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Mary Cheney: A Problematic Daughter

By Elizabeth Birch
Executive Director, HRC

The Human Rights Campaign held an August 3 press conference to discuss gay and lesbian issues in the GOP and the presence of Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Vice Presidential nominee Dick Cheney. The following is a transcript of Elizabeth Birch's comments made at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.
I am Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign. It's important for you all to know that the Human Rights Campaign is a bipartisan organization. We endorse and invest in good Democrats and Republicans. We think for forward movement in this nation we need to have leaders on both sides of the aisle who celebrate equity and fairness. Mary Cheney
Photo By: Rex Wockner

But many of our concerns today center on the GOP vision for lesbian and gay Americans in this nation and within the Party. Before addressing the platform or any specific policy position, I want to make two very important points for the nation's media.

First, as many of you know, the gay, lesbian and bisexual vote is now solidly between 5 and 6 percent nationwide. In states like New York and California it is 8 and 11 percent in some elections, respectively. This is not a fly by night constituency.

This group of Americans deserve the same level of rigorous inquiry and analysis on issues as, for example, Latino Americans who make up a similar block of the voting population.

Second -- Another important point is this: Dick Cheney has a lesbian daughter, Mary.

It is essential that at this juncture we begin to un-package for the purposes of inquiry, commentary and analysis, the difference between public and private information. We know there have been debates going on around the country over the last week because we have been involved in a number of them. Some of them--even with news organizations--are grappling with what is public and what is private. What is fair game for inquiry and what is not? Lets be clear.

No one at the Human Rights Campaign, indeed, no one, no gay leaders I know, want to disrespect Mary Cheney or her family. No one wants to lumber inappropriately into the Cheney's family private sphere and begin to make inquiries where it is not appropriate.

Previous People Features from the GayToday Archive:
Dick Cheney Reported to Have Openly Lesbian Daughter

Arrest of Openly-Gay GOP Convention Speaker Demanded

The Scary Case against George W. Bush, GOP Candidate

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In fact, my organization, the Human Rights Campaign, is absolutely on record as being against "outing", a technique or strategy that has been in years past used to embarrass or bring a gay person out into the sunshine before they were ready to do so. But, notions of privacy are not what we're dealing with here!

Mary Cheney is not a daughter who has been tucked away in some mountain home out of sight. She has been an open and honest, proud lesbian for years. In fact, she specifically had a role at the Coors Brewing Company as marketing liaison to the gay and lesbian community.

Some have tried to swat back journalists simply for making an inquiry about this daughter, and about her sexual orientation--and they've been sharply rebuffed based on some false notion of privacy. Perhaps other aspects of Mary's life should be off limits--her involvement with another, if there is one, how she decorates her home, what her favorite basketball team is, or if she has a favorite golfer.

But her sexual orientation is not a private matter and it has not been a private matter for some time. And the press, we hope, will not be intimidated by this pseudo argument of privacy. This wall has been apparently erected, no doubt, by the Bush/Cheney campaign team. Why is this relevant at all? It is relevant because Mary's presence is precisely what we have been saying for years; gay people live inside of American families.

Even inside the family of an individual who is now seeking to be vice president of the Untied States. If Mary were a commercial fisherman and a major candidate for national office was for banning commercial fishing--you would anticipate quite a stir from the nation's media. At a minimum, there would be inquiry, commentary and analysis. Put another way--If there were some proposal to ban all left-handed people from many aspects of American life, again, you would think there would be analysis and a stir.

Mary Cheney with her father, Dick, at the GOP Convention in Philadelphia
Photo By: Rex Wockner
The fact is this, the presence of Mary Cheney as an openly lesbian person - that fact alone--(that status, her mere presence) shines a light on the fact that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have positions of grave concern to gay and lesbian people in this country.

It also shines a light on some amazing ironies and it opens areas of inquiry that have not been explored with precision. Whether someone is fired from their job, or left to hang on a fence to die, banned from adopting a child, obstructed from full and honest service in the armed forces of the United States is not a private matter.

These are important areas of public policy inquiry and so far they have not been probed deeply.Service in the Military: Is Mary Cheney--or people like her--capable of service in the United States armed forces? Yes or no. We should get an answer.

Parenting: Should Mary--if she so chooses to do so at some point--be permitted to adopt children?

Hate Crimes: Matthew Shepard attended the precisely same high school as Dick Cheney and George Bush comes from the same state that James Byrd was dragged to his death in chains. Why don't these men favor sound public policy that would allow for effective partnership between local and national law enforcement when appropriate to allow for effective investigation and prosecution?

Employment: Mary Cheney herself benefited from and evangelized best practices in corporate America. In fact she combed the country visiting every community to bring to highlight and hail the fact that the Coors Brewing Company had instituted a non-discrimination policy and domestic partnership for its gay employees.

This is the course taken by some of America's oldest and freshest corporations. Over half of the fortune 500 have instituted nondiscrimination policies and many major corporations, like Shell Oil, Bank of America, the three Big Automakers, the Walt Disney Company have instituted such policies - not only because it is fair and equitable, but because it is good business.

Where are George Bush and Dick Cheney on these sound and proven practices? In a world that George Bush would create - and his policy is very muddled on employment (so of don't ask, don't tell in the civil realm), Mary could be fired from most jurisdictions in this country simply because she's gay.

Our point is this: these are profoundly appropriate areas of inquiry for the nation's media. What we do know of George Bush's record today is that it is either extraordinarily negative or muddled in the area of employment.

We hope the press will start to ask these men about these positions in more precise terms. George Bush has been able to slide by on mush. Some have been welcomed and it is understandable that some are excited by the symbolism. He did meet with a group of gay Republicans, and needs to be commended for that. That was not only members of the Log Cabin Republicans, but also members of the Human Rights Campaign's board. And, he said he was a better man for it--so lets see some better policies for it.

He is also to be commended for having Rep. Jim Kolbe speak at the convention on trade and trade alone--and that was a noble gesture for which he took some heat. But in the year 2000 gestures alone are empty if they are not backed up by sound, common sense and affirming public policies. We want to understand the vision of both of these men, not just for a family member who happens to be there, but for all gay and lesbians.

We're very disturbed by the platform and the fact that in the year 2000 in that tug of war that some Republicans like to call a cultural war, a kind of meanness won out--very bad positions on choice and gay issues were restored to the platform and that is in sharp contrast to forward-looking incredibly sound approach taken by the Democratic Party.

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