Barney Frank: Elder Statesman Or Just a Grouch?

Barney Frank Sharply Criticizes Gay Rights Groups’ Flip on ENDA by Amanda Terkel for The Huffington Post

A handful of groups said last month that they no longer back the Senate-passed version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because of its sweeping religious exemption, which would allow religiously affiliated businesses to fire someone for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The provision’s language goes far beyond religious exemptions afforded under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion or national origin.

 

Former Rep. Barney Frank’s latest sound-off criticizing the thinking of several leading gay rights organization’s rejection of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (EDNA) followed his public rebuke just last week of President Obama for having “lied” to the American people when he said people would be able to keep their existing health insurance after implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Calling the President a liar was such overreach, I remember thinking at the time that Frank just wanted to get people talking about him now that he has become a private citizen following his retirement from Congress last year. Obama absolutely misspoke as he tried to gloss over this specific criticism. In fact, this applied to only a small percentage of people who had existing plans plans were below the new standards and safety net set by the ACA meant to the improve health of all Americans, prevention being key to lowering future healthcare costs overall. They didnt lose their insurance, but they were forced to upgrade their coverage. It was a failure of Obama in not figuring this out before he made blanket statements, but Frank made no room for nuance, adding nothing to the debate but fueling the right flank and getting his name in the media stream. It was a disappointing display to many people.

Frank has always seen himself as the best spokesman for gay rights, the grand poobah expressing assessments that every lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) person should listen to. He may have had the highest profile platform after he finally came out the closet in 1987, but he has been unforgiving of others with positions that differ from his own.

2011 National Equality March, Washington, DC Flickr/creative commons

2011 National Equality March, Washington, DC
Flickr/creative commons

In 2010, when Dan and I were involved in planning the October 2011 Equality March in Washington, DC, Frank was a vocal critic, saying we were wasting a lot of time and energy that will have no real results, just “ruining the grass.” But our hearts swelled as we witnessed hundreds of thousands crest Capitol Hill that day and knew everything was about to change, radically. History proved him wrong very quickly as the march yielded the greatest expansion and upstep in national organizing for equality rights to date.

Now Frank is thoughtlessly disparaging our movement once again by calling LGBT groups “ridiculous” for rejecting this session’s version of the bill just because of its broad religious exemptions, now super-charged in the era of Supreme Court-approved corporate personhood and religious right to discriminate. Again, he argues for the incremental approach, the hoped-for future fix. The rest of us understand there will be no future fix whatsoever, and in fact the successful passage of this bill would formally institutionalize broader discrimination in the work place.

“Having weaker protections for LGBT people sends the message that anti-LGBT discrimination is more acceptable than other forms of workplace discrimination,” said Ilona Turner, legal director of the Transgender Law Center. “

Remember 2007 when you clung to your faith in an incremental approach a few short years ago when pushing for an ENDA that excluded rights for trans people? You thought that version was good enough, too, but at the urging of trans leaders at the time, one in particular, Dr. Dana Beyer, you began your re-education by expanding your congressional staff with the very capable Diego Sanchez (now the national political director for PFLAG, Parents, Families, and Allies United with LGBT People). Only then were you able to see the infinite wisdom of including trans people in any version of ENDA.

Frankly, Mr. Frank, it is your grouchiness that you are revealing when you criticize our current leaders who reject ENDA altogether as “not being for anything that could pass” so we can consider ourselves “cutting edge.” Rather it is your total rejection of more evolved thinking, again, being reactionary instead of trying to educate yourself on all the antecedents, that can be considered “ridiculous.” While you have had a remarkable and admirable public career, these recent comments to the press make you look foolish and thoughtless.

More far-seeing is the work of activists on an all-inclusive American Equality Bill, legislation fashioned after or through current civil rights legislation. Just add SO+GI (sexual orientation and gender identification) has been the rallying cry to add these designations to existing civil rights legislation (right along side 50-year-old protections from discrimination based on gender, religion, national origin, or race) or through a new bill. The organizations rejecting ENDA because of senseless religious exemptions also have in mind the urgency to protect LGBT people everywhere (and every when), not just in employment but housing and healthcare and all other areas of human endeavor.

ENDA, with or without religious exemptions, is too inadequate in its exclusive focus on employment. Support for a singular, inclusive equality bill would also protect LGBT people’s religious freedom by not forcing them to abide by the religion of another person or corporation.

So, Mr. Frank, we ask you to step off. The purpose of all privilege can only be to give it away to the voiceless, not to try and silence those around you. It’s time to expand your horizon again, Mr. Frank, and recognize that the drive for full equality need not, and should not, compromise.

by Jorge Elias Flickr/creative commons

by Jorge Elias
Flickr/creative commons

 

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Alison Gardner

Alison Gardner

Alison Gardner is co-founder of VenusPlusX, and writes frequently on global sexual freedom, American fundamentalists exporting hate and homophobia, and grassroots activism.
Alison Gardner