds that “if Hamilton and Laurens did become lovers–and it is impossible to say this with any certainty–they would have taken extraordinary precautions” – leaving the truth lost to history.
6. Abraham Lincoln
One of America’s most iconic Presidents, Abe spent a large portion of his life spooning with men.
In his early adulthood, the President shared a bed with Joshua Speed – who later became a Congressman. Not forgetting his roots, Lincoln several times offered Speed a government appointment – only to be rejected every time.
Lincoln also shared a narrow bed with companion Billy Greene in his ’20s, though this was not unusual at the time.
Greene remarked of their cosy living situation: “When one turned over the other had to do likewise… his thighs were as perfect as a human being could be.”
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7. Bill Clinton
Many spurious rumours have been circulated, and much gossip made, of the unconventional marriage between 42nd President Bill Clinton, and First Lady President Hillary Clinton.
President Bill Clinton famously admitted infidelity with secretary Monica Lewinsky in 1998 – but the definitive power-couple have both been the subject of rumours of dalliances with both genders.
Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter famously accused Bill Clinton of being a “latent homosexual”, adding: “I think that sort of rampant promiscuity does show some level of latent homosexuality.”
David Letterman joked: “While the former President admits he once told Coulter that he’s gay, it was simply a polite excuse to explain why he wasn’t hitting on her bony ass.”
The relationship between Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards character Frank Underwood and his wife has also been rumoured to be based on the Clintons.