Michele Bachmann may be a lot of things but an advocate of the LGBTQ community, she is wholeheartedly not. Not shocking given that the congresswoman has called being gay a “personal enslavement.” While my personal Bachmann-coping mechanism is to always chalk her up to harmless crazy, I can understand why this tactic might be a little more challenging for Bachmann’s own family. I, after all, never have to bump into her at family reunions, nod my head at her at Thanksgiving, or even pretend to like her Christmas presents. But one woman does: her lesbian step-sister.
The New York Times profile on Helen LaFave states that Bachmann’s father married Helen’s mother “some 40 years ago.” Back then, Michele was in college and Helen was completing high school. To set the older sister/younger sister scene just right, consider that Helen reportedly “craved that time together” with Michele, and that Helen looked up to the future congresswoman. Later on, the pair bumped into one another here and there at large family affairs. Helen attended Michele’s wedding and “got to know” Marcus Bachmann. In return, Michele came to know Nia, Helen’s partner for 25 years.
Helen reportedly never came out to Michele and was very aware of her step-sister’s “deeply felt” religious faith. But imagine her surprise when the big sister she looked up to for years, who hugged her at family gatherings, started articulating — well — what we now all recognize Michele’s vehemently anti-gay position to be:
…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.”
Understandably, Helen is little thrown as to why her step-sister has decided to make her views “the foreground of her political career…and to drive a wedge into their family.” Helen then took to Michele’s public sentiments in the age-old “you’ve hurt me” letter (dated in 2003), which she also sent to her own father, one of Michele’s brothers, and Helen’s own four siblings. The highlights include:
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.”…“Some people, you included, feel like you know the truth about my relationship…”
She heard nothing and to this day, Michele has never mentioned the letter. But Michele has gone on to say that she knows “the heartache of having ‘a member of our family’ who was gay,'” and has perpetuated the wacky wisdom that gays are vying for your sacred straight babies, saying “It is our children that is the prize for this community.”
But to bring all of this to a new level of awkward and sad, it’s worth noting that even in 2006 when Michele spoke at a State Senate hearing for a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, Helen showed up. She showed up with her partner Nia:
“I wasn’t looking to make a public statement,” she told me. “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.”
Even during those family gatherings that still happen a couple of times a year, Helen has given up on reaching out to her step-sister because it seems fruitless to her. Michele still reportedly throws around the “I love yous,” which Helen does reciprocate. But how much can you really love a person when you’re reducing them to political anecdotes about how devastated you are for your sad, partnered for 25 years, step-sister? What a lousy, hedonistic life she must lead.
Helen has expressed interest in hopefully marrying her partner in Minnesota one day, you know, if her step-sister doesn’t make it illegal. Guess who definitely won’t be a bridesmaid in those photographs?