February 15, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Winston Churchill famously said, "The real traditions of the British Navy are rum, buggery and the lash." The same was apparently true for the Army as well.
The most remarkable part of John Crawford's story isn't the 70-year-old's ongoing legal responsibility to report to potential employers his 1959 conviction for "buggery" (a.k.a. sodomy) or even the many jobs he lost and humiliation he endured for admitting to consensual sex as a 19-year-old with his 22-year-old boyfriend.
It's the "enhanced interrogation tactics" the British military and civilian police used to extract the young soldier's confession:
His ordeal began after being posted to Aldershot barracks in Hampshire for military service.
When a gay friend at the barracks went absent without leave, military police turned their attention to Crawford. "They obviously knew he was gay, but they hadn't got anything on him – other than being camp. But they had got me. And if I knew him, then I must be one as well."
Crawford was held in a cell for three weeks, during which he was deprived of sleep by being forced to sit on a chair at night. "They badgered me and badgered me to admit I was a 'fucking queer', and I wouldn't." Then they decided to call in the civilian police.
These officers, he said, started a daily beating that involved wrapping him in blankets while was kicked and punched on the floor. He said he was then placed in a yard each day. Overlooking the yard, he recalled, there was a grassy embankment where hundreds of cadets would sit twice a day to drink tea.
"Can you imagine in the 50s? Oh look there's the 'fucking queer'. I had this from hundreds of people twice a day. I had to sit in this yard. I couldn't go anywhere."
Finally he relented to the pressure and confessed to being gay. Under duress, he told them about Derek, his 22-year-old partner who, months later, found himself with Crawford in the dock at Winchester crown court where both were convicted.
How ironic that all these years later, a leading American conservative like Dick Cheney could throw his support behind allowing gays to serve openly in the military, while in the same interview endorse yet again the same sort of torture that Crawford's tormenters used to beat his confession out of him more than a half-century ago.
June 03, 2009
Posted by: Chris
It was a bit of a head-turner this week when Dick Cheney, the former vice president and conservative attack dog, took time out from his blistering critique of Barack Obama to disagree with the president from the left on the issue of same-sex marriage.
“I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish — any kind of arrangement they wish,” Cheney said during a question-and-answer session that followed his harsh assessment of how the current occupant of the White House is handling the economy and national security.
“The question of whether or not there ought to be a federal statute to protect this, I don’t support. I do believe that historically the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level. … But I don’t have any problem with that. People ought to get a shot at that,” he added.
Instant analysis from the blogosphere took pleasure in the obvious irony that such an iconic figure from the Republican right now appeared better on the issue than the Democratic president who despite opposing marriage equality has promised to be a “fierce advocate” for gay rights.
Not so fast. Careful observers like Denis Dison, who blogs for the Victory Fund at GayPolitics.com, noted that Cheney stopped just short of saying he actually supports marriage for gays, referring as he has in the past to gay couples entering into “any kind of union they wish.” We are dealing here, after all, with a politician who knows how to parse his words, re-branding waterboarding and other forms of torture as “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
More concretely, Cheney’s opposition to “a federal statute to protect this,” while also vague, could either be referring to a law banning states from marrying gays or a law that extends marriage rights nationwide.
In that sense, Obama still comes up better than Cheney on marriage friendliness, since the president supports full repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the heinous federal statute that allows states to ignore same-sex marriages elsewhere, as well as blocking federal recognition.
A “federal statute” repealing DOMA could decide things nationwide as a practical matter, since even couples in states that ban gay marriage would be able to travel to places like Massachusetts or Iowa, get married, and demand legal recognition back home.
Even if Obama remains better on paper, it is certainly fair to complain that he’s done nothing concrete thus far toward ridding us of DOMA — much less been a “fierce advocate.” Then again, no Democrat in Congress has introduced repeal legislation either.
All in all, Dick Cheney’s supportive comments tell us less about the president than they do about gay marriage as an issue and how a personal connection can be so critical in winning over even hardened hearts and minds.
As we all know, the former veep’s younger daughter Mary is gay, and she and her long-time partner have a young son. By all accounts father and daughter are very close, personally and politically; so much so that Mary managed her father’s re-election campaign in 2004. From that close-in vantage point, Dick Cheney understands full well that her desire to marry — or “union”-ize — is a basic human need that poses no threat to the “traditional family.”
A Gallup poll out last week confirmed the importance of that personal touch. Among Americans who said they don’t know personally know anyone who is gay or lesbian, opposition to same-sex marriage runs almost three to one. Among those with who do, slightly more support marriage equality than oppose it.
Marriage isn’t the only hot-button controversy impacted this way. Nancy Reagan became such a "fierce advocate" for stem cell research, parting ways with the religious conservatives who are her husband’s greatest admirers, because she saw firsthand the devastating effect of Alzheimer’s.
There is a word to describe this ability to look beyond politics and even religious teachings to see how an abstract issue has real impact in real lives, whether among loved ones or strangers. It’s called empathy.
It’s the quality that President Obama said he was looking for in a Supreme Court nominee, and it’s the reason Sonia Sotomayor may well be right that, on average, “a wise old Latina” ought to make a better judge than “a wise old white man.”
It’s the reason your's truly is no longer the conservative Republican I once was, because seeing bigotry and grossly unequal treatment up close has given me greater empathy than I had before for the struggles of others.
And it’s empathy that will ultimately be responsible for President Obama eventually finding the political courage to lend his support for full marriage equality.
January 06, 2008
Posted by: Chris
Four years ago Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman used gay marriage as a wedge issue some say was decisive in key states like Ohio, giving George Bush a second term. History may repeat itself, but this time around it may cut the other way, too:
Mitt Romney says he won't win his home state in November if he is the Republican nominee for president. Asked Thursday in a radio interview if he would prevail in Massachusetts in a match-up with Senator Clinton, … Mr. Romney told Sean Hannity that natives of the Bay State and some other liberal states would never go for a candidate like him.
"They vehemently disagree with the fact that I'm pro life. They disagree with the fact that I'm opposed to same sex marriage. Those two issues for many people in some states overwhelm who can build our economy better, who understands our foreign policy better, who understands how to strengthen America for our future."
Whatever happened to the claim that judges imposed gay marriage on Massachusetts? I guess Mitt Romney is flip-flopping on that one, too.
May 24, 2007
Posted by: Chris
From loony legislators to bitchy queen congessmen to just plain bitchy queens. A longtime reader passes along this juicy dish from today's Washington Post, on how a public relations event cum fund-raiser in Georgetown devolved into bitch slaps delivered by angry neighbors. And yes, dear reader, all involved were gay. From today's Reliable Source, "This Soiree Became a Real Hair-Puller":
Eyebrow groomer to the stars Erwin Gomez [on the right] and partner James Packard-Gomez invited 125 people to a lymphoma/leukemia benefit at their new salon on Wisconsin Avenue. The big draw was singer Julia Nixon, who agreed to perform three sets on a stage erected in the salon's back garden. The party had just gotten started when a neighbor, former [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] member Gunnar Halley, came in to complain about noise.
Eventually, according to Gomez, glass rocks and bricks were thrown over the fence from Halley's yard, landing on frantic partygoers.
"We were all freaking out," he said, and so he climbed over the fence into his neighbor's back yard -- and, he says, was beaten up by Halley and partner Dale O'Quinn. He scrambled back over the fence and called the police, but a second fistfight occurred when he went around the block to stand in front of his neighbor's house. Packard-Gomez was sent to the emergency room; Halley, O'Quinn and David Rahnemoon (a friend of Gomez's) were arrested for simple assault and spent the night in jail.
Halley made the best of things in his Post interview, denying throwing objects over the fence and claiming it was all one big misunderstanding.
The White House released a photo of little Samuel David Cheney swaddled in the arms of his grandma, social conservative Lynne Cheney, seated next to a beaming grandpa, the vice president. Perhaps he's hoping wistfully that his fiercely loyal daughter's burgeoning prodigy might help prop up his sagging popularity ratings.
UPDATE: I've received an email from James Packard-Gomez in response to the first half of this post. He writes:
Cute article/blog you wrote but a bit trashy wording. But i believe facts and 100+ witnesses and all (5) the video camera's rolling and 4 photographers shooting during the performance will speak volumes to a jury. Washingtonian's who graciously opened their wallets in an effort to raise funds for cancer and were put in grave danger that is not a laughing matter. You need to mention that the event raised over $25,000 for charity towards a cure for cancer. In 2 hours. 100% went to charity unlike most charity events. That is a very important fact. You missed!!!!! Thanks
Always happy to offer up space for "the rest of the story." Of course, only those present know the degree to which tempers (and attitudes) flared betwixt the parties before the punches flew.
We can all agree, I think, that violence is never justified except in self-defense, and even Halley's version of events wouldn't excuse sending James to the hospital with a black eye, cuts and bruises and (lawsuit anyone?) a ruined $4,000 D&G suit. (Too bad some of that $4,000 didn't go toward curing cancer, eh?)
Here's wishing James well in his recovery.
February 26, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Mary Cheney's announcement in December that she is pregnant with a child she will raise with long-time partner Heather Poe drew some predictably mean reaction from some predictable sources. The good Rev. Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, for example, didn't miss the opportunity to focus on the father.
"The two most loving women in the world cannot provide a daddy for a little boy," said Dobson, "any more than the two most loving men can be complete role models for a little girl."
But just as Mary Cheney can bring out the surprisingly tolerant side of her grumpy conservative dad, her decision to start a family has brought out the surprisingly intolerant side of some usually friendly liberals. None more so than Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., who wrote this month that he agrees with Daddy Dobson to disagree with Mary and Heather.
"Fathers matter," wrote Pitts, "something we seem to have forgotten, so busy are we pretending that women and men are interchangeable. My problem with Cheney and Poe is the same problem I'd have with a heterosexual single mom who decided to make herself a baby without benefit of a man in her life. It seems part and parcel of the diminution of fatherhood."
Pitts seemed genuinely surprised when he was flooded with angry reaction from lesbian and gay readers and even penned a second column defending his disapproval. Pitts, who is African American, insisted his objections were pro-dad and not anti-gay, and he's backed up by a long history of sometimes moving support for gay rights and acceptance of gay people within black culture.
But that same background has made him sensitive to our "toxic slide" into "a fatherless society," where "the male parent is considered optional, irrelevant or interchangeable." Like Dobson, Pitts cites a familiar wealth of social science research for the proposition that a child raised without a biological father is more likely to "live in poverty, do poorly in school, drop out altogether, become a teen parent, exhibit behavioral problems, smoke, drink, use drugs, or wind up in jail."
That's where Pitts gets into trouble. It's one thing to list the problems faced by children raised by single mothers, but it's quite another to say the missing father is the reason for that parade of horribles. And even if an absent dad is a factor, it's an even bigger leap to conclude that a two-parent household of the same gender, whether two moms or two dads, would produce children who face the same maladies.
In fact, all the peer-tested social science data out there suggests that children raised by gay parents are at least as well adjusted and happy as those raised by two parents of the opposite gender. Does that mean dads don't matter? Or, if two gay dads can raise happy, healthy kids, that moms aren't important? Of course not.
Gay parents face their own unique set of challenges, just as every different sort of parent does, not the least of which is disapproval from the likes of Dobson. I was lucky enough to be raised by my mother and father together in a loving, supportive, middle-class family. But that still left us all ill-equipped to deal with my homosexuality, and it remains a huge barrier in my relationship with each of them.
The reality is that missing fathers are one significant piece in a much larger and more complicated puzzle: the decline in households with parents who are interested and financially able to become invested and involved in the lives of their children.
There are economic and cultural reasons for that phenomenon, and even the loss of "traditional values" no doubt plays a role. But the problem can be found almost entirely in heterosexual households, not gay ones.
And the daddy decline has absolutely nothing to do with happy lesbian couples like Mary Cheney and Heather Poe, who can financially afford the difficult proposition of having babies. These are the opposite of "accidental parents"; to the contrary, they are more prepared than most.
Of course, addressing the cultural and economic changes that undermined two-parent, heterosexual-led households is much more difficult and time-consuming than simply blaming gay parents. It is truly depressing to think about the time, energy and resources wasted making life more difficult for gay parents and their children, when it could have been spent addressing the real problems facing families.
But Focus on the Family wouldn't be the media empire it is today if Daddy Dobson was pointing the finger back at his red-state constituents, even though the divorce rate there is much higher than in Massachusetts, the only state where gay couples can marry.
It's still a real shame to see Pitts, who is scheduled to receive an award from Parents Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays, take the same twisted leap of faith.
More and more, we are witnessing how concern over the decline of traditional mom-and-pop families has morphed into opposition not just to gay parents, but to gay marriage as well. The state supreme courts in New York and Washington both cited the need for a mother and a father as the main justification for laws that limit marriage to straight couples.
Let's hope as the world learns more about gay couples, like Mary and Heather, and like Melissa Etheridge and Tammy Lynn Michaels — showcased for the billions watching the Oscars this week — they'll focus their attention back on the real problems facing families today.
February 02, 2007
Posted by: Chris
When it comes to being gay, Mary Cheney is a tramp. Not because she sleeps around, of course, but because when it comes to her whether sexual orientation is public or private, she doesn't just want to have it both ways, she wants to have it every way.
When it suits her interests, usually financial, her sexual orientation is public and a subject of pride. When it doesn't suit her interest, usually political, being gay is a private matter and she and her family feign offense that it's a fit subject of conversation.
Long before her father was elected vice president, Mary took a job at Coors Brewing Co., a brewery owned by an anti-gay family, to do outreach to gay and lesbian consumers. Then, during the 2000 presidential campaign, her mother Lynne Cheney outright denied Mary was a lesbian and took offense when Cokie Roberts raised the question on ABC's "This Week."
Through a term and a half of gay-baiting Bush administration policy, including an unconscionable push for a federal marriage amendment, Mary stayed silent, deeming the subject off limits. In fact, she famously uttered an expletive when John Kerry and John Edwards referenced her during the 2004 debates.
Only a year or so later, when Mary stood to make a buck on a memoir, her sexual orientation was again relevant, though she only put out as little as necessary to collect her paycheck. Now that the book tour is done and she's again off the dole, her sexual orientation and pregnancy are again off limits, even if under attack by her father's political allies.
So, even though she was selected no doubt primarily for her sexual orientation to participate in a Barnard College panel discussion, Mary took offense that her pregnancy had been a matter of public discussion. From a New York Times account:
"When Heather and I decided to have a baby, I knew it wasn’t going to be the most popular decision," Ms. Cheney said, referring to her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe. She then gestured to her middle — any bulge disguised by a boxy jacket — and asserted: "This is a baby. This is a blessing from God. It is not a political statement. It is not a prop to be used in a debate, on either side of a political issue. It is my child."
Let's get this straight, so to speak. Her relationship can be a prop to sell books, but her pregnancy can't be a prop for politics.
Not surprisingly, she defended her father's defensive reaction when CNN's Wolf Blitzer fawningly asked about the pregnancy as well. "He was trying to get a rise out of my father," Mary told a New York Times reporter. If that's the case, he clearly succeeded, since the vice president angrily dismissed the question as "over the line."
Blitzer certainly didn't come across as "trying to get a rise" out of the vice president. In fact, the only thing "over the line" was Blitzer's schmaltzy insistence at the time that he meant no offense by the question, "We like your daughters," he said. (Who's "we," anyway? CNN? Time-Warner? Americans generally?) "Believe me," Wolf went on, "I'm very, very sympathetic to Liz and to Mary. I like them both," he said, referring to Cheney's other daughter, whose family is trotted out regularly to GOP events. Would that every hardball question were thrown so softly.
My good friend and former Window Media colleague Steve Koval minced no words in labeling Mary a "gay apologist" for her father and the GOP. "You don't work to elect an anti-gay administration that uses same-sex marriage as a wedge issue to ensure victory, and then get to complain about how having a baby with your same-sex partner is somehow not a legitimate subject."
In my view, you don't even need to go that far because that formulation can take you down a very slippery slope. Having used her sexual orientation to make money on more than one occasion, and having joined the debate over gay rights in her book, Mary Cheney has no right to expect that she gets to pick and choose when she'll be asked the question. Neither do her parents.
January 25, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Vice President Dick Cheney was incredibly defensive on a whole range of topics in an interview yesterday with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. On Iraq, he made all of Bush's bipartisan talk look like the hogwash it no doubt is and refused to acknowledge the quagmire the country is in to due in large part to his own zealotry about Saddam Hussein.
Even on a lighter topic, like his daughter Mary's pregnancy, Cheney was so gruff and defensive as to be a caricature of himself. From a WaPo transcript of the exchange:
Your daughter Mary, she's pregnant. All of us are happy. She's going to have a baby. You're going to have another grandchild. Some of the — some critics, though, are suggesting, for example, a statement from someone representing Focus on the Family:
"Mary Cheney's pregnancy raises the question of what's best for children. Just because it's possible to conceive a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father, doesn't mean it's best for the child."
Do you want to respond to that?
CHENEY: No, I don't.
BLITZER: She's obviously a good daughter —
CHENEY: I'm delighted — I'm delighted I'm about to have a sixth grandchild, Wolf, and obviously think the world of both of my daughters and all of my grandchildren. And I think, frankly, you're out of line with that question.
BLITZER: I think all of us appreciate —
CHENEY: I think you're out of — I think you're out of line with that question.
BLITZER: — your daughter. We like your daughters. Believe me, I'm very, very sympathetic to Liz and to Mary. I like them both. That was just a question that's come up and it's a responsible, fair question.
CHENEY: I just fundamentally disagree with your perspective.
BLITZER: I want to congratulate you on having another grandchild.
Cheney is so defensive you would think Mary Cheney were the equivalent of Chelsea Clinton, away at college, uninvolved in politics and her privacy violated. But Mary Cheney has never been Chelsea Clinton. She worked on her father's campaign to be vice president and ran his re-election effort. She wrote a book about how her private life as a lesbian intersected with the views of her father and her father's boss on gay marriage and gay rights.
Blitzer's question didn't even go there, although it would have been fair game to do so. He focused instead on even stronger grounds: asking the vice president about conservative attacks on Mary for living her life.
But as with Vietnam, Dick Cheney ducked the fight. Let someone else defend his daughter and her civil rights. Just like he's willing to let other Americans fight and die for a cause that only he and a small minority of Americans believe is still worth fighting.
December 16, 2006
Posted by: Chris
President Bush narrowly avoided getting "Keye'd" this week when People magazine asked him about news that Mary Cheney, the vice president's daughter, his expecting a baby along with her partner Heather Poe. In a 2005 interview with the New York Times, the president said, "I believe children can receive love from gay couples, but the ideal is — and studies have shown that the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman."
Asked by People about whether the news from Cheney, who managed her father's re-election campaign in 2004, had changed that view, Bush sidestepped. "Mary Cheney is going to make a fine mom, and she's going to love this child a lot," he said, according to a transcript of the interview. "And I'm happy for her."
The mere fact of Cheney's 15-year relationship with Poe has wreacked havoc on social conservatives for years now, because their abstract rhetoric about gay people takes on an especially harsh tone when applied to a living, breathing gay person — especially one with whom they have such close ties.
Just ask Allen Keyes, the erstwhile GOP presidential candidate who jumped in the 2004 Illinois Senate race against Democrat Barack Obama. In an interview during the Republican National Convention that year with Sirius OutQ, Keyes called homosexuality a form of "selfish hedonism." Asked whether that meant Mary Cheney is a "selfish hedonist," Keyes fatally failed to sidestep. "Of course she is," he replied. "That goes by definition. Of course she is."
In the ensuing media furor about calling the veep's daughter such a name, Keyes only stepped deeper into the doo-doo, telling the Chicago Tribune that if his own daughter were a lesbian, he would tell her that she was sinning and should pray. That came across harsh even in the abstract, but made Keyes look even more heartless a few months later, when his "own daughter," Maya Marcel-Keyes, came out publicly — at a Valentine's Day rally for Equality Maryland, a gay rights group.
Of course, Keyes gets integrity points for at least being consistent in applying his abstract views to even his own flesh and blood. But the larger point about self-righteous divisiveness isn't lost on many people in the "mushy middle" on gay rights, even when someone like George W. tries to distances himself from his own rhetoric.
December 07, 2006
Posted by: Chris
A clever take from the Washington Post cartoonist on hypocrisy in the Cheney household, and the GOP "big tent."
(Hat tip: Citizen Reader Tim C.)
December 06, 2006
Posted by: Chris
Mary Cheney, the vice president's lesbian daughter, has announced she is pregnant and expecting in last Spring, the Washington Post's "Reliable Source" reports today:
It's a baby boom for grandparents Dick and Lynne Cheney: Their older daughter, Elizabeth, went on leave as deputy assistant secretary of state before having her fifth child in July. "The vice president and Mrs. Cheney are looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth grandchild," spokesman Lea Anne McBride said last night.
Cheney, 37, was a key aide to her father during the 2004 reelection campaign and now is vice president for consumer advocacy at AOL. Poe, 45, a former park ranger, is renovating their Great Falls home.
News of the pregnancy will undoubtedly reignite the debate about gay marriage. During the campaign, Mary Cheney was criticized by gay activists for not being more publicly supportive of same-sex marriage. Her father said people "ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to" but deferred to the president's policy supporting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. Cheney herself called the proposed amendment "a gross affront to gays and lesbians everywhere" in her book, "Now It's My Turn: A Daughter's Chronicle of Political Life," which was published in May.
Cheney has described her relationship with Poe -- whom she took to last year's White House dinner honoring Prince Charles and Camilla -- as a marriage. The two met in 1988 while playing ice hockey and began dating four years later. They moved from Colorado to Virginia a year ago to be closer to Cheney's family. In an interview with the Post six months ago, when asked if she and Poe wanted children, Cheney said that was a "conversation I think I should have with Heather first."
In November, Virginia voters passed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions; state law is unclear on whether Poe could have full legal rights as a parent of Cheney's child. The circumstances of the pregnancy will remain private, said the source close to the couple. This is the first child for both.
As frustrating as Cheney's reticence to speak out on gay rights has been, she makes a pretty powerful case for tolerance just by living her life as part of a very public family with conservative Republican credentials that are unquestioned. Mary Cheney's family has embraced her partner, their relationship and now the idea of a child being born and raised by them — all without jettisoning their conservative Republican world view, or being jettisoned by other conservative Republicans.
They love their daughter, and they accept her for who she is and want to be a part of her life. Most members of my own conservative Republican family have never gotten that far, refusing to meet or even talk to anyone they consider part of my "gay life," including an ex I was with for eight years. Faced with the prospect that my partner and I might have children, I was told, "I would hope a judge somewhere would prevent that."
So while we shake our heads at all that Mary could have accomplished if she'd been a little more aggressive defending her family within the Republican Party, let's be thankful for the example she and the Cheneys are setting for other conservatives.