Barney Frank’s lasting legacy

Congressman made history when he came out in 1987, opening the door for other LGBT politicians

BarneyFrank_PL4

U.S. Congressman Barney Frank

Openly gay U.S. Congressman Barney Frank’s monumental contribution to the LGBT rights movement will one day be honored in the collection of unique individuals and events that makes up every American history book.

Frank, 71 now, may not be alive to see that day arrive, but as sure as God made little apples, it’s coming.

That’s because the LGBT rights movement has become an unstoppable force under the guidance of the testy congressman from Massachusetts and that of the scores of other openly gay and lesbian politicians who have joined him over the years in public office at every level of local, state and national government.

Now that Frank, a Democrat, has announced he will retire in 2012 and not seek re-election to the congressional office he has held since 1981, it is time to start putting his contributions to the American human rights movement in perspective.

Most LGBT rights activists agree the single most important measure in achieving success requires securing a place at the table where law is being made, and Frank accomplished that at the highest level a quarter-century ago when he publicly came out.

At the time Frank came out he had already served in Congress for six years, and it surely was no surprise to his colleagues, friends and families to learn about his sexual orientation. But the same could not be said for the majority of the American public, which still viewed homosexuality as quirky at best.

Even many LGBT people were unsure in 1987 about what to make of a congressman coming out as gay and thought it would likely be the end of his political career, which he began in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1973.

Probably to the shock of some, Frank continued to gain respect in Congress, and he now is viewed as one of the smartest, wittiest and most eloquent politicians in Washington, D.C.

Frank achieved success and gained admiration from his peers, the media, his constituents and others — even after being enveloped in a scandal in 1989 that nearly wrecked his career. The public learned that year that Frank had an affair with a male prostitute, whom the congressman had allowed to move into his home.

David-Webb

David Webb The Rare Reporter

Frank was investigated by the House Ethics Commission at his own request, and it ruled after a 10-month inquiry that the congressman had not been aware the live-in prostitute had continued to practice his trade from the household. The commission did recommend Frank be reprimanded for using his position as a congressman to get favors for his prostitute boyfriend.

In the height of irony, Frank survived an attempt by former Republican Idaho Congressman Larry Craig to remove him from office. Craig, who was elected in 1991 to the Senate for Idaho, made news in 2007 for attempting to solicit sex from an undercover male vice squad officer in a Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport restroom.

Craig, who pleaded guilty to the charge but made laughable excuses about his predicament in an attempt to claim his innocence, did not run for re-election the following year. On the other hand, Frank went on after his scandal to win every following election by a wide margin.

At the time Frank came out as gay there was not much more than a handful of openly gay politicians in the nation, if that many. As Frank’s fortunes rose, so did those of other politicians in the LGBT community, and today there are openly gay and lesbian people serving in a wide variety of major elective offices.

In the last election in November, the Victory Fund saw 53 of the 75 openly gay and lesbian candidates it had endorsed elected to office, including Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, State Sen. Adam Ebbin of Virginia and State Assemblyman Tim Eustace of New Jersey.

As Frank retires from public office, he leaves behind in Congress his openly gay and lesbian colleagues Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado and Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who also are Democrats.

No openly gay or lesbian member of Congress has ever been elected on the Republican Party ticket, although there have been a number of gay Republicans who have served from the closet. And more than one has been exposed for their hypocrisy as a result of a scandal, something Frank wisely avoided.

Frank’s legacy will be that he broke ground in American politics, inspiring other openly gay and lesbian people to seek and win elected office at every level.

That has resulted in the type of political gains that many people who have been around since the start of the gay rights movement in 1969 never thought they would see, regardless of how Frank might be viewed on some other issues.

Considering what has happened in the past four decades, it is conceivable that one day an openly gay or lesbian politician could be elected to any office, including the U.S. Senate — or even higher.  That’s a thought that probably never even occurred to Frank back in 1987.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

2011 was (will be?) one heck of a year!

Hardy Haberman Flagging Left

On New Year’s Eve, I sent out a “tweet” wishing everyone a Happy New Year and a “none too fond goodbye to 2011.” It only took a few moments before I was reminded that 2011 had not even started.

So, in the spirit of the strange time warp I somehow fell into, here is my “look back” on 2011.

It was quite a year, especially in LGBT politics. Even though the U.S. House of Representatives was dominated by Republicans, Congress still managed to move a modified version of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) through. And after a few changes in the Senate, it was signed into law by the president.

The main provisions concerned religious organizations, and they were allowed to continue to be as bigoted as they want without government interference.

Meanwhile on the local scene, at least three openly gay candidates announced plans to run for judicial and city council positions. Most notable was activist and radio personality Jesse Garcia, who announced his run for mayor.

Nationally, the field of candidates for the 2012 presidential race narrowed when Sarah Palin announced she was ending her political career to focus on yet another reality TV show, “Real Housewives of Wasilla.”

Her daughter, Bristol, will headline her own dance review in Las Vegas next year at the new trailer park-themed hotel opening on the famous strip.

No word yet as to whether Levi Johnston will co-star.

Additionally this year, in a bold move, the LGBT conservative group GOProud changed their name to GOAway following yet another rejection by the Republican Party national convention as well as the Conservative Political Action Conference, which barred the group from attending its functions. A spokesperson for the group called the move, “a more rational way of stating the real agenda of the Republican Party while maintaining our group’s identity as supporting conservative values.”

In other LGBT news, another dozen homophobic evangelical pastors have been added to the growing list of “outed clergy.” It has been a bad year for closeted clergy since the escort web site “RightWingRentBoys.com” had their records released through WikiLeaks.

On the West Coast, since Prop 8 was overturned by the high court, LGBT couples are flocking to romantic wedding chapels in the Golden State. The boom in business has started a whole new honeymoon destination travel trend, as gay-themed resorts are cashing in on the influx of business.

The “Beary Marry Honeymoon” package from one Russian River resort offers a woodland wedding with party-sized “Bear Soup” hot tubs.

Though our state naturally lags behind, the Texas Legislature did manage to pass a civil union law awarding same-sex couples most of the rights of married couples.

Though the governor’s office denies any influence in the matter, most people assume the passage was a result of behind-the-scene bargaining and perhaps downright blackmail in a matter of a male escort who has yet to be named.

In tech news, the announcement late in the year of a public offering for Grindr has the stock market salivating. Many experts expect the smart phone app will exceed Facebook in revenues in the coming IPO.

The company got an extra boost after the heterosexual version was released last fall.

The publishing industry was rocked this year by the closure of the Dallas Morning News. Most media experts believe the publication’s ultra-conservative editorial policy and resistance to change was instrumental in the venerable institution’s demise.

Though it leaves Dallas without a major newspaper, niche publications like the Dallas Voice and Dallas Observer have seen circulation grow in both their online and print editions.

So as I bid a fond farewell to 2011, I just want to thank everyone who has written in complimenting me on my insightful and enjoyable columns over the past year.

Ok, well so much for fantasy! Now, I wonder if anyone will save this and see how close I came with my predictions?

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

A conversation with Houston Mayor Annise Parker

PARKER IN DALLAS | In her only interview while in Dallas as the honorary grand marshal of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, Houston Mayor Annise Parker said she doesn’t live her life just out of the closet, but out on the front lawn. Her city is competing with Moscow for a major petroleum convention, and she plans to meet up with that city’s mayor to tell him what she thinks of his treatment of gays and lesbians in Moscow. Read the complete interview with Parker online at DallasVoice.com. (Photo courtesy Steve Krueger)
Houston Mayor Annise Parker speaks during Dallas Pride on Sunday, Sept. 19. (Photo courtesy Steve Krueger)

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Houston Mayor Annise Parker said she was delighted to be asked to come to Dallas to be Honorary Grand Marshal of the Pride parade. And she was a little surprised other cities hadn’t asked her.

“It’s a little hot outside,” she said soon after arriving in Dallas. “We do our parade at night for a reason.”

Parker said she forgot to bring a hat, but she never wears hats in Houston. Her reason sounded a bit like another Texas Democrat, Ann Richards.

“My hat covers the hair,” she said. “They have to see the hair.”

Unlike many gay or lesbian politicians, she didn’t come out after successfully launching her political career. She said she started as a lesbian activist on the front lines.

“I was debating the nutballs in public,” she said.

Parker came out in high school. In college she founded Rice University’s first LGBT group and began her political career as president of the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

During each campaign, the GLBT Political Caucus and her partner, Kathy Hubbard, have always been included in her literature.

“That way I owned it,” she said. “Kathy describes our relationship as not being out of the closet but being out on the front lawn,” she said.

The election received an overwhelming amount of media coverage.

“It’s unprecedented for an election for mayor of Houston to make the front cover of the Times of India,” she said. “It was difficult to slog through. It was a distraction at the beginning.”

Parker said she doesn’t think most of Texas was as surprised by her election as the rest of the country or the world. She mentioned a number of lesbian elected officials around the state including Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

She attributed her victory to a number of factors. Houston always elects moderate Democrats, she said.

Of the seven candidates running in the general election, she started with the highest name recognition. This was her eighth election and her opponent’s first.

“He made some rookie mistakes,” she said. “He got distracted. He got in bed with the right-wing hate-mongers.”

The week before coming to Dallas, Parker had been in New York and met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

She said he joked that he was partially responsible for her win. Had he stepped aside, Christine Quinn, the lesbian who heads New York’s city council, would have probably made a bid for office.

“All the gay money across the country would have flown to New York,” she said.

Actually, most of Parker’s donations were local, and while she didn’t have the most money for her campaign, she had a greater number of donations than her six opponents combined.

Parker seems to be settling into her new position.

She strengthened the city’s non-discrimination policies by executive order. Her revisions included gender identity and expression and extended protection to all city-run facilities.

Partner benefits for city employees can only be granted by popular vote in that city. She said she expects that the LGBT community will soon begin collecting signatures to bring that proposition to a vote and said she would like to be able to include Hubbard on her insurance.

Parker said that in effect she is making less than Bill White did as mayor because she has to pay for Hubbard’s health insurance.

With 2.2 million constituents, Parker said she couldn’t be just the gay mayor, but she would continue to use her position to advance LGBT rights when possible. She helps raise money and speaks for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund around the country and said their training was extremely helpful.

And Parker said Houston has benefited from being the largest city in the world with a lesbian mayor. Her recent trade mission to China is an example.

Earlier in the year, Parker was named to Time magazine’s list of the 100 most powerful people in the world. She said she never would have made the list had she been “just another white guy.” One of China’s top trade officials was also on the list.

In August, Parker led a trade delegation to China. The Chinese trade official, she said, probably met with her because both were on the list and because of the curiosity factor. Men hold most government positions in China, she said, not out lesbians.

She said that while that was how her being a lesbian has benefited Houston, she can also use her position as a bully pulpit.

She may make a return trip to China where Houston and Moscow are competing to bring a convention to their cities. She said she hopes the mayor of Moscow is there and that Houston wins the convention over his city.

Parker said she plans on calling the Moscow mayor out on his terrible treatment of gays and lesbians. Among other things, he has canceled permits for Pride parades in the city and last weekend had his city’s best-known gay activist arrested.

With the November election approaching, Parker said she is remaining officially neutral in the state’s races.

“To represent my city I have to get along with everyone,” she said.

As mayor of the state’s largest city, Parker said she’s had more contact lately with Gov. Rick Perry than former Houston mayor Bill White.

“But I am absolutely livid that Rick Perry has an attack ad on Bill White that features me,” she said. “I don’t want to be used as a wedge in that campaign.”

Parker said that Perry used a quote of something she said while controller. She said it was not out of context and might have even been impolitic to say at the time. But she described her relationship with White as a good working relationship despite a disagreement on a particular issue at one time during their three terms in office together.

Parker maintains a high popularity rating in Houston and said she thinks her city is getting used to their new high-profile mayor. Among the reasons, she said, is that she is the only mayor of a major American city who hasn’t had to lay off any workers.

Parker did admit just one area where Dallas beats Houston — light rail. However, she said the two cities are working together to get a high-speed rail link built between them.

In January, Parker and Hubbard will celebrate their 20th anniversary.

Parker said one thing Hubbard did not share with her was the parenting gene. It took several years before she convinced Hubbard they should be parents.

They have raised three children together. Their foster son was an openly gay teen who they took in at age 16. Later, they adopted their two daughters at ages 12 and 7. Their younger daughter is 15 now and still at home. Her son, who is now 34, rode in the car in the parade with her.

Houston’s mayors serve two-year terms so Parker will be running for re-election next year.

—  Kevin Thomas