by Miranda Stevens-Miller
Frankly, he don’t give a damn
Recently, Congressman Barney Frank criticized the Log Cabin Republicans for their endorsement of George W. Bush. “Their philosophy seems to be, ‘We wish you’d be supportive of our issues, but we’ll be supportive of you regardless,'” he said. “You don’t change behavior by endorsing it; you reinforce it.” I think we in the GLBT community have been guilty of reinforcing some of Barney’s own bad behavior.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak with Barney Frank. No, let me restate that. I could have had the opportunity to converse with Mr. Frank, but it quickly turned into a shouting match about “penises in showers.” How did this all come about?
It started with a fundraiser for Lance Pressl, whom I avidly support in his run for Congress from the 8th District. He stands behind almost all of the issues important to our community. When he asked me to be on the host committee for his fundraiser, I agreed to do it immediately. He was even going to have Congressman Barney Frank fly in from Massachusetts to act as the honorary host of the event.
Some of you might know Barney’s reputation for being transphobic. But I felt, with his recent actions in congressional committee, in which he publicly advocated inclusion of transgender women in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), that he may have seen the light. Besides, it was important for Barney Frank and other politicians to see people like us as part of the legitimate political process.
And so when I saw Barney Frank at the Pressl fundraiser, I was very polite. I was at my most charming as I thanked the Representative profusely for speaking up in committee about the violence against transgender women, and for recognizing the need to protect us within the context of the VAWA. He did thank me, but managed to say a few combative things, such as asking why none of our other supporters had the nerve to speak out. But, all in all, it was a non-newsworthy conversation. I went off to have a drink.
A little while later, I found Barney without a group of people around him, so I once again engaged him in conversation. “So,” I said, “does your support of transgender inclusion in the VAWA mean that you might be changing your mind about inclusion of gender-variant people in ENDA?” An innocent enough question, but you would have thought that I was threatening him with a loaded weapon. He got red in the face and started shouting, “Never.” His problem was that until we could answer the question of “people with penises in [women’s] showers,” there is no way that he would support it. The conversation got rather heated to say the least. And with Barney speaking very loudly and repeatedly about “penises in showers,” we attracted a lot of attention in the restaurant.
There was no way to win this argument. In fact, it was déjà vu, recalling a similar conversation we had almost two years ago when Barney was in town for a meeting of the Stonewall Democrats. At that time, it was “men in women’s bathrooms.” I pointed out to him that while he was discussing urinary rights, I was talking about human rights and employment discrimination. His only come-back was, “What’s the matter? You too good to talk about bathrooms?”
Photo by Israel Wright, Copyright 2000, Lambda Publications, Chicago
This time I was using the argument that the shower issue is really an employee’s privacy matter that needed to be dealt with by the employer. Again I contrasted the right to privacy, with the right to hold a job and make a living without fear of discrimination. His only comeback this time was that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and that I should stop with all my rhetoric.
If you happen to have the opportunity to speak with him, whether it is at a cocktail party or at a political meeting, please tell him to knock it off! His adolescent preoccupation with genitals is one of the major stumbling blocks in getting federal legislation introduced to protect the gender variant people of America. With his fantasy of penises in showers, he is almost single-handedly holding back the tide of the national gender rights movement.
“You don’t change behavior by endorsing it.”
Remember Barney’s own words, “You don’t change behavior by endorsing it.” If you believe that all GLBT people should have the same equal rights, don’t reinforce Rep. Frank’s behavior toward the transgender segment of our community by blindly supporting his actions.