Is Mary Cheney the best thing to happen to the LGBT-rights movement since Stonewall? The LA Chronicle reported last week that at least two LGBT-rights measures are expected to win approval in Congress this year: a hate-crimes bill that covers anti-LGBT crimes, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Chronicle credits the Democratic control of Congress as the reason these bills may pass the legislature. Whether President Bush will approve or veto them is another matter. But wait . . . whose picture adorns the top of the article? It’s Mary Cheney. One ultra-conservative leader, the Chronicle reports, is “worried that Bush would not veto the bills, perhaps as a gesture of respect for Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Vice President Cheney.” The article never explores whether she had any personal involvement with the measure, however.
Mary, or at least the, um, conception of Mary, was hard at work on another matter last week as well. The firm her father lead for five years, Halliburton, amended its corporate governance policies to protect LGBT employees from harassment or discrimination. The New York Blade reports that the change was prompted by a shareholder resolution from Trillium Asset Management Corporation. Shareholders would have voted on the measure this spring, but the company decided to change its policies without a vote, despite having fought the same measure last year. “Whether the policy shift this year was affected by the highly publicized pregnancy of Mary Cheney was not evident,” says the Blade. That’s clearly the implication, though, with a photo of Mary and Dad at the top of the page, and a leading paragraph that notes “If Mary Cheney were to follow in her father’s footsteps and become CEO of Halliburton today, she could no longer be fired because her life partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, is a woman.”
My first reaction to all this is to be peeved. Mary has hardly been a shining light in the LGBT-rights movement. Why should she now get credit?
My second thought is that despite her lackluster record, she may in fact be the kind of bridge we need to win over more people in support of our cause. The fact is that we’re not going to gain equality by turning everyone into liberals (much as I might like that). We’re going to win equality by convincing centrists and conservatives (though perhaps not ultra-conservatives) to join liberals in supporting our rights.
My third thought is that it’s unfortunate we have to rely on Mary Cheney, with her weak record as an activist, to be the face of LGBT America. She is, however, one of the few LGBT Americans with national recognition whom the mainstream won’t dismiss out of hand by virtue of being an entertainer, subject to that industry’s tendencies toward liberalism and general eccentricity.
She’s also a parent-to-be, and parenthood matters. Mary was an out lesbian for some time, but it was her pregnancy that catapulted her into the spotlight. There’s a reason politicians kiss babies—for most people, children have an emotional impact greater than almost anything else.
This leaves Mary in the headlines as an LGBT American, a parent (soon), not dismissible as a knee-jerk liberal, and connected to the corridors of power. It’s no wonder she’s being ascribed an influence that may or may not be true, and may or may not be because of any conscious action on her part. Whatever we may think of her personal qualities, she’s become a public symbol of the LGBT movement. The LGBT community is mad at Mary for not having been vocal about LGBT rights, and for backing the campaign of a man who is against them. We should be. But her mere existence seems to be having an effect, or at least a perceived one. Imagine what could happen if she really applied herself.