National Stonewall Democrats Honors Frank in D.C.

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Wednesday April 25, 2012

National Stonewall Democrats honored Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin described Frank as a trailblazer who has inspired LGBT people around the world before she formally introduced him at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters headquarters near Capitol Hill. He jokingly described fellow U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) as the best dressed openly gay member of Congress before he reflected upon the movement towards equality for LGBT Americans that has only accelerated over the last decade.

"We are clearly on the verge of winning," said Frank, noting that eight states and the District of Columbia have passed marriage equality. He also cited a growing list of co-sponsors of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. "I feel very privileged to have been able to be part of this fight."

New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias and U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Jerrold Nadler [D-N.Y.] were among those who attended the fundraiser. Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Democratic National Committee, and Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese praised Frank in pre-taped messages.

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley cited the Massachusetts congressman as his inspiration to remain involved in Granite State politics as a gay man more than 30 years ago.

"I would not be here if it were not for Barney Frank and not for Stonewall Democrats," he said. "I would not have continued to be involved in politics if it were not for his leadership and being a role model for so many of us over the generations now."

Indiana Congressman Andrť Carson applauded the Massachusetts congressman for spearheading the passage of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act that expanded regulatory oversight on Wall Street and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He also cited Frank's commitment to public service.

"He is a proud Democrat who is unapologetic for who he is," added Carson.

Tobias noted the world was vastly different for LGBT people in 1966 when he first met Frank while he was a student at Harvard University. "And on July 7, I'm going to the wedding of Barney Frank and (his partner) Jim Ready," he said as he became emotional. "I'm going to skip the 46 years in between, but the story of those 46 years is the story of the LGBT movement in this country-or at least a big, big part of it-led in an enormous degree by Barney Frank with the help of everybody in this room."

Frank, 72, has represented Massachusetts' Fourth Congressional District since 1981. He announced last November that he would not seek re-election.

The Massachusetts congressman came out during an interview with the Boston Globe in May 1987. The House Ethics Committee formally reprimanded Frank in 1990 for using his congressional funds to pay 33 parking tickets that a male escort whom he hired as an aide and personal driver had accumulated.

"I underestimated our ability as a community to have our reality defeat the prejudice," said Frank, referring to efforts to downplay his sexual orientation when he came out during the Globe interview. "And that's what it has been. It's been a series of our realities confronting the prejudice. We have made enormous gains."

Frank: It's Fair to Criticize Obama's Record

Frank told EDGE immediately after the fundraiser that activists should question President Barack Obama's record on LGBT-specific issues.

"It's fair to criticize as long as it doesn't interfere with their working very hard to re-elect him," he said. "He has done a great deal for us. He will do more. And what I worry about is what people only want to criticize and don't talk about the positive context."

Obama continues to face scathing criticism over his decision not to issue an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against their LGBT employees.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Monday concluded that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also includes a ban on discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Frank referenced this opinion during his remarks at the fundraiser.

He is also among the 72 lawmakers who signed an April 3 letter to Obama in support of an executive order that would bar workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans. He told EDGE that Congress should also pass the long-stalled Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

"If we win the House and the Senate and the White House (in November) then we should do it legislatively," said Frank.

Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida welcomed the congressman's comments.

"I agree with Barney Frank that we should move ENDA legislatively next year, but in the meantime we can't wait for President Obama to sign the executive policy he promised in writing as a candidate in 2008," he said. "There would be a human cost to LGBT Americans who are fired or harassed by federal contractors every day that passes between now and whenever President Obama eventually fulfills this campaign promise by signing this order."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.