Why's a girl like her in a place like that?

Posted: Tuesday, August 08, 2000

It's not true that Lynne Cheney was fit to be tied after last Sunday's interview with Cokie Roberts. ABC's Roberts asked the second lady in waiting how it was being the mother of an openly gay daughter. Mary had ``never declared such a thing,'' mother Cheney shot back.

Critics said Roberts had stepped over the line and taken a private family matter public. Oprah never would have done that, tongues wagged.

No one outed Mary Cheney, former gay/lesbian liaison for the Coors Brewing Co. in Denver.

According to Human Rights Campaign executive director Elizabeth Birch, Mary Cheney was ``an open and honest and proud lesbian for years.'' Even the Rev. Jerry Falwell addressed the issue of Dick Cheney's ``lesbian daughter'' and ``errant offspring'' in a newsletter to the faithful.

As Birch said in a news conference last week, ``Mary Cheney is not a daughter who has been tucked away in some mountain home out of sight. ... In fact, she combed the country visiting every community to bring to highlight and hail the fact that Coors Brewing Co. had instituted a nondiscrimination policy and domestic partnership for its gay employees.''

You'd think that if Republicans could bring Kate Smith back to life in Philadelphia last week, that they wouldn't have minded Mary Cheney on stage with singer Melissa Etheridge for a rendition of ``Yes, I Am.'' It could've followed Jon Secada's tight-pants number.

Instead, TV cameras zoomed in on Pleasantville, not Philadelphia. The clock was rolled back to when ``gay'' meant happy, when father knew best, and when people loved Liberace so long as he stayed on stage and not at the house next door.

Mary Cheney sat in her box seat at the convention looking like a canary in a coal mine.

This was the convention where the only good homosexual was a mute one. Just look at what they did to Jim Kolbe, the openly gay Arizona congressman. Some in the Texas delegation removed their hats, bowed their heads and prayed when Kolbe spoke. That'll teach him to try to promote that ``homosexual agenda'' item: trade.

Remember, y'all: ``W'' stands for straight Women. (The ``straight'' is silent, like the ``p'' in pneumonia.)

Why is Mary Cheney's sexual orientation relevant in coverage of the presidential race? Said the Human Rights Campaign's Birch, ``It is relevant because Mary's presence is precisely what we have been saying for years: gay people live inside of American families.''

That's why Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) has chapters in numerous states, including Kansas and Missouri. It's why the GOP had more openly gay delegates at the convention this year. The Log Cabin Republicans, the only gay group with whom Bush met, report gay/lesbian delegates rose from five in 1996 to 18 last week.

But it's the candidates' records, not the number of gay delegates or relatives, that should have voters scrutinizing the candidates. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has handily profiled the candidates on its Web site, www.ngltf.org.

It is in the context of politics and policies of record, not voyeurism, that Mary Cheney's sexual orientation becomes relevant, Birch said. She's right.

``Is Mary Cheney, or people like her, capable of service in the United States armed forces? Yes or no. We should get an answer,'' Birch said. ``Should Mary, if she so chooses, be permitted to adopt children? ... These are profoundly appropriate areas of inquiry for the nation's media.''

Winnie Stachelberg, Human Rights Campaign's political director, put it best: ``The right to work free from discrimination is a cornerstone of `America's purpose' and to deny basic protections from discrimination to gay and lesbian people is hardly `compassionate.'''

Some Log Cabiners believe the GOP is changing for the better.

The Associated Press quoted Dan Stewart, delegate and mayor of Plattsburgh, N.Y., who said, ``I think the Republican Party is slowly turning itself in a more moderate direction, speaking to middle America.''

The party could use some improvement, said Brian Bennett, who was chief of staff to California's former Rep. Robert Dornan. ``I believe many party officials are aware of it, but they need a little encouragement from the top. I think George Bush is the man to give them that encouragement,'' Bennett told the AP.

If any conservative deserves compassion, it's Bennett. He worked for Bob Dornan, quoted in the 1996 issue of The Almanac of American Politics thus: ``He once said that `every lesbian spearchucker' was against him.''

Pat Harrison, co-chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Mary Cheney's orientation poses no problem for the ticket. Harrison, quoted by Salon magazine said, ``Governor Bush wouldn't have selected Dick Cheney as his running mate if he had a problem with it.''

So for now, Mary Cheney isn't gay. Her girlfriend is.

Rhonda Chriss Lokeman is the opinion-page editor for The Kansas City Star.

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