Michele Bachmann’s Gay Sister Also Not A Fan of Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann’s hyper-public, vitriolic homophobia is, by now, old news. Infamous for saying that queerness leads to “enslavement,” “bondage” and “child abuse,” there is literally no line Bachmann won’t cross when it comes to describing her hatred and fear of the LGBTQ community. And that includes the lines of her own family, one of whom is a lesbian.

Helen LaFave, Bachmann’s lesbian stepsister, has only spoken briefly with a few journalists over the past few years, avoiding public confrontation. Unsurprisingly, Bachmann has not given LaFave the same courtesy, and has mentioned in speeches her sadness over having a gay person in her family, likening LaFave’s “lifestyle” to “Satan.”

via Urban Christian News

But as the referendum on same-sex marriage in Minnesota approaches, it’s LaFave’s turn to make headlines. In an interview with The New York Times published over the weekend, LaFave spoke candidly with Frank Bruni about her relationship with her stepsister, and the heartbreak Bachmann’s extremism has caused. Compelled by the rights that hang in the balance of the vote, LaFave felt it was time “to speak out for fairness for those of us who are being judged and told our lives and relationships are somehow less.”

In the interview, which is both painful and inspiring, LaFave talks about her relationship with her stepsister, and how Bachmann’s political career has been a betrayal to what LaFave had believed was a strong bond of sisterhood.

LaFave and Bachmann have been stepsisters for approximately forty years, not all of which were strained. When Bachmann’s mother married LaFave’s father, Bachmann was in college and LaFave was finishing high school. The two spent their summers together, and LaFave looked up to her new stepsister. As the years passed, they never stopped exchanging hugs and “I love yous” at family gatherings; Bachmann even grew to know Nia, LaFave’s partner of nearly twenty-five years. Though the sisters never had a conversation about LaFave’s sexuality, Bachmann’s evangelicalism wasn’t a secret — nonetheless, LaFave was shocked and horrified when “Michele began to use her position as a state senator in Minnesota to call out gays and lesbians as sick and evil and to push for an amendment to the Minnesota constitution that would prohibit same-sex marriage.” She told the New York Times, “It felt so divorced from having known me, from having known somebody who’s gay. I was just stunned.”

So on November 23, 2003, LaFave sent her stepsister a letter, and sent copies to other members of their family. She wrote, “You’ve taken aim at me. You’ve taken aim at my family.” She also wisely wrote, “Some people, you included, feel like you know the truth about my relationship. I think you also believe you know what God thinks of it.” Michele didn’t write back.

LaFave, who supports Obama, and several members of her family showed up to the 2006 Senate hearing in which Bachmann spoke about a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, though not because she wanted to make a scene. In perhaps the most moving part of the interview, LaFave told Bruni,

“I wasn’t looking to make a public statement… I just thought: I’m going to go there and sit there so she has to look at me. So she has to look at Nia. I wanted her to see: this is who you’re doing this to. It’s not some anonymous group of people. It’s not scary people. It’s me. It’s Nia.” She paused, because she’d begun to sob. “I just wanted her to see me,” she said, “because it just feels, through the whole thing, like she hasn’t.”

And that’s what is so upsetting about Bachmann. Even though to LaFave, it feels like she hasn’t been seen by her stepsister, based on Bachmann’s own words, it appears as though she does see her, but it doesn’t change her opinion. While many other people have had their opinions on gay rights swayed by loving a gay person, Bachmann doesn’t have that built-in moral compass. In her twisted mind, Bachmann’s homophobia translates into “sadness” when it comes to her stepsister. The fact that LaFave is in a loving, happy relationship is seen by Bachmann as the work of Satan. And so it would appear that other people’s happiness does not count for anything if it’s not on Bachmann’s terms.

I am moved and impressed by LaFave’s bravery in speaking out, and especially that she spoke out against the big sister she used to look up to. But I doubt her words were for her sister; after all, she’s already tried reasoning with her. Hopefully her words will reach those who actually have the capacity for empathy, and they will remember her story as they vote. It’s important that we continue to attach faces to our activism, and by publicly sharing the pain that Bachmann’s homophobia has caused her, LaFave has done just that.

Gabrielle used to be a contributing editor at Autostraddle. These days, she's the editorial director at NYLON, an international media company for millennial women, which obviously she tries to make as gay as possible. She lives in Brooklyn and her two favorite colors are black and blonde.

Gabrielle has written 96 articles for us.

21 Comments

  1. It scares me that people like Michelle Bachmann are not only completely impervious to facts, but also to the lives and feelings of people they supposedly care about. I mean, it’s one thing to misunderstand or not be able to relate to an experience that you’ve never been exposed to, but how can you look at your own sister’s happiness and call it Satanic?

  2. Then Michelle Bachmann is no different than Phyllis Schlaffley and her gay son. Some religious extremists DON’T have the capacity for empathy of their own family members and, as in Bachmann’s case, put their political agenda above their loved ones. And yet, there’s hope for Michelle Bachmann: she can lose in her bid for office. I have one uncle who cannot accept me (he’s Southern Baptists), and yet his sister (also Southern Baptist) can. My aunt and her husband even stay with my partner of 21 years and I when they come visit. What a difference a discerning empathetic heart can make.

  3. Michelle Bachmann strikes me as a deeply disturbed person. I honestly do not believe it’s possible to be in your right mind and say the things she’s said about LGBT folks, let alone her LGBT family members that she’s known for 40 years, at the drop of a hat. Her furious hatred is incredibly chilling and I can’t imagine what it feels like to her step-sister.

    Cheers to Helen LaFave & her partner for their bravery & graciousness in light of Bachmann’s continued unhinged vitriol.

  4. Michele Bachmann gives off such a strange impression, especially given her background in this article (http://www.autostraddle.com/michele-bachmann-is-the-bellatrix-lestrange-of-the-gop-presidential-candidates-98459/).

    This may strike some as too far a comparison, but her profile seems to me a lot like Magda Goebbels’, minus the tactical intelligence: an diverse, rather lax background with separated parents, young marriage and an estrangement from a part of the family deemed unacceptable, political ambition supported by great good looks, and complete fanatism.

  5. My heart goes out to Helen! It’s so hard when your family doesn’t support you…I can’t imagine having to do so in such a public light. Bachmann is blind and cruel to say these things.

  6. I don’t find it that surprising that Michelle would look at her stepsister’s happy relationship and feel pained by it. I’m pretty convinced that she’s been living as marcus’ beard for the past however many years, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if that turned out to be a mutual arrangement. How dare her sister find happiness in something she’s never allowed herself to have?

  7. It’s kind of terrifying that a person can lack in empathy so completely – to condemn the LGBTQ community so fervently as some strange, alien thing that’s adverse to nature with the knowledge that her own family is part of such a community. To completely denounce the rights of people on the basis of their sexual orientation. That’s quite terrifying.

    • This, exactly. I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around the behaviors of people like Bachmann until I realized that some people really do lack empathy. I don’t understand how people can say they worship a loving god and then turn around and be so hateful – breaks my heart.

      I’m so thankful for and inspired by LaFave’s strength and grace.

  8. I don’t live in America. I know that Bachmann is somehow related to politics? I’m scared to google it, I really am, because if google tells me she actually IS a politician and people actually support her, I might lose faith in that country that I love for inventing Grey’s Anatomy and the Indigo Girls (and some other things, too). So because I love that part of you, United States, I won’t google.

    • She’s a member of Congress from the state of Minnesota, one of eight for the state, one of 535 for the entire country. (She’s been re-elected several times. My Minnesota friends think that there’s something wrong with the drinking water in her part of the state.) Bachmann and her flamboyant husband also run a “conversion therapy” clinic that basically tries to break people of being GLBT.

      • Oh, thanks. It’s scary. Just to think there are people like her out there somewhere is scary. It’s hard to believe she actually thinks she is right in hurtig so many people. My heart goes out to her stepsister. Also it’s incredible how calm she stays (wish Michele would stay half as calm).

  9. I love this part –

    “I wasn’t looking to make a public statement… I just thought: I’m going to go there and sit there so she has to look at me. So she has to look at Nia. I wanted her to see: this is who you’re doing this to. It’s not some anonymous group of people. It’s not scary people. It’s me. It’s Nia.” She paused, because she’d begun to sob. “I just wanted her to see me”

    … That cut me right to the heart, I love this lady. I’m glad she spoke out and showed the truth about how much love we all have to give.

  10. Pingback: Das war die phenomenelle Woche 42/2012 – ein lesbischer Rückblick

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