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Barney, still Frank | Hunter of Justice

Barney, still Frank

by on December 13, 2011  •  In Congress, ENDA, Transgender

Following is a quintessentially irreverent and irascible swan song from our main man Barney (I have excerpted quite a bit; full text is here):

Washington Blade: To what degree have you seen support for LGBT equality increase in the U.S. Congress since you took office as a congressman in 1981?

Rep. Barney Frank: Oh, enormously. When I first got here, the first vote we had was in 1981 when the House – as it was able to do then by a one-house vote – overturned the D.C. Council’s repeal of the [city’s] sodomy law. It was a heavy vote against us. And we’ve just made very great progress since then. It’s to the point where now — and it’s unfortunate that it’s gotten very partisan. The country has gotten much better in its view on LGBT rights. The Democrats have gotten better — equal to or ahead of the country. But the Republicans have gotten much worse. So it’s now one of the major partisan issues… 

Blade: When you came out in Congress did you sense you were being held back from advancing because of a so-called glass ceiling due to your sexual orientation?

Frank: I think there was one at first. I think, now, yes and no. Certainly it didn’t interfere with my being the chair of a very powerful committee and being, frankly, because of the circumstances, one of the major leaders. In fact I said that on the floor. I remember saying when we were talking about the hate crimes bill, ‘I’m a big shot now but I used to be 15 and I remember what it was like.’ … If I were running for a leadership position it might be a problem in the House. Some of the Democrats come from the few areas left where they’re afraid. But now we have almost all the Democrats on board. We have a handful that aren’t. So no… 

Blade: Some of the more outspoken trans activists… say they are outraged because [the new Massachusetts law prohibiting gender identity discrimination] includes employment, housing and other protections but not public accommodations protections.

Frank: … I would say ridiculous trans activists who are outraged, who would prefer there be no rights for employment than this – - [t]hat is an example of their political stupidity. They may be very bright about other things. I don’t see how anybody can see that as a rational argument right now, nor, by the way, do I think it represents five percent of our community. I don’t even think it represents a majority of the transgender people. How can it possibly be – and by the way, these people don’t know history, because I will tell you that Martin Luther King and the other civil rights leaders would not for a second have hesitated to accept that deal… 

Blade: Some, like Hillary Clinton when she ran for president in 2008, said her husband signed DOMA because it would act as a safeguard against passing a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Frank: That’s nonsense. Her husband signed it because he was afraid politically about what would happen if he didn’t sign it. It has nothing to do with a constitutional amendment. He signed it because it was politically necessary to sign it. And I understood that. The Republicans threw it on his lap three months before the election. [Liberal, gay-supportive Senator] Paul Wellstone [D-Minn.] voted for it. He was up for re-election that year and he was afraid of it…

Blade: Do you have any predictions of what the Supreme Court might do if the Proposition 8 case gets there?

Frank: I think that’s not a good case. I think the better case is Mary Bonauto’s case [the attorney with the LGBT litigation group in Boston, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which is challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, in court on behalf of a same-sex couple.]

Blade: Everybody’s talking about the presidential election. Are the Republican presidential candidates as horrible as a lot of gay activists are saying they are on LGBT issues?

Frank: Yes – they are. Romney is a total faker, having said he was going to be more pro-gay rights than Ted Kennedy and he’s moved against us on everything, not just on marriage. And Gingrich was the leader of homophobic stuff when he was here. Gingrich was the man who put the Defense of Marriage Act on the agenda in 1996 when he was the Speaker… [I]n general the Republicans have become a 90 plus percent anti-gay party…  I’m not at all confident that a Republican president won’t reinstate ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’

Blade: Is there a chance that the Congress would block that, even if there’s a Republican-controlled House?

Frank: Well Congress couldn’t reinstate it because they would never get it through the Senate and the president would veto it. But if the Republicans win the presidency they don’t need the Congress. The president could reinstate it by executive order.

Blade: Is it completely settled now that every gay civil rights bill will include gender identity and expression protections or it won’t be introduced, whether it would be ENDA or another bill?

Frank: I think it’s unlikely that it wouldn’t but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will pass. I think you’ll see transgender protections included. We’ve made progress on transgender. But my view is the same in that we still have the problem with the situation where people get naked together. But short of that, I think the next time we have a Democratic House, Senate and president…  we’ll be able to pass a transgender-inclusive ENDA. But like the Massachusetts law, probably not allowing full and unrestricted access to locker and shower rooms…

Blade: What do you think about the possibility of an executive order by President Obama to require defense contractors or any private companies getting government contracts to have a non-discrimination policy for their LGBT employees?

Frank: I think that’s a reasonable thing to keep pushing for. There are limits to what you can do. You don’t want the president to overreach from what could be required in legislation. I think that’s worth pushing for if it’s carefully done…

Blade: In terms of your own plans, can you say a little about what you plan to do when you leave Congress?

Frank: I’m going to teach, lecture for money, and write…

Blade: Is there anything else you’d like to bring up?

Frank: Well there’s one last thing. I think we’re winning. And the public opinion is on our side. But some people say if you’re winning you can take it easy. I say no. When you read military history they say sometimes military leaders make a mistake that they ease up at the point where they’re winning. That’s when you crack down. That’s when you’ve got them on the run. You have to continue to press, because I think we’re on the verge of winning this fight…

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