We're here, we're queer, get over it -- readers respond to Dave Cullen's and Tim Grieve's analyses of the Mary Cheney flap.

By Salon Staff
Published October 16, 2004 9:44PM (EDT)

[Read "Did John Kerry Make a Mess over Mary?" by Tim Grieve.]

I can't believe Salon is giving credence to this boo-hooing over Kerry mentioning Mary Cheney and the fact that she's a lesbian. The only way this could be considered a blunder is if you think calling attention to someone's publicly professed sexual orientation is some sort of character assassination. Can you say "homophobia?"

I am a lesbian who watched the debates in a gay bar, and the entire audience broke into applause at Kerry's statement. Maybe you should ask a few gay people what they think about this before you go helping out the Republican spin machine.

-- Carolyn Pearson

As a queer woman and anyone-but-Bush voter, I have been appalled by both parties' exploitation of queer people for political ends, represented most recently by the Kerry-Edwards campaign's shameless invocation of Mary Cheney's sexuality in the debates. If only the Democrats had the courage to come right out and call Cheney a hypocrite for publicly professing to love his daughter while defending the Bush administration's gay-bashing agenda. But of course they don't.

To openly label Cheney a hypocrite would shine an unwelcome spotlight on the arguably more damning hypocrisy of the Kerry-Edwards campaign itself, which actively seeks the support of gay voters while consigning us to second-class citizenship by withholding the equal right to marry. No one has clean hands here, so instead of reaching out to gay people, both parties have chosen instead to invoke our private lives and struggles to pander to and inflame the prejudices of others. In the smarmy guise of "complimenting" the Cheney family for having the "strength" to love their gay daughter, the Kerry-Edwards campaign is deliberately twisting the knife of shame in deeper, baiting Cheney and anyone else homophobic enough to make the mistake of having the intended reaction -- and not-so-subtly reinforcing everyone's fears at the same time.

Despite knowing precisely how their "reverse" gay-baiting will play to the majority of voters, the Kerry-Edwards campaign has grabbed the moral high ground, protesting their innocence and turning anyone's apparently shame-based reaction (e.g., Lynne Cheney's) against them. Cheney may be a hypocrite, but at least he never used his daughter to bait anyone. With this shameless and obvious manipulation the Kerry-Edwards campaign has shown us that the Bush administration won't be the only one willing to use gay people as a political tool.

-- Chris Fotopulos

I have to disagree with Tim Grieve's assertion that bringing up Mary Cheney's sexuality is in any way comparable to mocking Chelsea Clinton's appearance.

Calling a teenager ugly is not the same thing as calling an adult woman a lesbian. Certainly not when the woman is a lesbian, very much out, and publicly working on her father's campaign. Mary Cheney and her partner stepped up onstage with him after his debate, for God's sake. Kerry's comment was a statement of fact -- a relevant one -- and not some kind of slur. And if Mary Cheney is a deeply private person, perhaps she should have asked her father not to invoke her sexual preference on the many public occasions when he himself has done so.

-- Betsy Bott

Edwards said the same thing at the VP debate and Cheney thanked him for his kind words! Quit eating the GOP spin, for God's sake! Lynne "expressed her pain." Give me a break. This was the only slim reed these scumbags had to deflect attention from Mr. "I Forgot I Forgot About Osama," and Tim Grieve of Salon.com eats it up with a spoon.

-- Nick Sullivan

I am an out dyke, and I keep cringing at the comments of those who think that there is something wrong with calling a spade a spade, whether it's Mary Cheney or Maya Keyes. We're not talking about outing people who are not out. We're talking about out and proud women who are publicly working for their fathers' campaigns, horrifically anti-gay campaigns at that.

When my mom only calls my girlfriend my "friend" and flinches when I say "gay", "lesbian", or "dyke" ... that hurts. When people, especially liberals, think that there is something wrong with mentioning that an out gay person is gay ... that hurts me too. I'm not ashamed of being gay, and these women aren't ashamed of being gay, so I wish they'd stop acting ashamed for us.

-- Heather Galaxy

Salon's War Room, like some others after the debate in Phoenix, have pooh-poohed Kerry's mere mentioning of Mary Cheney and her gayness. His reference was not akin to Chelsea-bashing in the remotest sense -- for one thing, Kerry didn't bash Mary Cheney, he simply noted that in being gay she was being herself. To compare such an innocuous reference to, say, Rush Limbaugh referring to the then-12-year-old Chelsea Clinton as "the White House dog" is utterly preposterous.

The press corps having a collective attack of the vapors over mentioning someone's open gayness is in itself an anti-gay bias.

For another thing, Mary Cheney is 35 years old -- and an employee of her dad's reelection campaign. She's a grown-up hired gun, someone whose gayness the Bush/Cheney campaign uses politically on a regular basis to try to soften the edges of the Bush/Cheney radically anti-gay agenda. If Kerry's political reference of her sexuality is so offensive, why does Bush/Cheney get a pass for doing something worse, which is not only to mention her sexuality but also to use it as a smoke screen for their radically intolerant policies?

I submit it's a more accurate comparison between Kerry noting Mary Cheney's gayness and any Republican mentioning Hillary Clinton as having been involved in a health care proposal. Did the GOP hold back when Hillary Clinton as first lady was involved in a national policy discussion because she was the president's wife? No they did not. Mary Cheney is the Bush/Cheney campaign's gay goodwill ambassador, and as such her gayness can be noted. That Kerry noted it in a positive light just shouldn't be such a big deal; that it is still a big deal says a lot more about the press and the people complaining about it than it does Kerry himself.

-- Ellen Fulton

John Kerry's invocation of Vice President Cheney's lesbian daughter Mary during the third presidential debate was a brilliant political move.

By asking the candidates if they think homosexuality is a "choice," Schieffer deliberately left them plenty of room to maneuver -- or to make fools of themselves. Bush dodged the question and focused on his constitutional amendment. Then Kerry brought the question back to personal reality, citing Mary Cheney and implicitly condemning Bush for dodging the "choice" question. ("Choice" is a loaded right-wing word: it's used to suggest that gay people want "special rights" because they "choose" to be gay, and of course it echoes the abortion rights issue.) Kerry's tactic reminded antigay Bush supporters that the VP's daughter is a homo. It also allowed him to stand up for gay people ("it's not a choice") even though he's still publicly against gay marriage.

And, of course, the more the Cheneys complain about Kerry mentioning their daughter's lesbianism, they more they remind people that their daughter's a lesbian and that they love her despite that. Maybe they're trying to mobilize the all-important self-hating-closet-queer vote.

One final point: the gay community owes a debt of thanks to the Illinois Republican Party for elevating right-wing loose cannon Alan Keyes to a position of prominence by making him their Senate candidate. It was Keyes who put Mary Cheney center stage and made her a usable issue during the Republican convention with his "selfish hedonists" comment.

-- Albert Williams

Please allow me to take issue with your tacit contention that the parents of gays and lesbians never get over their child being gay or their friends knowing their child is gay. As the proud mother of a gay son I can assure you that I have been proud of him since the day he was born and my love and pride has not wavered since. It wasn't exactly on the day he was born that I realized he was gay but it was not long thereafter. Certainly by the time he made his First Holy Communion and posed for a photo that turned out like a fashion layout in GQ. His father and I knew he was gay long before he "came out" to us during his teens. I'm sure we were assisted by the presence of my much-cherished gay uncle, a "confirmed old bachelor" who never did come out openly. The only emotion I ever felt for my gay son that was different from what I felt for my two straight sons was fear -- for what might befall him at the hands of the homophobic masses.

I too am confounded and dismayed by the reaction of the press to the Cheneys' deplorable and shameful actions. I guess I expected educated and sophisticated people, especially the worldly media, to be just a bit more aware of the sensitivities of the gay community. I truly believe that the ignorance the media has shown in their treatment of this incident is an example of why we have such an ill-informed electorate.

-- Annette Ambeau

[Read "John Kerry's Lesbian Moment," by Dave Cullen.]

I think Mr. Cullen missed the point about why the Cheneys are upset over Kerry's invocation of their lesbian daughter. They aren't upset because he called her a lesbian or somehow outed her, they are upset because Kerry is using Ms. Cheney to drive a wedge into Bush's campaign. Kerry could have picked the name of any famous or semi-famous lesbian in America, but he chose Cheney's daughter because he knew that Bush could not argue a point when his own vice-president's daughter could be used as fodder. I agree with the Cheneys that this was a cheap political trick and it lowers Kerry a notch in my estimation. I still plan on voting for him, but it's unfortunate that he had to stoop to this level. I think he paused and gulped not because he was about to use a "dirty" word, but because he was about to get himself dirty. A part of him probably realized that he would not wish to have the same tactics used on him and his family.

-- Mark Antonation

Dave Cullen is right on the money. What Tim Grieve in the War Room and other well meaning but frankly misguided "liberals" don't get is that there is nothing wrong with Kerry turning the tables on Bush's gay-baiting tactics and simply personalizing the issue to show that it can hit pretty close to home even if you're the vice president. I don't know of any other way show people that issues of gay rights affect everyone. If it has to make some people uncomfortable to think that these issues affect people they actually know, so be it.

-- Rufus Anderson

You are misreading the Cheneys' response. Please rest assured that Mary Cheney is nothing even close to "distraught" this morning. Remember: she is part of the Bush-Cheney propaganda machine. Whatever Faustian pact she made to shill for the Official Party of Homophobes, she made her peace with it long ago. Very likely, she was closely consulted on her parents' orchestrated outrage at John Kerry's comments about her.

And how gay people feel about the Cheneys' response is also beside the point. This was a political move calculated to appeal to the "conservative" base. If gays are insulted and offended in the process, tough luck. It won't be the first or the last time that has happened.

-- Shilla Nassi

Why is the Cheney family so outraged that John Kerry and John Edwards have commented on the well-known fact that the Cheneys' daughter Mary is a lesbian? It's not as if Mary has wished to remain private and silent on the issue -- on the contrary, she has worked as an activist even within the GOP, back when the GOP was less openly hostile to gay and lesbian issues.

Really, I find the Cheneys' reaction to be a far cheaper political trick than anything that has been said by Kerry or Edwards. Indeed, if the Cheneys want to be offended on their daughter's behalf, they should be offended by the GOP's positions on gay and lesbian issues and the fact that the GOP will use homophobia among its base to score votes, as it did with the failed anti-gay marriage amendment and the fear mongering mailings in Arkansas and West Virginia (threatening banned Bibles and the proliferation of gay and lesbian couples -- horror of horrors -- if the GOP didn't win the election) to name two egregious examples.

As a parent myself, I could not carry the banner for a political party that preached a message of bigotry about my own child. Shame on the Cheneys for doing so, and shame on them for manufacturing outrage toward Kerry/Edwards while conveniently ignoring the hate all around them in their own party!

-- Jennifer Lohman

Amen to every last word Dave Cullen wrote.

It's been disgusting to see straight moderates and liberals joining the conservatives in cringing over Sen. Kerry's mention of Cheney's orientation (not to mention the way they've given Lynn Cheney's hypocrisy a pass). It's as if they're nodding their collective heads thinking, "Yes, that could be me with a gay child, and I know how embarrassed I'd be having it exposed in that context."

Over on his blog, former Bush acolyte Andrew Sullivan has rightly called this a Rorschach test for how we're perceived by straight people, regardless of their political positions. Are we full fellow human beings or are we just social novelties at best and sources of shame at worst?

I don't know what Kerry's real motives were, but I know he did us a favor even as he himself struggled to say the word "lesbian." In this abstract discussion among straight folks over which crumbs of legal rights they're willing to toss our way, he gave gays and lesbians a living, breathing, loving (and, I hope, loved) human face -- ironically in the form of Mary Cheney. And in the process let us know who among our friends truly respect us as equals. (A: not as many as we thought.)

-- Dave Whelan

Salon Staff

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