Gingrich's lesbian kin speaks out

March 06, 1995|By Cox News Service

WASHINGTON -- Candace Gingrich talked to reporters yesterday about two things she has never directly told her half-brother, House Speaker Newt Gingrich:

She is a lesbian, and his statements on homosexuality are "hurtful."

Today, Candace Gingrich plans to lobby in the halls of Congress, joining the gay rights movement as a new national spokeswoman. She'll speak to members of the congressional delegation from Pennsylvania, her home state, but she's not sure she'll see Mr. Gingrich.

Yesterday, she was a star at an annual conference of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a political organization for gays and lesbians.

In a string of interviews, the 28-year-old woman from Harrisburg, Pa., talked about her sexual orientation, her relationship with Mr. Gingrich and her role in urging the new Republican congressional majority to do more than tolerate gays, which is the speaker's policy.

Unapologetically trading on her half-brother's fame, she is stepping from the obscurity of a two-job day, including a night shift for UPS, to deliver what gay strategists see as a potent message:

"Most of America needs to realize that we are sisters, brothers, we're cousins, we're the person at the bank. We are just like everyone else, except we love somebody different than heterosexual America," Candace Gingrich said.

Speaker Gingrich has known for about six years that his half-sister is a lesbian.

"You have to have toleration, but that doesn't mean that we back away from talking about what we believe in," Mr. Gingrich has said. "I don't believe we need police in the men's room in Central Park, but I don't think we need to have 'Heather Has Two Mommies' in first grade."

"But there are Heathers who have two mommies, and Heather's little friends need to understand," said Candace Gingrich, defending the much-criticized children's book. She described the speaker's comments as hurtful and cold, offering little protection from discrimination.

But she has never told Mr. Gingrich that directly. And she said she has never discussed her sexual orientation with him.

They are separated by a 23-year age difference and have never lived in the same household. She said she sees him a couple of times a year when he visits Harrisburg.

"We've never had a lengthy conversation about anything political or personal. We talk family stuff when we get together," she said.

Candace Gingrich also has not talked to the speaker about her plans to become a high-profile gay activist, although he took the news in stride Saturday during a visit to his district.

"It's great to see my sister get active," Mr. Gingrich said. Asked if her activities might hurt his standing among his constituents, he replied, "No. It's a free country."

While viewing Mr. Gingrich as a policy foe, gay leaders said the speaker has not engaged in the hard-edged rhetoric of some Republicans such as Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina or Rep. Bob Dornan of California. The presence of Candace Gingrich has constrained the speaker on the issue, they believe.

"His voting record is zero, but intellectually, I think his true sentiments are more positive," said Elizabeth Birch, the executive director of the Human Rights Campaign Fund.

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