Political junkies will remember the Gerald Ford years for the headlines of the day—such as inflation, the end of the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War, the Nixon pardon, his controversial role on the Warren Commission and two assassination attempts. Gay history buffs will also remember his Administration because one of those assassination attempts was prevented by a gay man: Oliver Sipple.
The first attempt was in September 1975 when Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a 26-year-old follower of Charles Manson, aimed a semiautomatic pistol at Ford in Sacramento, Califorina. Luckily, a Secret Service agent grabbed her and Ford was not harmed.
Seventeen days later on September 22 in San Francisco, Sipple was in the crowd outside the Saint Francis Hotel to catch a glimpse of President Ford. Sara Jane Moore, a 45-year-old political activist, was standing next to him and pointed a revolver at the commander-in-chief. He grabbed her arm, deflected the shot, and, prevented her from harming the president. Ford later thanked him in a letter.
Sipple became an instant hero and an instant victim.
Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1941, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps during Vietnam and was wounded twice. Following his discharge he moved to San Francisco, living on a veteran's disability pension and active in gay causes but not officially out of the closet to his family. Gay activist and politician Harvey Milk, who was running for City Council, publicly proclaimed Sipple a hero and said his act would "help break the stereotype of homosexuals." The San Francisco Chronicle also outed him.
After learning her son's secret, Sipple's mother cut off contact with him entirely. Sipple sued the Chronicle and six other papers for damages and the mental stress he suffered as a result of his mother's actions. The litigation languished in court until it was finally dismissed five years later. The stress led Sipple to drinking, and becoming paranoid and suicidal. He was found dead on February 2, 1989 in his apartment. At the time, police said Sipple weighed about 300 pounds and they believed he had been dead for two weeks. The President and Mrs. Ford sent condolence letters to Sipple's friends and family.