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John F. Kennedy had gay best friend named Lem Billings who had his own room at The White House

Never knew about this but I’m so glad I do now.

President John F. Kennedy, assassinated in Dallas 50 years ago today, had a gay best friend named Lem Billings who he met in prep school when he was just 15 and Lem 16.

They became fast friends and forever friends who wrote letters to each other when apart, traveled to Europe together and were so close that Joseph Kennedy Sr. thought of Billings as another son.

From what I have read tonight, and I’ve been immersed, Kennedy knew Lem was gay early on.

The book Jack and Lem: John F. Kennedy and Lem Billings: The Untold Story of an Extraordinary Friendship (by David Pitts) tells of when Jack casually wrote at the end of a chatty letter to Lem after his friend made a sexual advance: “I’m not that kind of boy.”

But Jack didn’t end the relationship.

From the time he and Kirk LeMoyne “Lem” Billings met at Choate, until the President’s assassination thirty years later, they remained best friends.

Lem was a virtual fixture in the Kennedy family who even had his own room at the White House.

The book about their friendship draws on hundreds of letters and telegrams between the two, Billings’s oral history and interviews with family and friends like Ben Bradlee, Gore Vidal, and Ted Sorensen.

It was a friendship that endured despite an era of rampant homophobia.

Billings was a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School and was an advertising executive at the Manhattan advertising firm Lennen & Newell. He put his business career on hold to work on Kennedy’s campaign for president.

Bradlee says in the book: “I suppose it’s known that Lem was gay….It impressed me that Jack had gay friends.”

Billings obviously never came out but did once say: “Jack made a big difference in my life. Because of him, I was never lonely. He may have been the reason I never got married.”

(I’ve already ordered the book on Amazon! Here’s a LINK).

FILE UNDER: Newsmakers


(All comments are reviewed before being published, and I review submissions several times per day.)

10 Remarks

  1. I had heard about the friendship, but I didn’t know there was a book about it. I hope its an interesting read.

  2. @Charlie: I’m one of the many who’ve been long unaware of this facet of JFK. @Greg: I’m so glad that you posted this to pass this along. I’ve always admired Kennedy, but this certainly bolsters that feeling.

    Such a loss to mankind, this vacuum left after Kennedy’s assassination. Imagine what this world might have been had he lived?

  3. This is all new to me, and I’m very happy to learn something I hadn’t heard before. Thanks, Greg.

  4. David Pitts chronicles a pioneering friendship, lost to history. David’s book, sadly is lost, because the lamestream media will not review it. Listen to our interview with David on his book:

  5. Also of course JFK was close to Gore Vidal–always open to gay people.

  6. Good article Greg. I like to think JFK respected all men, gay or not. Being gay was just a huge closet issue in the 1960s and I was not exception. Coats were piled high on me. Thanks for posting this, Greg. It means a great deal.

  7. Jackie accepted Lem as part of her life. She had many gay friends. Here’s a recent article I wrote about Lem and Jackie.

  8. Its an excellent book which I recommend. Spoiler alert: though Jack was “not that kind of boy” it is well documented in the book that during White House years both men had physical contact–the kind of sexual interlude that allows a man to remain 100 percent straight while letting the other have pleasure–do the math:)

  9. @BA – Where in the book? I read it, didn’t see it anywhere.

    Gore Vidal comes off as quite jealous, from my reading of the book. The continuing role Lem had in the family after JFK and RFK were murdered is eye-opening. That there are (at least) two living Kennedys with LeMoyne as their middle name speaks to the impact he had on the family. It seems clear that both Joe Sr. and Rose were wild about Lem.

  10. ok i just learned that im related to jfk he is my 4th cousin by marreage isnt that cool.

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