Christine O’Donnell Reminds Us That Gay Family Members Do Not a Homo-Friendly Politician Make

We’ve fastidiously avoided the Tea Party Delaware Senatorial Candidate Christine O’Donnell story because — well — it’s just so EASY. O’Donnell surprised the universe when she won the primaries for her state’s Senate seat last week, beating out incumbent Mike Castle. The chances of her actually being elected to the Senate are minimal, however — even Karl Rove called her “nutty”– and we can really only spend so many minutes of our lives making fun of far-right Christian Conservatives and their crazy ideas about evolution, homosexuals, abortion, sex, etc before we become a parody of ourselves, like those Dark Days of 2008 when we couldn’t manage to tear ourselves away from the latest news on Sarah Palin’s particular brand of astoundingly oblivious self-assured WRONGNESS.

Christine O’Donnell founded The Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth (SALT) in 1996 to organize young people against abortion, sex education and homosexuality! She blames AIDS patients for their acquisition of AIDS and doesn’t consider them ‘victims!’ OMG LOL she’s even against masturbation and says so in this HILARIOUS video from the ’90s! She might even be a virgin!! Can you believe it?  God we are SO RIGHT and SO SMART and she is SO WRONG about EVERYTHING! The thing is that Sarah Palin almost became our Vice President. Christine O’Donnell stands no such chance, so is all this attention anything more than a three-ring circus?

Although I’d sort of assumed, while distractedly scrolling past the latest Christine O’Donnell shock piece on my Google Reader, that she was probably secretly gay, since I think everyone who hates gays that much is probably secretly gay, it turns out that there’s another gay O’Donnell in the pasture — her sister. Jenni O’Donnell is an actress and spiritual healer who lives in WEST HOLLYWOOD WITH HER GIRLFRIEND, and her “likes” section on Facebook include both “the No H8 campaign” and “Christine O’Donnell for Senate” as well as “the word fuck” and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.. I know, right?

Our knee-jerk response to the outing of Jenni was, “oh obviously. And I bet she’s super supportive of her sister anyhow, predictably enough.” But really now — should we still be brushing this off as another symptom of the political disease? That it’s nationally accepted to not only vote against, but push forward legislation against the rights of your allegedly loved gay family members?

Because Jenni defends Christine’s views:

support of my sister,no matter what lies were made up about her…oh.. p.s. haave you heard the latest? she’s homophobic… gotta laugh

Therefore although, as aforementioned, this is really just another brick in the wall of “Christine O’Donnell is ridiculous and won’t get elected” stories, it does draw attention to a bigger issue:

What do Americans learn about how to treat their GLBT relatives from watching politicians fully willing to not only vote, but push forward legislation and ideologies which exclude the family members they allegedly care for? Are these really the “Family Values” our country ought to endorse?

To the extent that people are aware of someone like Christine O’Donnell’s politics and also their families, what does it mean to them? Do they recognize the enormous, yawning disconnect there, or does it confirm their conviction that they can persist in believing that gay people are intrinsically inferior and objectionable, and that any kind of relationship with any gay person will save them from “homophobia?” Does Dick Cheney set a bad example for your parents who think it’s okay to love you but vote against your rights?

Where’s our lesbian Megan McCain?

Let’s take a look at some of the most well-known gay family members and the families that birthed them.dotted-divider2

Dick Cheney (former Vice President of the United States)

Gay Family: Daughter, Mary Claire Cheney

During the 2000 Bush-Cheney Presidential Campaign, Mary’s private life was both well-known and totally not talked about, although this ‘open secret’ helped make the Cheney/Bush ticket seem more “compassionate conservative” than “totally emotionally void douchebag warmonger,” despite Cheney’s refusal to discuss the issue. When his wife was asked about it in an interview, she said Mary had said “no such thing.”

In 2002 Cheney said sexual orientation shouldn’t be a Republican issue, but by 2004 he was supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment, despite his apparent conviction that ‘states should decide’ which basically is the world’s Default Copout at this point, like ‘go ask your father.’

When she and her partner Heather had a baby in 2007, Cheney’s office said “The vice president and Mrs. Cheney are looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth grandchild.” So that’s good. They aren’t condemning the babies.
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Alan Keyes: American conservative political activist, former diplomat, perennial political candidate.

Gay Family: Daughter, Maya Keyes

Alan Keyes ran for President of the United States in 1996, 2000 and 2008 and was a Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in 1988, 1992 and 2004. He served in the U.S. Foreign Service, was appointed Ambaasador to the Economic and Social Council of the UN under President Ronald Reagan and served as Aisstant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs from 1985 to 1987.

Dad Says: Accepting homosexual marriage means that we’re creating a “marriage state” that in principle “excludes procreation and is based simply on the premise of selfish hedonism.” Gay sex is “mutual pleasure” that shouldn’t even count as “sexual relations.”

Daughter Says: Maya was kicked out of her house and cut off, leaving her unable to pay her college tuition at Brown, for which she eventually received a scholarship from The Point Foundation. Maya seems to have made her peace with the situation, and now identifies as a “liberal queer” and has spoken at gay rallies and events. Maya said she voted for Nader because “I’m really an anarachist but I felt this was an election that needed to be voted on.” (source)

Keyes has the dubious distinction of actually following through on his homophobic stance, which is even worse than maintaining a tenuous kind of 1984 doublethink about the situation — or is it?  I mean, at least he’s consistent.

Metroweekly says that:

Word from Alan Keyes is that Maya is an adult and will have to live with her choices. It’s a position that Maya says not only makes sense, but that she respects. While on the surface it may be hard to find common ground between father and daughter, their commitment to their ideals shows that the apple does not fall far from the tree.”
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Robert Mosbacher, Commerce Secretary, & GOP megafundraiser

Gay Family: Daughter Diane Mosbacher

Dad says: Robert Mosbacher was George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Commerce. He was generally accepting of his daughter despite their “differences.” “She’s my daughter and I love her. I am proud of her for what she is, and I hope she feels the same way about me.”

When Robert became Bush’s 1992 campaign manager, though, there was conflict. Diane was quoted as saying, “I would like my father to understand… I would like the Bushes to understand, that it’s neither expedient nor ethical what they’re doing.”
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Ruben Díaz Senior, New York Senator

Gay Family: Senator Diaz has two gay brothers.

Survey says: We hate this guy. He has made a career out of f*cking us over in the state of New York, and he’s made blocking the passage of gay marriage his personal crusade, and then he says stuff like this: “I’m not homophobic. I have a problem with gay marriage. I have no problem with gays.”

Meanwhile he wanted to block the Gay Games from being held in his city (b/c it spreads AIDS, duh!) and sued Harvey Milk High School for excluding heterosexuals. We went to one of his rallies one time!

And it doesn’t help when our people defend him, WE ARE LOOKING AT YOU, “GAY BEST FRIEND” CHRISTOPHER LYNN: “It’s a moral issue to Diaz. He’s not saying, ‘I castigate your lifestyle.’ He doesn’t say people who are opposed to him are sinners. He refuses to vote for something that he feels would imperil his soul.”

Nope! Not possible! That hypocrisy is not okay!

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Newt Gingrich, he Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999

Gay Family: Half-Sister Candace Gingrich. She works for the HRC as a Youth and Campus Outreach Manager, and she’s, uh, had a guest appearance on Friends?


Newt says: Nothing, ever, on the topic, as far as we can tell. What does she have to say?

ABC 4 News: “Who would you vote for between Romney and Gingrich?”

Candace Gingrich: “I’ve never voted for a Republican for president in my life.”

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In conclusion, Maya Keyes is a rockstar, and there should be more people like her. But also, what can we learn from looking at all these stories in succession, this little parade of all the rainbow colors of homophobia? It complicates the question that we so often ask ourselves of how so many people in power can possibly hate us this much – how can so many people in power hate us when their families are us, when they come home to us every night? It’s increasingly difficult to live in the US without knowing a gay person, even if you define “knowing” by “watching them present an Academy Award.” How do you continue to hate what you know? We’re asking you, Christine O’Donnell, but also everyone else. Also Ruben Diaz, but also our aunts and teachers and bosses. Really, how are you doing this? We’d really like to know. And why do so many gay family members present the message that love for their family exists regardless of their family looking out for their own well-being? It’s certainly better than no love at all, but I doubt that sets a good precedent to parents who might wish you could be a little bit more like Mary Cheney.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books as well as news and politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel currently lives in Michigan. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

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36 Comments

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    Great article.

    I’m not sure how surprised to be regarding so many homophobes-of-influence having queer siblings. After all, there is enough history of homophobes-of-influence being gay themselves.

    It feels disappointing, you find yourself immediately empathising with the family members. However, ultimately, isn’t the personal separate from the political? (apart from homosexy issues, which should be entirely personal, but these fools keep making political)

    Bad analogy time: if an outspoken, way-left-leaning liberal had a practising neo-nazi twin, would you expect them to sympathise with their twin’s lifestyle and spearhead a fascist Democrat group?

    I’d think you’d mainly wonder how fucked up their family Christmases would be, but the point is, despite the amount of political dynasties out there, the power-hungry don’t always make concessions for their family.

    So, with one hand I can wave with acknowledgement at these people sticking by their convictions, while the other hand is punching them in the throat for their bigotry.

    This website is becoming a really bad influence on me regarding hand-to-throat relationships.

    So, my main gripe is that queer equality remains a political issue only because the ignorant can’t let go of their own moral hang-ups about the law-abiding, private existence of some people that has absolutely no effect on their own lives.

    Remember when Judge Walker agreed that gay marriage would in no way undermine straight marriage? Can we beat the bigots round the head with some hardcopy of that? Gay people don’t undermine straight people, because WE ARE ALL THE SAME.

    I find myself increasingly compelled to research and write about hate and homophobia, because it just baffles me.

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      The personal and the political ARE intertwined in this country, at least in these times. Just ask the Clintons.

      And, ahem, a gay sibling versus a neo-nazi sibling?! Rainbows & equal rights versus bigotry & hate-mongering… po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

      Seriously though, I can completely understand how a politician would separate themselves from a family member when there is a difference in political/moral/ethical viewpoints. There is choice involved. What really irks me is when words and actions are inconsistent. Prime example being Senator Diaz. He doesn’t separate the personal from the political – he has attempted to explain his votes on gay marriage and he’s clearly driven by his personal relationship to God and Christianity. What he HAS (completely irrationally) separated from this personal and political life is his family, or more specifically those gay brothers. He makes mental exceptions for them – he just looks the other way and calls it “unconditional love”. Sounds like the makings of a crooked politician to me.

      I don’t know about all of you (and I may just be a demanding bitch) but I want the people who love me unconditionally to fight for me when my rights are at stake. And, sentiments aside, I expect my elected officials to LEAD. As Sally pointed out “we are all the same” and want access to the same basic legal rights; but unfortunately, as with any modern political issue, there are two sides. These politicians need to stop coasting on vague rhetoric, put those big-boy and big-girl pants on and get in the game. Don’t sit on the sidelines or be a cheerleader for my team if you can make a game-changing play. Whether people like it or not, gay marriage is the civil rights issue of this era – one that will define basic American politics and our constitution as a collective people.

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      I know what you mean. I keep reading and researching and looking and starting open mouthed trying to figure it out. Then I remember, you cannot understand crazy using logic. It’s impossible. You have to be crazy to understand crazy, and that’s not really a place I’m willing to go for people who think more of the scum on their shoes than they do of my rights as a human fucking being.

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    They can continue to do it because we let them! People like Jenni O’Donnell, if that quote from her fb page is true, do more to harm our rights than anyone else because not only do they signal to their powerful (maybe not applicable in this case) relatives, but they signal to other everyday people that this cognitive dissonance is somehow ok. They signal that gay people can accept that their families treat them like garbage but still love them anyway. We’ve got to stop letting our families and friends get away with this! Every time an anti-gay politician says, “I’ve got gay friends,” those gay friends have to come out in public and say, “You are no friend of mine that opposes my equal rights, period.” when Jenni O’Donnell gives her sister a pass on her homophobia, she gives every other person with a gay family member or friend a pass. Shameful.

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    The term “homophobe” is really a misnomer. Nobody really fears homosexuals. Some of us just believe it is immoral behavior. We don’t hate the sinners, just the sin.

    In fact, the term homophobe is really quite a dishonest term. And further, homosexuals do have precisely the same rights as heterosexuals.

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      I don’t know if it’s really that these gay family members are accepting their families’ behavior so much as they’re ignoring its significance. A kind of denial I guess. It’s probably just our innate human need to be accepted by our families that makes us bow out of the argument or defend people with damaging ideas. I understand it at the same time that I could never act that way. I’m also lucky enough to have a supportive family so really I guess I have no idea what I would do in that situation. I have an intense need to be accepted by people.

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        My parents love me but they also run a church (awkward much) and I know that I am ultimately a disappointment. There are definitely days when I want to scream at them and tell them that I’m fed up patiently holding their hands and that the nice little culture of shaming silence we have at home is slowly killing my spirit. But usually I just hug them instead and tell them I love them. Because I do. And I’m not really sure what the alternative would be.

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          I know what you mean. How do you deal with that in a way that doesn’t validate anti-homogay ideals, but hold on to your family – you know, the ones who’ve been there and raised you from birth that you’re kinda attached to at this point? Actually, some advice on this would be really nice even though I’m not even there yet.

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          I don’t know the answer to that really. I think first you wait for things to settle because I know it took me a while to accept that I’m gay and so realistically its going to take a while for my family too.

          And sometimes you need to know that the way your family feels can change an awful lot even if it starts off extremely negative. It’s a learning process. First they hear the word gay and look at you and think that those two words couldn’t possibly go together but just by being gay and being out you’re slowly educating them that those words do go together and that maybe the word gay doesn’t actually come with all the baggage they thought it did.

          And as they learn I gradually introduce more info. It’s gone from I’m gay to hey I’m off to Pride with my gay youth group and I’m giving a speech at this equality event. And there’s also been times of putting my foot down and saying hey stop leaving the cure for homosexuality books around the house its offensive and harmful and heres some research and BAM.

          So I think ultimately its a process and one that you do as respectfully and lovingly as possible. If its ever going to be effective in the sense that you grow as a family and yet you fully come out and let them know what that needs to mean then its going to take time.

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          Thanks for the insight. We have the religious family thing in common, so it’s nice to know things kinda worked out.

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          I’m certainly not saying that everyone should walk away from their families. That’s obviously not possible or a wanted solution. However, the alternative is to say, “I love you, but do not ever go out and tell people that I’m ok with you holding these feelings and beliefs about me, don’t bring me up in any way to support your position in an argument, don’t expect me to defend your beliefs about homosexuality in any way, shape, or form, and certainly DO NOT expect me to support your run for any office in which these anti-gay beliefs will play a part in your decision-making, like, for instance, U.S. Senate. I love you, but make no mistake, I hate your disrespect for me.”

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    You thought gay FAMILY MEMBERS do not a homo-friendly politician make? Heck, how about actually being gay? Even that doesn’t guarantee a homo-friendly politician. See, for example, Larry Craig, Roy Ashburn, David Dreier Mark Foley…

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      i actually think bigots who are actually gay are easier to understand than those with gay family members. i mean, obviously none of it makes an sense at all, but i think self-loathing can be really powerful and can make you do ANYTHING to divert attention from your own issues. i’ll never understand how anyone could hate their own child or sibling like that though. it confounds me.

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    ah This article… I still can’t fathom how families can be assholes to each other even though my family is a prime example. People can be such ass shats but whatever, #issues

    Yo rachel great word skillz

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    All I have to say is, “the personal is the political.”How can you separate how you feel personally from your political beliefs? Doesn’t your personal view point dictate your political view point?

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      Exactly, political and personal are so mixed up with each other it’s hard to know where one ends and th other begins. I can understand why some people have their religious/poltical/personal/scientific/insane beliefs and Try to change th world to what they think th best version of th world is, but when it comes to infringing other peoples rights that’s a step to far especially when it’s a family member or close friend.
      Recently in N.Ireland a native terrorist group (IRA) planted a bomb under a female police officers car while she was on her day offand takin her lil girl to town,lucky th bomb dropped off th car when she was leaving her home and was unable to cause any damage. The poltical represenatives (sinn féin) of th IRA refused to condemn th attack because obviously both want a united Ireland governed by Irish people, which fair enough is an admirable goal but bombin one officer isn’t gona make th Brits leave. But any way, th spokes person for Sinn féin is a relative of th police officer thar would have been killed had th device not fallen off th car!!! And yet he still refused to condemn th attack!!

      So thers mawd bastids everywhere, we jus needs stop th extra crazy ones from affecting what lives we live by their extreme actions!

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    I see a lot of parallels between this and religious beliefs as well. It would probably be a lot harder to get info but I bet you could do a similar article about religious leaders and their gay family members.

    It’s a very Prayers for Bobby thing to say but I think that really is the sad part about these sorts of families. No matter how much someone might hate homosexuality there’s probably young relative in the background listening who knows they’re gunna be pretty screwed when they come out in a few years.

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    I admit to compartmentalizing too much. It’s how I’ve learned to cope. You know, I don’t want going around crying all the time.Some people cope by just ignoring the ex-gay movement or dismissing it as some thing that’s not really real, but a fringe thing that no one really listens to. I compartmentalize.

    And that’s sort of been a problem when I talk to family members. I debate with them like it’s an issue, not about me personally. So, of course they don’t get it.

    My Mom was a Republican up until 2004. I think the only reason she changed is because I cried. It seemed to be tipping point after years and years of political debate, I just up and cried because of all those damn gay marriage bans. It was the only point where she really got that it actually hurt me. You’d think that should go without saying, but it doesn’t.

  9. Pingback: Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell takes aim at know-it-all big government

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    I’m a queer girl in a somewhat homophobic conservative family that has some measure of influence in our community – more business than politics, but still pretty influential.

    And really? No measure of my activism is going to change them. You get to the point where you realise that you can only do so much to change ingrained attitudes, but after a while you just have to let go. You love them because they’re family and they care for you, but not confront issues that never resolve well. It does mean not being able to talk to my mum when a girl has broken my heart, or not being able to trust that my dad won’t freak out if I had a girlfriend, but that’s the breaks.

    After a while you just have to live your own life.

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    Despite having a gay sister, Newt has actually said a LOT against LGBT rights over the years, including recently speaking out against marriage equality on his website: “Judge Walker’s ruling overturning Prop 8 is an outrageous disrespect for our Constitution and for the majority of people of the United States who believe marriage is the union of husband and wife.” http://www.newt.org/node/1425

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