In a situation that has become increasingly common (see Newt and Candace Gingrich), Michele Bachmann’s stepsister, Helen LaFave, who is lesbian, is speaking out publicly against her sibling’s virulent bigotry. Frank Bruni features her in his New York Times column.
As the years passed they saw much less of each other, but when their paths crossed, at large family gatherings, there were always hugs. Helen was at Michele’s wedding to Marcus Bachmann and got to know him. And Michele got to know Nia, the woman who has been Helen’s partner for almost 25 years.
Helen never had a conversation about her sexual orientation with Michele and knew that Michele’s evangelical Christianity was deeply felt. Still she couldn’t believe it when, about a decade ago, 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: precisely the kind of amendment that Minnesotans will vote on in a referendum on Election Day.
“It felt so divorced from having known me, from having known somebody who’s gay,” said Helen, a soft-spoken woman with a gentle air. “I was just stunned.”
And while she never doubted that Michele was being true to her private convictions, she couldn’t comprehend Michele’s need to make those convictions so public, to put them in the foreground of her political career, and to drive a wedge into their family.
She told Michele as much, in a letter dated Nov. 23, 2003. She sent copies to her four siblings, her father and one of Michele’s brothers, and kept one herself. In the letter she described her “hurt and disappointment that my stepsister is leading this charge.”
“You’ve taken aim at me,” Helen wrote to Michele. Referring to Nia, she added: “You’ve taken aim at my family.”
Michele, she said, never acknowledged the letter in any way.
Of course she hasn’t. If she acknowledges it, she comes face to face with the fact that her bigotry has real victims. And once she allows herself to see gay people as actual people instead of abstractions, it will be harder to exploit other people’s bigotry for political success.