White House apologizes to gay officials


WASHINGTON -- The White House moved quickly yesterday to make amends to gay elected officials angered when White House security guards used blue rubber gloves to inspect their belongings when they visited the mansion.

"It was an error in judgment," White House spokesman Michael McCurry told reporters.

Mr. McCurry also said White House chief of staff Leon Panetta had asked Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to look into the incident. Mr. Rubin is in charge of the Secret Service, which employs the uniformed guards at the White House.

After reviewing the incident, the director of the Secret Service apologized.

"I regret the unfortunate actions that were taken yesterday when several visitors arrived at the White House," said Eljay B. Bowron. "It is not the policy of the Secret Service to wear gloves merely based on known sexual preference."

Mr. Bowron said he would hold a special training session with the officers to address the use of protective gloves.

Gay leaders said they were pleased the White House took the glove incident seriously.

"They're moving very fast to show this is inappropriate and that change is going to occur," said William Waybourn, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. The group raises money for gay political candidates.

The glove incident occurred Tuesday as gay leaders and their guests were entering the White House visitors' gate for a tour of the mansion before scheduled meetings with administration officials at the nearby Old Executive Office Building.

When a visitor asked a guard about the rubber gloves, the guard replied: "I have a cut on my hand."

The guard's comment implied that the gay elected officials may have been HIV positive and that he was nervous about touching their briefcases or other belongings.

When the group of 45 gay elected leaders later told White House officials about the gloves, the officials were "surprised, shocked and horrified," Mr. Waybourn said.

"You could see the look on their faces -- they didn't believe it," he said.

John Heilman, mayor of West Hollywood and one of the gay elected officials who attended Tuesday's meetings in the White House complex, applauded the administration's quick response.

"The good thing is that the White House people immediately got it. They were as outraged as we were," said Mr. Heilman.

Some gay leaders said they were disappointed that the glove incident overshadowed the significance of the meeting itself -- the first ever held for a group of gay elected officials by the White House.

Mr. Waybourn said White House officials showed a lot of interest in what the group had to say, even though the two sides heatedly argued at times.

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