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

WHAT’S BREWING: Equality becoming Republican problem, hate crimes and Miley’s middle finger up

Gov. Rick Perry

1. A new study shows that it’s becoming more tricky for Republicans to oppose same-sex marriage, as Gov. Rick Perry found recently. According to the Washington Post, it used to be that you were either for it or against it. Now, as more states legalize equality and polls show more than half of all Americans support equality, it’s a net gain for politicians to support equality as well.

2. As more people support equality, hate crimes against the LGBT community, including murder, also increased last year. USA Today reports biased-based crimes were up 13 percent. Although 61 percent did not report the crimes to the police, more than half of those who did found indifferent attitudes from the police. Offenders were mostly strangers and were mostly white, heterosexual men.

3. The LA Times reports that an ally of the LGBT community has added a new symbol of support. Miley Cyrus has a new tattoo — an equal sign — on her middle finger.

—  David Taffet

Lupe Valdez, ‘famous modern day lesbian’

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and author Erin McHugh (via Facebook)

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez is among the “famous modern day lesbians” featured in The L Life, a new coffee-table book by Erin McHugh that contains 160 pages of portraits and interview profiles. The book, released Tuesday, is selling for $32.50. From AfterEllen.com:

The lesbian phone tree worked its magic for McHugh and photographer Jennifer May, who worked for more than a year to coordinate who and where and when they’d be meeting with to feature in the book. The L Life is 160 pages of insight into each individual woman’s life, and the women in it are from all over the country. From household names like Jane Lynch to politicians and activists like Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and Hon. Christine Quinn, the stories they tell are about realizing they were gay, coming out, living out in high-profile positions and moving through life as successful lesbians. …

The L Life may have some lesser-known lesbians on the “famous” scale, but that doesn’t mean the subjects are any less powerful or inspiring. In fact, the book is almost better because of it. Where else do we get to hear about Lupe Valdez, the out Latina Dallas County Sheriff? Or the Executive Vice President and General Manger of Logo, Lisa Sherman?

—  John Wright

Lesbian activist protests bank profits

Local activist Dawn Meifert said her group, Dallas Uncut, will protest outside Bank of America at 6300 Mockingbird Lane on Saturday, Feb. 26, at 8:30 a.m.

U.S. Uncut, begun in Jackson, Miss., protests businesses that have paid no income taxes but have reaped large financial gains for executives and stockholders. Their slogan is, “You Caused This Crisis. Now YOU Pay.”

Meifert said she formed the Dallas chapter this week and will be participating in protests against the bank along with groups in more than 30 cities across the country, from Boston and New York to Los Angeles and Honolulu.

Meifert said she expects to be out at the protest location for about two hours, handing out information about how the bank received $45 billion in bailout money while funneling money through accounts in 115 offshore tax havens and offering below rate loans to politicians while refusing to use the bailout money for loans.

For more information, visit USUncut.org.

—  John Wright

Elton John: Most annoying out performer

Elton John

Am I the only one who finds Elton John getting more and more annoying by the day?

First of all — and maybe this is more of an argument with American media than with John — why do I see him referred to as “Sir” Elton so often? I thought we fought a war against the tyranny of a monarchy and as Americans we do not recognize the inequality of those silly titles. The Queen is nothing more than the world’s wealthiest welfare recipient. I do not recognize nobility and I’m won’t call anyone by a title of inequality.

But here’s my real beef:

Two years ago, John was criticizing the LGBT community for pushing for marriage equality rather than civil unions in the Prop 8 debate. Now he’s complaining he can’t get married.

—  David Taffet

Gay-baiting as a distraction from real issues

Jim Schutze at The Dallas Observer has a good piece up today about politicians using issues like immigration, abortion and gay rights to distract voters from real problems, such as Texas’ current budget shortfall and — more generally — how badly rich people in the U.S. are screwing everyone else over. Here’s an excerpt:

So it’s like this: We ask, “Mr. Governor, what are you going to about the huge deficit that’s going to screw up our kids’ schools and toss our grandparents out in the street and mess up the whole state?”

And he says, “LOOK OVER THERE! A MEXICAN!”

It’s not just Perry. It’s all of the Republicans now. Ask state Sen. Florence Shapiro what she’s going to do to protect colleges and universities from the shortfall. She’ll start talking about how we need “voter ID”

“LOOK! LOOK! A MEXICAN TRYING TO VOTE!”

And if that doesn’t work, the Republicans will point toward San Francisco and say, “LOOK! LOOK! TWO GUYS KISSING!”

Or, “LOOK! LOOK! A SLUT GETTING AN ABORTION.”

In reading Schutze’s piece, we couldn’t help being reminded of this George Carlin bit, so we figured we’d go ahead and share it too:

—  John Wright

‘Don’t Trust, Don’t Believe’

Meghan Stabler

By Meghan Stabler |  HRC Board of Directors, Houston

“I’m a politician which means I’m a cheat and a liar, and when I’m not kissing babies I’m stealing their lollipops. But it also means I keep my options open.”

Sure, it’s a movie line, and it’s a comment that I use in some of my speeches regarding politicians, but it is also so true.

We are maybe 48 hours from a vote to finally repeal the discriminatory law called “don’t ask don’t tell.” Yet there is significant risk! Not passing now will likely put repeal on hold for a minimum of two-plus years.

Our opponents are doing whatever they can to stop the bill. I just received this message from one group called Public Advocate of the United States: “All the Homosexual Lobby needs is for their lapdogs in the Senate to rubber stamp the bill and it will go to Barack Obama’s desk for his signature. And unless you take action RIGHT NOW, he’s going to succeed. Tell [your Senator] to PROTECT our armed forces and vote AGAINST the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

So our opponents are making all the last minute calls to Congress they can.  Is our community?

Now is not the time for us to rest, now is not the time for us to stop calling Congress.

Just because a senator says they will vote for DADT repeal means they’re keeping options open, just as the politician said in the Hunt for Red October quote at the opening of my note. We need some Republicans to vote YES, but just because they or their staffers say they will is no guarantee. If they are not a bill co-sponsor, then their vote is still an at-risk one.

So, share this note to your friends. Ensure they keep calling. Then call again. And again. Ask that they co-sponsor the bill. If not, hound them to do so, and make sure they understand history is the measure of actions of the past.

Keep calling. Call 202-224-Murkowski-6665, Snowe-5344, Voinovich-3353, Lugar-4814, Gregg-3324, Kirk-2854, Brown-4543.

—  admin