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Michael Musto

HRC's Candace Gingrich—Newt's Lesbian Genderqueer Sis—on the Hideous Trump Ticket


Also: Larry Kramer: “We dance too much! We don’t fight enough"

Photo of Candace Gingrich courtesy of HRC/Photos of Donald Trump & Newt Gingrich by Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump had reportedly narrowed down his Vice Presidential choices to three homophobes--Newt Gingrich, Mike Pence, and Chris Christie--before settling on the rabidly antigay Pence, as the sensible world shook with fear. On the verge of this horror, I seized the occasion to talk to Candace Gingrich--Newt's (half-) sister, who's the openly lesbian Senior Manager of the Human Rights Campaign's Youth and Campus Outreach and an articulate breath of fresh air on LGBTQ matters. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has often been a toxic force--for one thing, he opposed same-sex marriage, saying it should be between a man and a woman, though in his case, it's been between a man and three women. (He's a two-time divorcee.) But Candace counteracts all that with elan. I chatted with her--and Jay Brown, HRC's communications director--for their take on politics in the age of Orlando, Donald Trump, and Pence. We spoke before the announcement, but I included an update.

Hello, Candace and Jay. Trump's short list of choices were all pretty icky, queer-wise.

Candace Gingrich: I don't think that it was going to effect Trump's status as being an anti queer, anti pretty much everything candidate. I don't think any of those three were going to soften his stance on things.

Jay Brown: I think the reality is he has a pretty bad playbook already. Some of them bring out a little of their own anti-LGBTQ history. Well, all of them. And Newt has a very long record of being against our community.

CG: It's a matter of bringing different plays into Trump's already anti LGBTQ playbook.

Well, he settled on the hateful Mike Pence. He's the Governor who signed legislation in Indiana saying that religious people can discriminate against queers.

CG: It makes Indiana a not appealing place for queer people to visit or live. Combine that with a President Trump, and it would make the entire country a not appealing place for LGBTQ people to live.

JB: We put out a release about Pence. He also opposed marriage equality, and voted against ENDA, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and the Matthew Shepard hate crimes prevention act, calling it a radical social agenda!

And runner-up Chris Christie? He was against same sex marriage, but he's done some good things, like banning conversion therapy and supporting anti bullying.

JB: He also vetoed a bill that would have made it easier for trans people to update their identity documents. I wouldn't call him any kind of strong leader on equality. With him on the ticket, it would still have been an anti-LGBT platform. When he was running for President, he was cozying up to our opponents. It's certainly a different record than the other two, but I wouldn't call him any kind of strong leader on equality. In addition to his attack on transgender people, he is with Trump on having committed to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn marriage equality.

Candace, Newt has occasionally done some good things, like defending free speech. Is he not a total horror, by any chance?

CG: I appreciated his words about white Americans not understanding what it's like to be black in America. I thought it was a really important thing to say, and I was glad he said it. At the same time, he still doesn't think I should be able to use the bathroom I'm most comfortable using. He still thinks same-sex marriage should not be a thing. He's still not a member of PFLAG, to my knowledge. [laughs]

Wouldn't he say you could use the women's room?

CG: As a genderqueer person, I might feel more comfortable using the men's room.

You used to identify as a lesbian. When did you start identifying as genderqueer?

CG: I'm still a lesbian, but I'm a genderqueer person. A lesbian-identified genderqueer.

Are you still married to Rebecca Jones?

CG: No, we got divorced a couple of years ago.

Is there anyone in your life?

CG: Yes, I've been dating somebody for a while now.

OK, back to politics. Trump has said all kinds of things about queer issues, which makes him extra slippery, no?

CG: He wants to roll back marriage equality; he's talked about appointing justices that would do that kind of thing. He thinks what Kim Davis did in Kentucky was OK, and people like her should be legally allowed to not issue marriage licenses. He basically endorsed HB2 when he was in North Carolina last week. I want to see all the great progress that's happened under the Obama administration continue, and Trump has already said he plans on undoing a lot of those policies, should he make his way into the White House. That's another big reason why I'll be fighting hard so he won't be occupying the White House.

Isn't it shocking that after Orlando, some Republicans were hand wringing about how awful it was, but then they went right back to promoting guns and anti-queer stuff?

CG: It's unconscionable, and I'll say it's disgusting, Michael, for them to, on the one-month anniversary of Orlando, have an anti LGBT hearing in Congress.

JB: Yes, a bill that would allow objections, like the right-to-discriminate bill in Indiana. But at the same time, we had members of Congress standing that same night with the President on the Capitol steps, holding the names of all the victims.

But the Republican platform this year has been described as the most anti-LGBT in history.

JB: The platform drafting process is so far right. An LGBTQ delegate has been trying desperately to get something positive into the platform. Yesterday, she tried to get something about Orlando in there and wondered, "Just trying to see if you can say anything positive at all." She's not had any success. The party platform has gone to such an extreme point that it makes you wonder how they can propose to be a big tent.

With all the progress we've made, they seem shockingly out of step with our culture.

CG: Yeah, looking at public opinion, the rise of support for marriage equality, workplace discrimination protection, and hate crimes laws...It's sticking their heads in the sand and not wanting to evolve. For a long time, their bread and butter has been anti LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation, and they're not willing to give up on that, no matter what century we happen to be in.

What is HRC's stance on gun control?

JB: We passed a resolution a few days after Orlando. Our board came together for a special emergency session in favor of common sense gun safety measures, and that includes background checks, a ban on military style assault weapons, and preventing guns to those on the terrorist list and who have a history of domestic violence. The individual that did that [the Orlando shooting] was motivated by anti LGBT hatred and also had easy access to a weapon.

Candace, tell me what your personal responsibilities are at HRC?

CG: I run our internship program, that has between 90 and 100 interns every year. And I do campus outreach. Part of it is attending regional conferences. We've put out a resource guide called The GenEQ Guide To Entering The Workforce. I started getting a lot of questions like, "Do I put on my resume that I was president of GSA in high school?" These people have been out most of their lives and are considering going back into the closet, because they don't know how to navigate that.

And you'd tell them...?

CG: Being the president of any campus organization teaches you leadership and gives you experience in delegating and managing projects, and in many instances it would be a plus to put something like that, but you should think about it all, not just put it on a whim.

Are you endorsing Hillary for president?

JB: Yes.

Well, I guess HRC has the same initials as Hillary Rodham Clinton. Thanks, you two!



Photo by JUCO

We remembered Orlando and fought for a change at "Raise Your Voice II," an inspiring benefit at Copacabana hosted by the Imperial Court of New York. Hosts Gary Cosgrove and Doris Dear brought out a succession of super performers, auction items, speakers, and a procession of Court members poignantly holding photos of those killed at Pulse. I had been asked to speak, and when I got there, I realized the other orators included heavyweights Edie Windsor and Larry Kramer! I kept my onstage remarks short and sweet, thank you.

The godfather of LGBT rights, Kramer, was as rabble rousing as ever, urging us not to get too complacent in the midst of so much challenge. "I don't think we're ever prepared enough," he told the crowd. "I think we have too good a time and we dance too much, and we don't fight enough. We have to be mobilized. We have to fight together. You can't sit home. You can't go dancing every week." ("Especially in Orlando," I thought, macabrely.) As for the upcoming election, Larry warned, "Whoever wins is still not going to be our complete friend. We think we are loved, and we're not. They'll do anything to get our votes."



Photo courtesy of The Public Theater

I didn't go dancing, but I did manage to see a show--Ryan Raftery's Watch What Happens Live on Stage! at Joe's Pub, starring the talented performer who previously plumbed the psyche of Vogue editrix Anna Wintour. This show's a winner too, fancifully digging into Cohen's Midwest upbringing, when he longed to find a guy he could love as much as he adored All My Children, then jumping into his adult life as a purveyor of ratings grabbing "enter-painment," full of drama both onscreen and off. Along the way, he develops a mad crush on rising star Anderson Cooper--this is pure fiction, mind you--and the two lives are contrasted; Anderson is sleek and connected, whereas Cohen has to sweat and manipulate at times, not being a Vanderbilt, after all. Along for the ride are three Real Housewives--Teresa Giudice (Emily McNamara), who puts her kids in the cupboard; boozy Kim Richards (Miranda Noelle Wilson), who doesn't want to be known as just Paris Hilton's aunt anymore; and NeNe Leakes (Romelda Teron Benjamin), who schemes to help Andy's love life by getting Anderson's boyfriend deported. The three women are fab--Benjamin is a powerhouse, as in the Anna Wintour show--and Wilson plays Anderson Cooper too, with a gray wig and a giggle. And Raftery is terrific, ripping into rewritten versions of pop and Broadway standards in between capturing Andy's voice modulations and arm gestures. I only think he should add a scene where he's hosting WWHL (which I was on and loved, by the way; Andy Cohen is a potent force in the culture, and this show is simply having fun with that). Anyway, back to fighting--hard.

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Michael Musto