Stefany Hoyer Hemmer has two reasons to come out publicly as a lesbian: her father’s recent endorsement of marriage equality and the likely upcoming battle at the ballot in Maryland over same-sex marriage.
“My father, as you know, just came out in support of gay marriage,” Hemmer said. “The momentum in Maryland right now for the adoption of the gay marriage law is fast-paced. I’m 43 years of age, and I’ve been gay my whole life and I just figured this is a good time to lend my name to the cause.”
In an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade, Hemmer — one of three daughters of House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — made for the first time a public statement that she’s a lesbian. She said a limited number of people — including family and some friends — knew she was gay, but she hadn’t yet made a public statement about her sexual orientation.
“This was not his idea at all,” Hemmer said. “It was mine completely, but he’s very supportive. I talked to him before I did this, and he’s on board. Obviously, it’s a little nerve-racking for me to do this, but there’s something inside of me that’s telling me I need to do it.”
Hemmer said she consulted her father before making a public statement that she is gay and he was supportive. The decision comes on the heels of Hoyer’s announcement in favor of marriage equality. The Maryland lawmaker’s statement came just days after President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality.
“Because I believe that equal treatment is a central tenet of our nation, I believe that extending the definition of marriage to committed relationships between two people, irrespective of their sex, is the right thing to do and will not, in any way, undermine the institution of marriage so important to our society nor impose a threat to any individual marriage,” Hoyer said. “It will, however, extend the respect due to every one of our fellow citizens that we would want for ourselves and our children.”
Hemmer said reading her father’s endorsement of same-sex marriage inspired her to come out publicly and do more for the LGBT community — even though she said she’s always known her father supported LGBT rights.
“I’m personally an advocate, and I’m certainly not one to hide my sexuality, but I’ve never out there with it politically,” Hemmer said. “So, I think when my dad actually came out with a statement, it triggered a want in me to further the cause, and I think that he’s powerful enough, and I’m frankly, smart enough, to do it. So, yeah, that was really the impetus.”
Hemmer said she knew her father wrote the statement himself because it was his style of writing and she commended him afterwards, but had no knowledge beforehand that he would adopt that position or issue those words.
“We had a brief [conversation] because we were at a birthday party for my grandson, but I said, ‘Good job coming out for marriage equality!'” Hemmer said. “He said, ‘Thank you, thank you.’ We just kind of had a brief conversation about how it’s been a long time coming, and he was happy to have been able to do that.”
A registered psychiatric nurse who works as a clinical nurse liaison for Maryland’s Department of Health & Mental Hygiene in the mental hygiene administration, Hemmer has been living with her partner of 18 months on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Although Hemmer declined to offer her partner’s name or age, Hemmer said she’s a nurse as well and they live together in Queen Anne, Md., with three cats and a chihuahua.
“We’re pretty normal, really,” Hemmer said. “Nothing is exciting and grand other than the day-to-day stuff. I have a pretty normal kind of existence.”
Hemmer was once married to a man about 20 years ago named Tim Hemmer, who’s an electrician and works at the Smithsonian. Hemmer said she struggled with her sexual orientation and entered into the marriage as a way to assert she wasn’t a lesbian, but the couple divorced when she was 23. Out of that marriage, Hemmer had a daughter, Judith Gray, who’s now 25 and has young children of her own.
In the wake of her father’s endorsement of same-sex marriage and the possible referendum on the state’s recently signed same-sex marriage law, Hemmer said she’s “committed” to taking a role to preserve marriage equality in Maryland. Opponents of same-sex marriage in Maryland have already submitted 113,000 signatures to put marriage equality on the ballot, which far exceeds the necesary 55,736 names, so the initiative will likely be on the ballot.
Hemmer said she hasn’t previously been involved in LGBT advocacy — and hasn’t even made any donations to any LGBT rights groups —but has already reached out to the Human Rights Campaign to get involved with the Maryland effort and expects to work with her father to speak out for marriage equality. Hemmer said she would consider getting married in Maryland if the law survives the referendum, but has no immediate plans to tie the knot.
“I think my father is going to lend himself to the campaign as well,” Hemmer said. “However, I think I will initially be an adjunct to him. I will go places with him and maybe speak, but I think that role will evolve. Basically, I’m here and what do you think I can do for you. You guys are the experts, you tell me what I can do. I think this helps. I think talking to them, going out, being visible.”
Even though Hoyer delivered the statement in favor of marriage equality just last month, the lawmaker has been known for his support for LGBT rights. During the legislative battle to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Hoyer took the lead in the House and submitted standalone legislation to the floor along with former Rep. Patrick Murphy to repeal the military’s gay ban during the lame duck session of the 111th Congress.
Hemmer said she’s “very proud” of her father’s role in repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and predicted his support for LGBT rights would continue, but said that effort didn’t inspire her as much as her father’s support for marriage equality
“Everything he does in terms of gay rights and civil rights really makes me proud,” Hemmer said. “So, I think that he will continue to do that, and I think that he will continue to lead in the equality fight in Maryland with the referendum.”
Hemmer said her father sometimes consults her about legislative issues — including LGBT issues — but acknowledged he has numerous consultants working for him. She said she had a conversation with him about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal at the time, but didn’t immediately recall how the conversation went other than she gathered her father thought it was an unjust law.
In a statement issued to the Blade, Hoyer said he is proud that his daughter intends to add her voice to the Maryland fight.
“I’m pleased that Stefany is adding her voice to those across Maryland and the country calling for marriage equality,” Hoyer said. “This is about ensuring all families receive equal treatment under the law. As more people speak out, the more momentum this effort gains to give every family the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Hemmer said she never explicitly told her father that she was gay, although she had spoken with her mother, Judy Pickett Hoyer, about being a lesbian. In 2003, Hemmer had one of her sisters break the news and later showed up at his house with a girlfriend.
“He was very welcoming,” Hemmer said. “Of course, my sister had prepped him. He was not the least bit shaken or upset and very pleasantly just a nice guy. He’s always been respectful of my privacy, so unless I initiate a conversation with him about pretty much anything that’s private, he doesn’t get into my personal business, which I respect. But he’s been great.”
Hoyer isn’t the first senior member of Congress to have an openly LGBT member of his family. Dick Gephardt, a former House Democratic leader, has a daughter, Chrissy Gephardt, who came out prior to his 2004 presidential campaign. Hemmer said she has seen Chrissy Gephardt speak in 2005 at Camp Rehoboth, an LGBT community organization based in Rehoboth Beach, Del.
A number of Republican public officials have LGBT family members. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) has a trans son, Rodrigo Lehtinen, who’s been involved with the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and its “Creating Change” conference. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has a half-sister, Candace Gingrich-Jones, who has worked with the Human Rights Campaign and has criticized him for his anti-gay views. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has a lesbian daughter, Mary Cheney.
Even though Hemmer said coming out is “a little scary” for her, she doesn’t think there’ll be any serious backlash for either her or her father as a result.
“And if there is, it’s going to be from people who clearly don’t matter,” Hemmer said. “The Republican Party might have something to say about it that’s not very nice. But what am I going to do? It is what it is.”
In fact, Hemmer said she hopes her coming out will be a positive step in helping to preserve to right to marry for gay couples in Maryland that will build upon her father’s support for same-sex marriage.
“I’m doing this because I think that the time is now to do it,” Hemmer said. “I was not the impetus for him; he was the impetus for me. And I just want to make sure that people understand that. Having said that, he told me the other night, “I’ll support whatever you do.” He knows that it’s important. That’s the way I feel. It’s an opportunity for me to make a difference, and that’s what I hope to do.”