Jesse Helms’ lesbian granddaughter says the senator’s anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric kept her closeted

Author: John Russell

During the 1980s and 90s, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) engaged in vicious, hateful demagoguery of LGBTQ+ people, campaigning against gay rights and voting against federal funding for AIDS research at the height of the epidemic. But, as noted in a recent Assembly profile of the late lawmaker’s anti-LGBTQ+ legacy, Helms knew and indeed loved at least one gay person, even if he never knew it: his granddaughter, Jennifer Knox.

Speaking publicly for the first time about Helms’ hateful rhetoric and opposition to LGBTQ+ rights, Knox, a former North Carolina district court judge who worked on her grandfather’s 1996 reelection campaign, told the outlet, “There really are, for me anyway, two Jesses — the granddad and the senator. The granddad is the bigger influence on my life.”

After coming to terms with her sexuality in college in the 90s and coming out to her parents in 2002, Knox was reportedly outed by a website during her 2004 campaign for district court judge. But, she told The Assembly, despite marrying her now ex-wife in 2007, she never came out to Helms, who died in 2008.

“I’m not the kind of person to confront him about his views,” she explained. “We really didn’t talk about politics as a family. It was almost like it was two separate lives between his political life and his family life.” 

A former Republican who is now registered as unaffiliated, Knox said that Helms’ “strongly held beliefs…weren’t always right.” She told journalist John Drescher that the disconnect between Helms’ anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and the “very sweet” man she knew in person kept her closeted for years. She has refused to read any of his books and said she has essentially blocked out that aspect of Helms’ career.

Confronted by Drescher with some of Helms’ anti-LGBTQ+ statements, Knox’s response was a simple, “Ouch.”

“I was thinking that was probably why I didn’t tell him,” she continued. “I didn’t know how he’d react. We did have a pretty strong bond. I didn’t want to risk losing that relationship.”

Pressed to speculate about how Helms would have reacted if she had come out to him, Knox said the late senator would probably have been “very conflicted.”

“Obviously, it’s not something he would have approved of,” she said. “That’s a question I’ll never know the answer to.” 

Actual Story on LGBTQ Nation
Author: John Russell

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