Sunday, August 01, 2004

An Article on Teresa Heinz Kerry

Teresa Heinz Kerry Woos Gays by, Lou Chibbaro Jr.

BOSTON — Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, drew tumultuous applause from a gathering of more than 200 gay delegates and their supporters Wednesday when she addressed a meeting of the Democratic National Convention’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender caucus.

“I know that I am welcomed and I am grateful to be welcomed,” she said, as caucus members and several dozen guests chanted “Teresa!” “Teresa!”

“I’m grateful to you because you symbolize family,” she said. “You symbolize strength and hope. You symbolize resistance. And you symbolize tolerance. For that we are all thankful to you.”

Heinz Kerry’s appearance before the gay caucus meeting came one day after she talked about her husband’s qualifications to be president before the full convention in a speech that some pundits said included more policy-related content than the speeches normally given by wives of politicians.

Her appearance before the gay caucus also came three days after she raised eyebrows for telling an aggressive journalist to “shove it” when he tried to interview her about remarks she made to Pennsylvania delegates on July 25.

Republican critics of the Kerry for president campaign were expected to closely scrutinize her remarks to the gay caucus.

Others who appeared before Wednesday’s gay caucus included Hollywood figures Rob Reiner, film actor Ben Affleck and “Sopranos” television star Steve Buscemi, all of whom expressed support for gay rights and pledged support for the Kerry for president campaign.

But Teresa Heinz Kerry appeared to outshine all of them in the eyes of the gay delegates.

“You are in a sense pushing the envelope,” she said. “We have to respond with policies that reflect the capacity and the tolerance of all Americans,” she added, possibly referring to her husband’s position of support for civil unions rather than gay marriage.

“But,” she continued, “because things are difficult doesn’t mean they won’t happen.”

In her remarks before the gay caucus, held at the Sheraton Boston Hotel, Heinz Kerry appeared to mix policy issues with motherly love, drawing repeated shouts of appreciation from both lesbians and gay male delegates.

She told of how she was moved at a campaign appearance a few months ago in Washington state, when a man told her in a question and answer session that his relationship with his mother was strained and told her, “I want you to be my mother.”

“It was clear that he had not made that peace with his mother and he wanted someone who loved him,” Heinz Kerry said. “And so, at least, if nothing else, you’ll have a mom in the White House,” she told the crowd.

Added Heinz Kerry, “You can call me Mama T.”

That remark prompted the gay delegates to jump to their feet while chanting, “Mama T!”

Although she did not say so directly, some in the audience said Heinz Kerry might have understood the man to mean his sexual orientation was the cause of his strained relations with his mother.

With Secret Service agents and her two sons, who accompanied her to the gay caucus meeting, looking on, Heinz Kerry continued her discussion of gays and their families.

“If my child ever came to me and said, Mom, or if my husband’s daughters told me, ‘This is who we are and this is what I plan to do,’ then I would feel as a mother free to share my joy, my pride with all my friends, no matter what circumstances … or understanding of the culture, in the same way that if my son would say, ‘I want to marry this wonderful girl.’

“You know what, what we owe one another is the strength, dignity, civil rights and generosity of spirit that one can get the American dream,” she said. “The parents of this country know that … the mothers of this country know that.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. can be reached at