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Barney Frank speaks on gay rights issues

Published: November 18, 2005
Section: News


Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) came to Brandeis on Monday to speak on issues of gay rights.

In a brief interview granted to The Hoot prior to the talk, Frank described the depths of homophobia that still infect the discourse of American life. Despite this, he is encouraged by the monumental progress that has been made in recent years.

Frank expressed disapproval of current entertainment portrayals ofgay people as fashion-conscious and with a flair for decorating, calling TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy a minstrel show which depicts homosexuals as shallow and superfluous members of society.

When asked about whether support for gay rights (and gay marriage in particular) had hurt the Democrats in the 2004 election cycle, Frank admitted that this was so but urged a policy of pressing for gay rights while being realistic about it. He cautioned against treating insufficiently zealous supporters of gay rights exactly the same as fervent opponents of gay rights, stressing that while politics is about values, it does no good if your side never wins.

In the talk itself, Frank spoke on various homophobic aspects of US immigration law, which as recently as 1991 barred immigration and even tourist visas to gays and lesbians. As a way of illustrating how far the nation has come, Frank traced that law from its unanimous 1968 passage in what was otherwise a very liberal and anti-discriminatory immigration bill to its equally unanimous abolition in 1991.

The congressman also explained why what he considered the duplicity of the anti-homosexual faction to a hopeful sign. Frank reasoned that they wouldnt have to be dishonest if they thought they could win with the truth, and so all the gay-rights side needs to do is be open and honest because most people are not at heart homophobic.

One prime example of chicanery in Franks view was the argument that allowing gay unions would lead to social disorder. Its the same argument they had about women getting the vote and desegregation he said Always the predict chaos, and it never happens.

In response to a question about the outing of closeted legislators and public figures who advocate anti-homosexual laws and rhetoric, Frank said that he supported such actions because it was a matter of hypocrisy, not privacy. If [gun-control activist] Sarah Brady secretly carried an Uzi, people would write about it. Frank said This is no different.

Frank also emphasized the need to not be discouraged by recent opposition to gay marriage. If youre not losing as many battles as you win, youre not fighting enough battles. On the subject of gay marriage, he described civil unions as a step forward and advised seizing on any and all concessions made by the anti-gay rights crowd. Remember when we tried to get gays into the military, and the right-wing crowd said We dont care what you do in your bedrooms, so long as its not in the military? Well, now whenever some new anti-gay measure that infringes on our private lives comes up, I ask them whether that stuff about staying out of our bedrooms was BS or what. Its been very effective.

Frank was the first openly homosexual member of Congress. Frank is considered a pioneer in making it acceptable for public servants to be open about their sexuality, as well as an icon generally for the GLBT movement.

The event was organized by Triskelion in collaboration with the Brandeis Democrats.