In a more perfect world, Roy Cohn would belong in a chapter of history long since closed. Cohn should be a cautionary tale against self-loathing. His most enduring relevance since his 1986 death should be as a character in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.
As you may have noticed, however, our world is not perfect. Being dead for the past 30 years has not stopped Roy Cohn from affecting the lives of queer Americans. In short, the lawyer who made a name for himself aiding Joseph McCarthy in the prosecution of Communists and helping to send Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to the electric chair also happens to be the man who helped shape a young real estate mogul into President Donald J. Trump.
The end of Cohn’s life is well-known to fans of theater and anyone who watched the 2003 HBO miniseries adaptation of Angels in America. In the miniseries, Al Pacino plays a fictionalized version of Roy Cohn as he dies from AIDS. This portrayal would seem to line up with the real-life Cohn, at least as described by Republican necromancer Roger Stone in a 2008 New Yorker interview: Homosexual in practice but not interested in being identified as such.
“Roy was not gay,” said Stone. “He was a man who liked having sex with men. Gays were weak, effeminate. He always seemed to have these young blond boys around. It just wasn’t discussed. He was interested in power and access.”
Cohn’s sexual preferences did nothing to prevent him from participating in the Lavender Scare — a McCarthy-directed witch hunt parallel to the Red Scare that ultimately resulted in around 5,000 gay men and lesbians being fired from government positions.
Read more stories by just signing up
or Download the App to read the latest stories