Metro Weekly

Frank Talk

Barney Frank's decades-long House career has come to a close, but the gay firebrand is far from retiring

Barney Frank

Barney Frank

(Photo by Todd Franson)

MW: You had some harsh criticism for Log Cabin Republicans last year when you labeled them ”Uncle Toms.”

FRANK: Absolutely. Still do.

MW: Do you think there’s any merit to what they’re trying to do to make the Republican Party more inclusive?

FRANK: There is merit to what they’re trying to do. My problem is they consistently claim to be successful when they are not.

Of course it would be a good thing to try to get the Republican Party [to be more inclusive], but first of all it’s how they do it. They say, ”We are trying to get the Republicans to be better and we will support them whether they are or not.”

How in the world can you argue that supporting Mitt Romney is good for LGBT rights? Telling Mitt Romney that you will support him is one thing, but you don’t train a dog by rewarding him when he shits on the rug. That’s what they’re doing. And then they mislead people.

So, again, of course I would like them to try, but the record is abysmal. By the way, the Republicans got worse, not better, since the Log Cabin Republicans. That’s not because of them, but it shows the futility of what they’ve done. We’ve had four states that have had referenda on same-sex marriage. There were 34 members of Congress from those four states — 12 Republicans, 22 Democrats. Of the 22 Democrats, 21 were in favor of same-sex marriage and one was opposed. Of the 12 Republicans — now remember this includes more liberal states, including Minnesota, Washington, Maryland and Maine — do you know how many Republicans members of Congress in those four states were supportive? Zero. The best they could get were two who were neutral — the two champions, [Olympia] Snowe and [Susan] Collins. Ten were against. So the Republicans were zero, 10 and two. Democrats 21 and one.

Now, I can understand people saying, ”You know what, I’m conservative. I don’t want higher taxes, I don’t really believe in global warming, I think we need to spend more on the military, and that’s more important to me than LGBT rights.” There is no rational basis for arguing that voting for those guys is better for LGBT rights. Now, again, of course they should try, but they fail and then they claim to be successful and they mislead people.

MW: You’ve been a pretty big supporter of President Obama, but you’ve also had your criticisms. You issued a statement criticizing Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. What’s your judgment of Obama’s first term on LGBT rights?

FRANK: Very, very good. The country is moving and he’s helping move the country. One of the things he hasn’t gotten enough credit for, because it’s a fairly sophisticated point, is not just opposing DOMA, but now taking the position that in the federal government any discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity has to have a very high level of support for the level of scrutiny – very critical and very important. On ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I was a little worried and, frankly, I spent a lot of time in the fall of 2010 saying to him we have to deal with this. But he was very good on it.

MW: What do you make of some of the criticism the White House is facing for its delay on this executive order that would prohibit federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

FRANK: It’s unfair to assume it’s anti-LGBT. The problem there is not LGBT, but it’s the argument that there is an executive overreach. That’s a pretty far-reaching policy decision to be made by the executive alone, and the Republicans have … scored some points by arguing he has done too much executive power without congressional approval. So I think it is unfair to impugn their reluctance to sign that. It’s a reluctance to do too many things by executive order and feed into their argument that there’s an executive overreach.

MW: The argument that advocates make is that by signing that executive order it would put a spotlight on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which you were a champion of in the House.

FRANK: That argument is dumb. D-U-M-B, dumb. Put a spotlight on it with whom? Let me ask you, is there somebody who doesn’t know ENDA hasn’t passed?

MW: There is polling that shows people think these protections are already in place.

FRANK: Right. And the president doing that order isn’t going to change that. Please be careful of metaphors. Yes, when you shine a spotlight on something, people see it. But a political action does not necessarily mean other people see things more.

Secondly, the problem is partisan. I guarantee you the Republican members of Congress who vote against it know that. It’s not that people don’t know there’s discrimination, it’s that the Republicans think it’s a good thing.

MW: When do you think ENDA might pass?

FRANK: We’re the tail on the dog there. Maybe 2016. The problem is the Republicans control the House and as long as the Republicans control the House nothing will pass. Now Log Cabin says they’re going to change that. I’ll believe that when I see it.

MW: When Congress ended this session it had some of the lowest approval ratings ever. What do you think of the new Congress that was sworn in today?

FRANK: Well, it’s marginally better. The reason for that low rating was the tea party and the tea party’s control over the Republicans. It was encouraging that Speaker Boehner is now taking them on, although 60-plus percent voted the other way. In the near term it’s going to be messy. The most important political dynamic of the next couple years will be this fight over whether the tea party totally dominates the Republican Party. In short term that could make Congress look worse, but if, as I believe will happen, the mainstream conservatives will increasingly fight off the tea party, then things will get better.

MW: With the out members that were sworn in today, what’s your take on them?

FRANK: Oh, they’re great. They’re bright. We’re breaking through in terms of numbers and they’re from all over the country — Arizona, Wisconsin, Colorado, Rhode Island, California — it’s coastal. I’m very pleased. And of course Tammy in the Senate. A, they are very good and, B, it’s a reinforcement process. There’s less prejudice. And when there’s less prejudice, people can do things; and because people can do things, there’s less prejudice.

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.