Now we have to be very fair about this. Before the GOP presidential
convention was over, Mary Cheney, the attractive if boyish daughter of
Dick Cheney, Republican candidate for U.S. vice-president, was revealed
as a lesbian. Since the convention closed down she has been a model of
discretion, receiving no members of the press of any stripe. But when
her mother Lynne, former head of the National Endowment for the
Humanities (and a thoroughly nice woman) was questioned closely about
her daughter on national television, the mother flew into something of a
rage. After which: silence on all sides. But Mary had appeared
everywhere at her father's side during the convention: blonde, smiling,
her hair slicked back boyishly. But at the end she disappeared again.
Her friends didn't return telephone calls.
Mary Cheney's life before politics is part of the public record.
Mary, 31, worked at the Coors Brewing company until last May, when she
quit to continue work on her MBA. She and her "partner," Heather Poe,
live in the Denver suburbs, in a house of which they are co-owners. Jim
McNulty, who co-founded the Aspen Gay and Lesbian Community Fund in
Aspen, remembers that Mary Cheney introduced Heather Poe as her "life
partner," and that Mary was quite "out" about her sexual orientation and
her relationship with Heather. During the course of an evening they all
spent together, McNulty said, Mary and Heather "publicly kissed and
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But individuals who met Miss Cheney through her work with the Coors
brewery -- one of the country's largest -- praise without stint her
professional demeanor. Her position required "awareness and sensitivity
to the community" says a former associate. Miss Cheney did extensive
research and outreach work within the homosexual and lesbian world,
traveling with "Mr. Leather 1999" around the country in a determined
effort to elevate Coors' image among the population at large.
It must be understood that some years ago Coors had an
ultra-masculine -- even homophobic -- image and that certain members of
the Coors family were closely involved in right-wing causes, which had
left a residue of bitterness in liberal circles, according to The
Advocate, an excellent bi-weekly covering gay and lesbian affairs. It
was indeed Miss Cheney's job to remove this negative, right-wing
association from beer-drinkers' minds. She traveled the country assuring
beer-drinkers that Coors was now "gay friendly," with financial and
health benefits for "domestic partners," and with anti-discrimination
protections for its employees.
It's extremely hard to imagine that Mary Cheney could ever have
thought she was leaving politics behind her when she joined Coors. In
fact it's only reasonable to assume that she was offered her job at
Coors precisely because of politics. Coors wanted someone who would get
these stiff-necked conservatives off their back, and the child of Dick
Cheney -- with his impeccable conservative record both in Congress and
as President George Bush's Defense Secretary during the Gulf War --
seemed the perfect appointee for the job. In fact it has always seemed
to me that -- compared to Gen. Colin Powell and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf
-- Defense Secretary Cheney never got his fair share of prestige for our
military triumph in the Gulf.
The Cheney family affair is not the first time that America has had
to deal with a parent-child split over sexual behavior. Ronald Reagan's
articulate son Ron, a former ballet dancer, always supported his
father's politics, or rather, he supported his father while he was
president, and only during the recent Democratic convention did he
declare himself an antagonist, a Democrat -- of which his poor father,
cut off from the world by Alzheimer's -- might not even be aware. Ron
and his mother, Nancy, are no longer on speaking terms. However, another
parent-child event in the more civilized wing of the sex wars is the
quite friendly relationship between Cher and her daughter Chastity Bono,
a lesbian activist, much as the relationship between Newt Gingrich and
his sister Candace.
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Meanwhile, as far as the outside world knows, not a cross word has
ever been exchanged between vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney and
his daughter Mary. In fact, the two are very close, going on holidays
together, just the two of them, hunting and fly-fishing together. The
two have traveled together to Russia and South America. And Mary has hit
the campaign trail with her father, serving as an aide. Judging by his
behavior, Dick Cheney seems totally to accept Mary's sexual orientation.
Furthermore, in his public life throughout his years in Congress and as
secretary of Defense under President George Bush -- the father of his
present running mate -- Dick Cheney stolidly supported the American ban
on gays in the military.
In a press interview after his nomination at the Republican
Convention, Mr. Cheney said that times have changed on gay issues.
"Generally, the society is more tolerant today than it used to be, and
the party is more reflective of that tolerance." He concluded, "I've
gone as far as I'm going to go on this subject." However, because of his
daughter, he has now been openly challenged to support "the struggle for
gay rights." At which point we set sail on a gray sea with no horizons.