A Father’s Joy and Pride – C. and D. Niemann

The ultimate test of every parent, I believe, is whether our children grow up strong, confident and as happy as anyone can be in this troubled world of ours. With a daughter like Cassi, how could the world not be a better place? This is what family values are all about.

Doyle Niemann

Some of you may already know that last night I had the honor of presenting my father with the 2006 Maryland Equality Out for Equality Award at their annual gala. It was an awesome night that I want to share with you as I am very proud of my father and the work he has done to establish equal rights in my home state of Maryland. It was kind of exciting to be paraded around by my dad and introduced to all kinds of politicians and activists. Since it’s an election year, the candidates were out in full force (including my dad who is up for reelection this November and has huge stickers on his car). And it was a bit unnerving that everyone seemed to already know who I was and overly delighted to meet me… seems I have become the “other famous gay daughter,” at least in Maryland. Woohoo.

So, we started the evening in the VIP reception where my parents told my brothers and I to get as many free drinks as we could. Of course I was hoarding them, as I was so nervous about my speech. My mom couldn’t stop talking about the pink “Equaltini’s” she was drinking – thankfully she only got two. The director of Equality Maryland told me that they sold over 500 tickets, which made it a third larger than it was the previous year. My family and I sat at a table with some other politicians and on our seats was the program for the evening’s events. Luckily it didn’t say who was presenting the award to my dad (didn’t want to ruin the surprise), but it did have the following insert about him to explain why he was receiving the award.

Delegate Doyle Niemann (D-Prince George’s County)
2006 Out for Equality Award

“I am casting this vote because I believe in family values. I am casting this vote for my daughter who I love dearly who is 25 and is in a committed relationship with another woman and has been for the last year.” When these words were spoken by Delegate Doyle L. Niemann (D-Prince George‘s County) to his colleagues during a debate in the House of Delegates on the Medical Decision Making Act, every legislator took notice. Days later, he told the Washington Post that he invoked his daughter’s name when speaking because “only when homosexuality becomes an abstraction do people seem to lose their sense of tolerance.”

Del. Niemann has emerged as a true leader for LGBT rights in Annapolis. He talks privately with colleagues about the folly of supporting a constitutional amendment; serves as an advisor to Equality Maryland’s legislative committee; and has emerged as a high profile advocate for marriage equality. Whether he is penning an Op-Ed in the Gazette about his interpretation of God’s will with regard to marriage, speaking at a Lobby Day rally before hundreds, walking out of session to protest the shenanigans of Del. Don Dwyer, or offering an impassioned speech on the floor, Del. Niemann has put the strong and proud face of a father who loves his daughter on an issue that needs more people just like him – people who are willing to stand up and be counted.

We tried to keep it a secret that I was presenting the award to my dad so when the comedian (not Suzanne Westenhofer as I had hoped – she was sick – but this guy was funny) introduced me, my father turned to me with this surprised look and I knew he never found out the real reason why I was home this weekend. So, I walked up to the stage in my fancy J-Crew suit, thanks to Shelly, and luckily didn’t trip. I was incredibly nervous – as I usually am when I have to speak in front of a crowd – but there was a podium and no one could see me shaking like crazy. The following is what I said:

Good evening. My name is Cassi Niemann and I’m proud to be here tonight to present the 2006 Out for Equality Award to my dad, Delegate Doyle Niemann.

You know, it didn’t really come as a surprise that my father would stand up for gay rights on the house floor or even that he would use my life experiences to help support his vote. My parents have always been politically active as well as supportive of my lifestyle. But after he called to tell me about it, I realized how lucky I was to have that support and respect from my family… to know that my father believes in who I am.

But once I saw our names in print on the front page of the Washington Post, which let me say was a bit of a shock – I had to call my grandma – I realized that my father wasn’t like so many other fathers. He didn’t just love me in that “you’re my child and I’ll love you no matter what,” way. He’s PROUD of who I am. And he’s willing to put his own reputation on the line to tell people that. It was this act that has me talking to you today. What my dad did made the front page of the newspaper because not enough parents are doing the same thing, even parents with a little more influence than my father. They simply stand up and applaud when their president is stomping on their own daughter’s rights.

When I was a kid I would get embarrassed when my parents would brag about me to their friends. I suppose what my dad did on the house floor and all the advocacy he’s done since really isn’t all that different. But these days, I love my parents, and my entire family, because they don’t mind being role models for other families to show that it doesn’t have to be so hard to truly love others for who they are. And it doesn’t have to take place behind closed doors.

My dad has shown me that if you want to see a change in the world, you have to start it yourself. I’ve had to accept just how political my life experience may be, but I know now the difference I can make by being proud of it.

So, I’m not only awarding my father for his outstanding work in supporting gay rights but also for his courageous acts as a father. He has given me the strength and the desire to try and make a difference in this world and that truly deserves an award. So, thank you Papa and I love you.

When I was finished, the crowd stood and applauded. A standing ovation. Of course, all the honorees got one throughout the evening, but my dad was the first honoree so you can imagine my smile when I assumed we were getting a standing ovation! I think the best part of my speech was when I was poking at Dick Cheney because the audience starting whooping and applauding and I just remember having this really embarrassed smile on my face and saying “thank you” while having to wait for them to stop cheering to start talking again. But it was AWESOME, I felt witty and powerful in my own way. Maybe I’ll get power hungry, drop architecture and become a politician. Ok, maybe not.

Anyways… after the dinner and ceremony was over, I met many more people who congratulated me on the speech and commended my dad’s work. They said I looked very comfortable and apparently didn’t look nervous at all! Who would have thought!? I met the couples that are suing the state for marriage rights and politicians who are out and proud and then even more activists who are fighting for our rights. It was so encouraging, to be surrounded by like-minded people, who want equal rights and are really doing something about it (people like my parents). I was reminded how lucky I am to be loved and respected by my family and friends. But we have a lot of work to do, so get out there, encourage your friends and family to vote and learn about your candidates. Gay or straight, we must understand that it is not simply a fight for GLBT people, it’s a social justice movement and we need to continue our fight until there are equal rights for all human beings.

Cassi Niemann

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