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Issue Date:  September 3, 2004

From the Editor's Desk

Debunking stereotypes

His words have already been dumped into the political spin blender and subjected to understandable skepticism about his motivation. But I’ll give Vice President Dick Cheney the benefit of the doubt. I think the comments he made about his daughter, Mary, a lesbian, were the uncomplicated words of a parent who speaks from the benefit of knowing a child, gay or otherwise, as only a parent can.

By now you know that during an Aug. 24 stop in Iowa, Cheney spoke of his gay daughter, one of two daughters in whom he and his wife have “enormous pride.” He also repeated what he has said before -- that “freedom means freedom for everyone,” including the freedom to enter “into any kind of relationship they want to.”

For the second-in-command in an administration that wants a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and a leader in a party whose platform has a no-same-sex-marriage plank in it, his remarks could be construed as revolutionary. Or they could be seen as a way to reach out to moderates just prior to the convention.

I think Cheney’s comments, repetitions of what he has said in the past, are a sincere reflection of a father’s love for his daughter. They also exhibit the kind of understanding that comes from knowing someone who is different, whether that person be a member of a sexual or racial minority or simply someone from another culture.

When it comes to debunking stereotypes, there is no substitute for knowing someone personally.

I’ve recounted before in this space my experience speaking to parents who were staunchly anti-gay until a child “came out.” Then things change. I suspect the Cheneys are like countless others who know their children as intelligent, sensitive, loving, compassionate, gentle, talented and in so many other ways before they know them as gay. They know and understand them as humans, fully formed, both capable of and deserving of love and intimacy. We live in a time when homosexuals need no longer hide themselves away. Families no longer fear to speak about them or refuse to do so. It is that very human, ordinary experience -- knowing someone -- that will ultimately change our ideology, our politics and our theology.

~ ~ ~

Bart Jones, the Newsday reporter who went to Venezuela to report for NCR on the recall election of President Hugo Chávez, knows that country well. He lived there for eight years beginning in the early 1990s when he was a lay missioner for the Maryknoll Society. For a year and a half he lived in a barrio with people whose homes were shacks and mud huts. “It gave me a view of Venezuela most foreign correspondents don’t get,” he said.

It also gave him a perspective on the political scene that is glaringly missing from most accounts in the mainstream press.

Jones left the country in 2000 to take the job at Newsday, but has returned often and, on one of those visits, married Elba, whom he had met while living in Venezuela. They now have “a little Venezuelan-American” named Frank.

With Chávez back in power, Jones said, the big question is whether the opposition will accept the results. Another question is “Whether these ruling elites will begin to recognize poor people. Poor people have risen up and taken power in Venezuela. That’s the essential lesson of Chávez, whether he’s a good president or a bad president.”

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, September 3, 2004

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