There are many painful and absurd things about the persistence of bigotry and prejudice—particularly for those who endure their effects under the law and on the streets. They wonder why people hate them so much that they will attack them. They wonder why their legislators do not do more to represent and protect them. They wonder why there are still laws, and well-funded campaigns to keep those laws, set against them.
They also wonder why the media generally ignores such stories, especially around anti-LGBTQ legislation—like the bout of anti-trans lawmaking by Republican legislators across the country, who are determined to stop trans kids from playing sports and being able to access adequate health care.
It is the invisibility of these stories, the lack of LGBTQ voices speaking about them in the mainstream, and the lack of awareness the general population has about them, that really irks when a story like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY)’s sudden about-turn on LGBTQ rights flares into much-discussed life.
This is the kind of LGBTQ story—not really about LGBTQ people, but a straight person and all their issues—that the mainstream media is comfortable with, with the added cherry of family conflict resolution that ensures it gets discussed around The View’s “Hot Topics” table the next day.
On Sunday night’s 60 Minutes, Liz Cheney issued a mea culpa over her onetime opposition to same-sex marriage and the rift it caused with her married lesbian sister, Mary. Liz is now aligned the rest of her family, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has been pro-marriage equality for a number of years.
“I was wrong. I was wrong,” Liz Cheney told the program. “I love my sister very much. I love her family very much. And I was wrong. It’s a very personal issue, very personal for my family. I believe that my dad was right, and my sister and I have had that conversation… We have to recognize as human beings that we need to work against discrimination of all kinds in our country, in our state.”
Cheney said she had been at an event a few nights previously where a young woman had told her she did not feel safe sometimes because she was transgender. “Nobody should feel unsafe,” Liz Cheney said. “Freedom means freedom for everybody.”
If that is true, why has Cheney voted and campaigned against true LGBTQ equality—not just on same-sex marriage (Liz for many years made it clear she was a fan of the “traditional” kind), but also this February against the Equality Act, which would enshrine protections against discrimination for LGBTQ people on a federal level? The legislation passed the House because of the Democratic majority there, and will likely not pass in the Senate because of (at least currently) a fatal lack of Republican support.
The 60 Minutes interview somewhat missed the point. Focusing on the personal confession, it neglected to ask Cheney about its jarring contrast with her past political pronouncements. Instead of letting her serve up the easiest of soft apologies, 60 Minutes should have asked how her stated desire to “work against discrimination of all kinds in our country” squared with her opposition to legislation like the Equality Act. One cancels the other out. If Liz Cheney really believes what she told 60 Minutes, why do her voting record and past words tell a different story?
If her conversion to the principle of legislative equality is recent, then the very least she owes the LGBTQ community is to begin fighting vocally, and actively, for LGBTQ rights—and explain her change of heart. If she really means it, she should get to work immediately on changing minds in her own party that has consistently worked, and voted, to undermine LGBTQ civil rights.
Liz’s sister Mary, married to wife Heather Poe since 2012, is grateful at least. On Facebook, she wrote: “I love my sister very much and am so proud of her. It took a ton of courage to admit that she was wrong back in 2013 when she opposed marriage equality. That is something few politicians would ever do. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the strength of character she continues to show on a daily basis. We could certainly use a lot more leaders like Liz Cheney right now. And as her sister—I have one more thing that I just have to say. I told you so.”
Until now, Liz Cheney has used LGBTQ rights, and disavowed them and her sister, depending on which way the political wind was blowing.
In 2013, running for the senate—and running scared of conservative criticism she was too pro-LGBTQ—Liz Cheney told Fox News that she stood by opposing, in 2009, a constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage but supported the State Department giving benefits to same-sex partners.
She told Chris Wallace that she was opposed to “discrimination against people because of sexual orientation,” but “I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage.” Again, there was no follow-up from the presenter about how those two statements were in direct opposition to each other.
At the time, Mary said: “For the record, I love my sister. But she is dead wrong on the issue of marriage.”
Liz told Wallace: “Listen, I love Mary very much. I love her family very much. This is just an issue on which we disagree.”
But it is not just a casual issue; it is her sister’s sexual identity, and her commitment to her partner, that Liz Cheney denigrated in her quest for votes. Their parents also got involved, saying that “Liz has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage. She has also always treated her sister and her sister’s family with love and respect, exactly as she should have done. … Liz’s many kindnesses shouldn’t be used to distort her position.”
“Many kindnesses” is the strangest phrase in this word salad. The Cheneys have long tried to blur the personal and political on LGBTQ issues with an actively offensive politesse that seeks to both play to homophobic Republican voters, while also not overtly rejecting their gay family member.
But you can’t oppose discrimination, and then vote and doublespeak to uphold it. You can’t claim to love your LGBTQ family member, and also work to ensure they remain a second-class citizen, and then plead that you love them and you’re kind to them. It’s the creepiest kind of homophobia, coming as it does with the bookend vibe of a sweet smile and a “see you at Thanksgiving.” It shows an absolute lack of respect not just for your LGBTQ sibling, but for theirs—and others—civil rights.
If Liz Cheney has finally seen the light as she told 60 Minutes, great. Now, she needs to explain herself, her damning voting record, and what she plans to do next. Anything less than fighting for full LGBTQ equality will be just another opportunistic political, and personal, betrayal.