House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) kicked off Pride Month on Wednesday with a celebration of Willa Cather, a lesbian author from Nebraska, whose statue was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol. But McCarthy’s praise for Cather’s literary contributions to America was met with criticism and irony, as he has a history of supporting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that would have persecuted Cather if she was still alive.
“As one of America’s greatest novelists, Willa Cather is a fitting addition to this gallery of great Americans,” McCarthy raved at the statue unveiling ceremony in the National Statuary Hall. Cather, a Pulitzer Prize winner who died in 1947, was chosen by Nebraska leaders to be the subject of one of its two statues in Washington that represents the state.
“Nebraskans are lucky to call Cather one of their own,” McCarthy told the audience gathered in Statuary Hall, which included congressional leaders and Nebraska’s top elected officials. “But ultimately her work belongs here. Because it is American to the core. Her authenticity, emotion, artistry, it spoke of Americans’ fundamental values.”
It is unlikely that he was disregarding the genuine and enduring romantic liaison between Cather and her partner Edith Lewis, which lasted for almost 40 years. Although same-sex marriage was not recognized during the early 1900s, the longtime intimate relationship between the two women, who were not particularly discreet about it, can be viewed as a type of marriage.
Cather and Lewis lived together openly for nearly 40 years, jointly leasing apartments in Greenwich Village and on Park Avenue. Lewis, a talented editor and writer in her own right, provided unwavering support to Cather, playing an integral role in shaping Cather’s literary career. Their shared passion for literature and the arts fostered an environment where both women thrived.
“Their bond transcended mere friendship and marked a significant aspect of Cather’s personal and professional life,” Jennifer Bendery wrote for HuffPost.
McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether he knew any of this. His office also did not respond to a request for comment on whether he could appreciate the rich irony of his celebration of Cather’s life and contributions to American society in the middle of Pride Month and at a time when conservatives, including McCarthy, are fueling particularly cruel and dangerous attacks on the LGBTQ+ community.
McCarthy made it one of his priorities as speaker to push through anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in March. He also opposed last year’s historic bill to codify same-sex marriage protections into law. He has prioritized other bills that discriminate against the queer community, such as banning transgender people from serving in the military and allowing religious exemptions for businesses that refuse service to LGBTQ+ customers.
“McCarthy gushed over Cather’s literary contributions to America, but he neglected to mention that he’d have persecuted her if she was still alive,” Bil Browning wrote for LGBTQ Nation.
Cather was a renowned author who wrote about the American frontier and the immigrant experience. She is best known for her novels such as O Pioneers!, My Ántonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for One of Ours.
Cather was chosen by Nebraska leaders to replace a statue of Julius Sterling, a newspaper editor and politician who supported slavery. The statue was sculpted by artist Littleton Alston and depicts Cather at the age she began focusing on writing novels. She grasps a walking stick as she strides forward, protected by a brimmed hat and sturdy shoes. Her love of fashion is represented by a snake ring and wool jacket with embroidered details. Goldenrod clings to her skirt and a western meadowlark references Cather’s novel Song of Lark.
Kevin McCarthy unveiled a statue of lesbian author Willa Cather in U.S. Capitol during Pride Month, LGBTQ Nation, June 8, 2023
Kevin McCarthy Kicks Off Pride Month By Celebrating Famed Lesbian Author, HuffPost, June 7, 2023
Bronze statue of noted American author Willa Cather unveiled in US Capitol, ABC News, June 7, 2023