Rev Irene Monroe

Is Barney Frank Relevant?

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | October 14, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Barney Frank, lesbian, LGBT, National Equality March, politics, pressure, queer

Congressman Barney Frank has been for decades the iconic image of gay civil rights advocacy on Capitol Hill.

For many years he was the lone voice and only openly gay congressman.

And as a Massachusetts resident I was once proud to say, "Barney Frank has got my back."

But as one of the most vocal critics of the National Equality March that took place in Washington this weekend, Frank has many LGBTQ Americans nationwide wondering if he has become a bureaucratic gatekeeper.

And for those under 40 many are also asking is Barney Frank now the iconic image of the generational schism of our new gay rights movement?

Mocking protesters' efforts to put pressure on their elected officials on Capitol Hill for full and equal protection, Frank told the Associated Press that our demonstration was "a waste of time at best" and that activists needed to concentrate on lobbying lawmakers. "The only thing they're going to be putting pressure on is the grass, " Frank said.

For many in the LGBTQ community - young and old - Frank has become too much of a D.C. bureaucrat and not a relevant representative of even the Massachusetts's 4th congressional district that he was elected to since 1981

"I used to live in Massachusetts and respected Barney Frank. I was also glad that a gay man was in Congress from my district," George of New Jersey wrote on

"Since he pushed President Clinton to pass Don't ask, Don't tell, I lost all respect for him. Now he is telling us not to march and let our voices be heard. He sounds like he needs to move to the other side of the aisle. I think it is time for the citizens of Massachusetts to vote him out. If he is telling us not to waste our time speaking out because nobody listens to us, what kind of a message does that send -- that he doesn't listen to us? That's what we have Republicans for."

Of late, Frank's record on LGBTQ issues has accommodated the status quo.

For example, in April Barney Frank agreed with his Democratic cronies in not pushing to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell until 2010. However, in June the Supreme Court agreed with the Obama administration in refusing to review the Pentagon policy that prohibits LGBTQ servicemembers to serve openly in the military. And Frank never spoke up.

But when he does speak up it's against our efforts. Frank told the Associated Press, "I literally don't understand how this will do anything. People are kidding themselves. I don't want people patting themselves on the back for doing something that is useless. Barack Obama does not need pressure."

But the President has been an Obama-nation on LGBTQ issues since he's taken office. The political carrots Obama dangled before us as campaign promises are now looking like mere empty rhetoric that was used to court our votes and to collect our campaign dollars.

On June 4 Jonathan Capehart, an African American gay journalist at the Washington Post wrote the op-ed "Okay, Obama. Now Let's Have a Speech on Gay Rights," stating, "After last night's airing of NBC's Inside the Obama White House interview, in which Obama provided a tepid answer to a question about whether "gay and lesbian couples who wish to marry in this country have a friend in the White House," the blogosphere is filling with cries of "shameful" and "no passion, no heart, no real connection to our cause."

On June 12, the LGBTQ community got another blow: Obama defended (DOMA), a law that prevent couples in the states that recognize same-sex marriage from securing Social Security spousal benefits, filing joint taxes and other federal rights of marriage. His reasons: DOMA is not a valid exercise of Congress's power, and it is not consistent with Equal Protection or Due Process principles, and it would infringe on the rights of taxpayers in states that fundamentally oppose same-sex marriage.

The purpose of the march was to motivate LGBTQ citizen and our allies to be active locally. The strategy sessions, grassroots-organizing workshops that took place over the weekend was to help prepare activists to do the work at home to achieve full equality for LGBTQ citizens.

One of the organizers of the March, Kip Williams said, "We hear Congressman Frank when he says this is about getting back into your district and doing the work there. [This march] is about building community and building a network who will go back and do that work."

I wonder if it is "old school" organizing versus "new school" organizing that Frank missed in understanding the energy for the March. As Michael Jones of pointed out "The bulk of the organizing for this event seemed to take place online, from Facebook to Twitter, and it has engaged a new generation of activists who aren't tuned in to the organizational politics or activism of groups like the Human Rights Campaign or the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "

The March was a success. Time reported that 200,000 attended.

But frankly speaking, how would Barney know? He didn't attend.

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Reverend Monroe;
In re: Your question 'Is Barney Frank relevant?'

The answer is "NO!"

Best Wishes;
Maureen Hennessey

Is Irene Monroe relevant?

Meanwhile, Barney Frank got the hate crimes bill passed.

Karen St John | October 14, 2009 4:02 PM

To the HRC.

Barney Frank has had a record of not being in favor of any marches on Washington over the years - lgbtq or others. he has repeatedly said that he believes that the real place for lasting change is at the local level.

it the purpose of the march was to motivate to bring about change at the local level, great. if it was just to make noise, how do you measure the effectiveness?

in either case, there really has to be a multi-level approach and denigrating one over the other rather than combining them is not only at cross-purposes but becomes self-defeating at the least, or maybe worst.

I'm bothered by this phrase...

"And for those under 40 many are also asking is Barney Frank now the iconic image of the generational schism of our new gay rights movement?"

Since when did there become a generational schism in the gay rights movement? Is there a perception of one because of statements like this? I'm just as active, vocal, out and proud as I have been before I was 40. Now I'm 47 and this statement makes me feel like I was just dumped into a classification that makes me irrelevant...

I took that one with a bit of a sting also. I remember when there was a march on the capitol in Florida and it made the news locally that Gay people were marching on the capitol at the very end of the 1970s. I was 13 and 30 years later I'm still the same activist who marched and demonstrated as a teen and who helped secure our bars from gaybashers when the police would do nothing and who as a young instructor taught in the only local martial arts school to welcome LGBT people who didn't hide in the closet.
Just because I'm over 40 doesn't mean that I am suddenly irrelevant, at least I hope not.

Well, I'm biased, as a transwoman who blames him, personally, for the ENDA debacle, moreso than and above and beyond anyone else.

So for me, its fairly easy a question to answer: no.

However, what pops up in mind is "Has he ever been for me?"

And to that I have to say no, as well.

However the question was pointedly not directed at me, so my input is somewhat unwelcome, since it was directed at gay people, and, well, I'm straight.

Glad to see your waking up to what Barney realy is a politicain who looks out only for himself.

To whoever said that Barney Frank "got the hate crimes bill passed" as though that were an accomplishment:

What good does a law do any of us which, after we've been beaten to death, sends our assailant to prison for a while longer? Does it let us marry our partner while we're alive? Does it get us into the hospital to visit our partner after he's been beaten? Will it allow us to inherit our, now, deceased partner's estate in the same way that heteros do when their partner has been killed? This is legislation intended to mete out vengeance to our detractors; it's not intended to grant equal rights. What it does do is let polticians off the hook. It lets them say that they've done something for us when, in fact, they've done nothing at all. As long as we spend what little political capital we have on such pusillanimous efforts, and praise those like Frank for helping us waste our capital, we'll get nowhere.

The hate crimes law does more than "send our assailant to prison a little while longer."

It will collect data on these incidents, thereby showing a truer picture as to how much our community is targeted by hate-motivated crimes. The law will also open up more doors to federal law enforcement assistance for local law enforcement agencies working on hate crime investigations and prosecutions.

This hate crime law is one our community has needed for a long time and one for which we've worked a long time. I hate to see all that hard work trashed simply because it happens to be the first LGBT-inclusive bill to pass.

He's pretty witty, and another D vote in the House. When it comes to LGBT bills, though, recently, he seems to be more of a bandwagon supporter than a leader. That's the feeling I've gotten from him.

I think I agree with Barney, the AARP and NRA are much better at getting their ideas in the ears of congress, and when's the last time they marched.

I’ve been a fan of Irene Monroe for a long time. I most often agree with her views and opinions on recent events and LGBT issues. But like even the best of friends, family or close loved ones, I don’t always agree. My respect for her isn’t diminished, though. I think she brings a valid viewpoint to the table when discussing Barney Frank’s opposition to the National Equality March. But if I can, I’d like to post another theory:

I think it is a mistake for our community to attack or sideline Barney Frank. He and Tammy Baldwin and Jared Polis are our seats at the table. Personally, I don’t want Frank gone. I want his ornery and annoying yet absolutely amazing mind in Congress.

Perhaps, as such a seasoned politician and “insider”, Frank isn’t so much irrelevant as he is knowledgeable and wise. Perhaps his vocal opposition was a touch of tough love for his own community. He knows these marches don’t accomplish anything except, as Frank said, making its participants “feel good.”

Frank never said “don’t speak out.” He’s never said “don’t speak out.” What he was saying was speak out in effective ways that will actually make a difference. And Frank was certainly never alone in this particular view. Dozens, if not hundreds, of LGBT leaders across the country echoed similar remarks.

The March’s turnout of 200,000. Great. Awesome. Wish it would have been more. But Success? Success, in my mind, can only be measured by actual results, and it is too soon to see any results from the march.

He is only human after all. I do not consider Barney Frank an enemy.

I think Barney didn't quite understand what the Equality March was really trying to accomplish (and opened his mouth before turning on his brain). Perhaps the march organizers erred in not really soliciting national level LGBT politicians.

In any case, while his remarks were incredibly offensive to those of us who were there and knew why we were, I don't think he was alone in thinking as he did. He just obnoxiously repeated the feelings that had earlier seemed to come from HRC, Victory, and like organizations.

Most smaller and less purely political groups supported the march. I should also add that HRC eventually provided very helpful printing and phone bank resources to the DC Host Committee and a number of Victory insiders personally spoke positively of the march. Organizing marches isn't what they do.

So, how did all these people in power miss the point of the march? In fact, what was the point of the march?

The point of the march was to bring together and energize a large community of grass-roots LGBT activists to return home and organize political support for pro-LGBT candidates and political opposition to anti-LGBT incumbents. HRC and Victory may have the money, but we have the feet on the ground and the spiritual force to do this in ways that money can't buy.

In 2010 we want to turn every anti-LGBT bigot and hypocrite out of office and end their political careers permanently, through political, social, and person-to-person communication and education. The march was the kickoff event for this much larger campaign for the hearts and minds of the voters.

The scorecard for the march's success can only be reported after the elections in November 2010. Every anti-LGBT bigot thrown out of office and every pro-LGBT candidate elected represents a win for the movement. We are determined to do exactly what Barney says we should be doing, but people had to come together to set the agenda and begin the nationwide process.

For the time being, I think we should cut Barney, the HRC, Victory, and all the other people who didn't understand the march some slack. Let them do what they can do in their own areas of responsibility--we are dedicated to throwing the real bastards out of office and have the hundreds of thousands it will take to do it. Barney and the rest of our doubting friends will figure it out eventually.

As for the anti-LGBT political community I can only recommend that you "put your head between your legs and kiss your ass good-bye."

If there is a schism, the young adults had better get out the needle and thread and hand them to the the older folks sew it up, because it would not be too hard to slip through the hole back into the "bad old days".

With the recent incidences of busting a gay bar in Atlanta, a transteen being told his dress was disruptive and he would be better off if he home schooled, and the two elementary kids who committed suicide because of anti-gay harassment, the community is not as far along as the youth want to believe it is.

The gay community has always had problems with big egos and lack of unity. No Martin Luther King, nor even a group of MLKs seems to have risen to bring that unity. Now with the first gay positive administration in 20 years it is time to work together.

My understanding is that Barney Frank and other mature activists did not support the march because they thought it would not be large enough to have an impact. In the case of gay rights, size is everything. The conservatives have to be overwhelmed. They think we are only 3% off the population and don't realize that, just as Dr. King had white supporters, so does the gay community have a multitude of straight ones. How would Dr. King's March on Washington looked with only 500 people?

Barney is not stupid. He is powerful and full of wisdom. Massachusetts was blessed to have 2 good Senators who were not wimps and now, without Kennedy, he has the whole job to do.

Today people expect instant communication, gratification and change, not realizing that the civil rights movement was going on for 50 years before Dr. King and the gay rights movement really started in the 1940s.

DADT was actually a step forward because it acknowledged the presence of gays in the military and did not allow them to be rooted out like tumors in a day when homosexuality had only recently been declared not a mental illness and people still went to jail for consensual sodomy. It was a start. Permanent change takes time and any movement that ignores its history and degrades its elders is bound to fail.

Remember your history and use it for your benefit. Dr. Martin Luther King is not irrelevant or simply American History. Neither is Barney Frank. You don't have to agree with him, but you need to respect him.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 16, 2009 5:28 AM

Barney Frank says that marches are useless but the reality is that Frank is useless because he's a Democrat.

• He's a Democrat who thinks that change comes from the good intentions of a collection of seedy hustlers who'll sell their mother to the highest bidder.

• He's a Democrat who thinks that Congress can be reformed.

• He's a Democrat who opposed the SF same sex marriage initiative of Mayor Gavin Newsome.

• He's a leading member of Congress who helped Bush and Obama create a multi-trillion dollar welfare fund (TARP) for the uber rich and whose party supports austerity measures for working people.

• He led the attack on ENDA and accepted every amendment that bigoted business owners, crackpot cultists, anti-GLBT Democrats and Republicans offered. The upshot is that it's very likely that new the version of ENDA will be very inadequate, even if it has provisions for inclusion of transgendered people.

• He opposed strict regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Frank claimed that there were no big problems with FM/FM in mid decade and now both are in conservatorship, a form of bankruptcy. To date the feds have given the two companies over $85 billion and that may climb to $200 billion by the end of the year as the second huge wave of foreclosures hits.

He's a Democrat and as we all know Democrat politicians are just Republicans in drag. (With the exception of Kucinich and a couple of members of the CBC who not only are in the wrong party but providing left cover for a collection of bigots and panderers.)

Mass marches are very useful tools. Frank is a broken tool.

Amazing as always, Rev. Monroe!

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 16, 2009 8:59 AM

Barney Frank has called upon LGBT orgs to unite and get a consistent message. From the above I think we can determine that we have yet to do what he has asked us to do. His full time job is to represent one congressional district in Massachusetts. He is not, and never suggested that he should be, doing all the work for you.

So organize properly, drop the ageism, make certain every representative hears from our organizations with a unified message both in Washington and at the "congresscritters" district office located conveniently near you.

Send emails, get petitions signed, talk to local representatives as to how they can be helpful. Also work with the local police, I did in Chicago and got great results, but maybe it was because I never told anyone they were irrelevant.