September 11, 2012 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Frank defends use of ‘Uncle Tom’ remark against Log Cabin

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) released a statement on Tuesday seeking to explain why he said during last week’s Democratic National Convention that Log Cabin Republicans use “Uncle Tom” as their “role model.”

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin, a national gay GOP group, last week blasted Frank for using the Uncle Tom comparison, accusing Frank of “demonizing Republicans and undermining efforts at bipartisanship that would actually improve LGBT Americans’ lives.”

In an interview with the Washington Blade on Tuesday, Frank said that his use of the term, which he admitted was “very harsh,” was aimed at highlighting his belief that Log Cabin leaders were seriously jeopardizing the cause of LGBT equality by campaigning vigorously for a presidential candidate – Mitt Romney — who opposes and would take away policies supporting the rights of LGBT people.

“If you want to say economic issues are more important to me, that the Democrats are environmental extremists – if you want to say that’s why you’re voting for him and say and acknowledge that those issues are more important to them than LGBT issues,” Frank said he understands the logic of that.

“But my problem is when they say it is helpful to LGBT causes to vote for them,” he said.

Frank first invoked the “Uncle Tom” comparison to Log Cabin Republicans during an interview with gay radio host Michelangelo Signorile during the second day of the Democratic convention on Sept. 5. He reiterated the comparison the next day in a speech before the convention’s LGBT Caucus. Frank didn’t use the term during his speech before the full convention on the evening of Sept. 5.

In his own statement released on Sept. 5, Cooper said, “We expect this kind of bile from Barney, especially when it plays into the Obama campaign’s efforts to divide, distract and deceive the American people.”

Added Cooper, “Frank calls us ‘Uncle Toms’ and pretends that Log Cabin hasn’t been on the front lines of the fight for equality. The truth is, by speaking conservative to conservatives about gay rights, Log Cabin republicans are doing some of the hardest work in the movement, work that liberals like Barney are unwilling to do and couldn’t do if they tried.”

In his statement this week, Frank said, “I am not surprised that members of Log Cabin Republicans are offended by my comparing them to Uncle Tom. They are no more offended than I am by their campaigning in the name of LGBT rights to elect the candidate and party who diametrically oppose our rights against a president who has forcefully and effectively supported our rights.”

Frank says in his statement that Cooper and other Log Cabin officials have defended their support for Romney and other GOP candidates who don’t support LGBT rights by saying “they have succeeded in getting the Republicans to reduce the extent to which they denounce us.” He notes that Cooper says Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), Romney’s vice presidential candidate, is willing to “engage” with gay Republicans.

“That is where Uncle Tom comes to mind,” Frank says in his statement. “They are urging people to vote for the anti-LGBT candidate over the most supportive LGBT candidate and platform imaginable because the ‘antis’ are calling us fewer names and are willing to talk to some of us,” Frank said.

“It is this willingness to acquiesce in a subordinate status as long as the masters are kinder in tone, although [not] in substance, that emulates Uncle Tom,” he said.

The full text of Frank’s statement of Sept. 11 follows.

 

WASHINGTON – Congressman Barney Frank today released the following statement as a follow-up to his recent comments during the Democratic National Convention about the Log Cabin Republicans.

I am not surprised that members of the Log Cabin Republicans are offended by my comparing them to Uncle Tom.  They are no more offended than I am by their campaigning in the name of LGBT rights to elect the candidate and party who diametrically oppose our rights against a President who has forcefully and effectively supported our rights.

That is the first reason for my admittedly very harsh criticism.  This election is clearly one in which there is an extremely stark contrast between the two parties on LGBT rights.  The Democratic President and platform fully embrace all of the legal issues we are seeking to resolve in favor of equality.  The Republican candidate for President and the platform on which he runs vehemently oppose us in all cases.  On the face of this, for a group of largely LGBT people to work for our strong opponent against our greatest ally is a betrayal of any supposed commitment to our legal equality.

But my use of “Uncle Tom” was based not simply on this awful fact that they have chosen to be actively on the wrong side of an election that will have an enormous impact on our right to equality, both in fact and in the public perception of the popularity of that cause.  If the Log Cabin Republicans – or their even more outlandish cousins, the oddly-named GOProud –were honestly to acknowledge that they let their own economic interests, or their opposition to strong environmental policies, or their belief that we need to be spending far more on the military or some other reason ahead of any commitment to LGBT equality, and on that ground have decided to prefer the anti-LGBT candidate to the supportive one, I would disagree with the values expressed, but would have no complaint about their logic.

The damaging aspect of the Log Cabin argument, to repeat the most important point, is that they may mislead people who do not share their view that tax cuts for the wealthy are more important than LGBT rights into thinking that they are somehow helping the latter by supporting Mitt Romney and his Rick Santorum platform.

It is a good thing for Republicans to try to influence other Republicans to be supportive of LGBT rights.  The problem is when they pretend to be successful when they haven’t been, and urge people to join them in rewarding the Republicans when they have in fact continued their anti-LGBT stance.  I have been hearing the Log Cabin Republicans proclaim for years that they were improving the view of that party towards our legal equality.  In fact, over the past 20 years, things have gotten worse, not better.  Most recently, on DOMA, when the House Republicans offered an amendment to reaffirm it, they voted 98% in favor of it, while Democrats voted more than 90% against the amendment.  And it is not surprising that they have not been successful.  Giving strong political support to people who are maintaining their anti-LGBT stance is hardly an effective strategy for getting them to change it.

The argument Mr. Cooper and the others in the Log Cabin Republicans have put forward in their defense is that they have succeeded in getting the Republicans to reduce the extent to which they denounce us, and, in Mr. Cooper’s phrase, the fact that Paul Ryan is “willing to engage” with gay Republicans.  That is where Uncle Tom comes to mind.  They are urging people to vote for the anti-LGBT candidate over the most supportive LGBT candidate and platform imaginable because the “antis” are calling us fewer names and are willing to talk to some of us.  It is this willingness to acquiesce in a subordinate status as long as the masters are kinder in tone, although in substance, that emulates Uncle Tom.

I note Mr. Cooper points to a couple of Republicans as reasons for supporting that party and helping advance its anti-LGBT crusade.  As to Representative Ryan, in addition to his “willingness to engage with them,” Mr. Cooper cites his vote for the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.  In fact, Paul Ryan has an overwhelmingly anti-LGBT voting record, including opposition to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and a transgender-inclusive hate crimes bill, and support for a constitutional amendment not just to ban future same-sex marriages but to dissolve existing ones.  It is true that on one occasion he voted for ENDA, but he did so only after voting minutes before for a Republican procedural maneuver – a motion to recommit the bill – which falsely invoked the specter that passage of ENDA would compel same-sex marriage and which, if it had passed, would have killed the bill.  In other words, Paul Ryan has always voted against us, except for one occasion when he voted for us only after first trying to make the bill he theoretically supported inoperative.

Mr. Cooper also cites Susan Collins.  She was very good on the question of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  But the argument that supporting Susan Collins advances LGBT rights ignores the fact that Senator Collins has twice defeated Democrats who were far more supportive of our issues than she was.  And an example of that is the current referendum in the state of Maine on marriage.  We have a very good chance of winning in Maine, and winning a referendum is important both for the substantive rights of the people in Maine and for the political point that it demonstrates.  Unlike the two Democratic Representatives from Maine, Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, Susan Collins has been stubbornly silent.  That is, in a state where marriage is on the ballot, and in a year in which she is not up for reelection, Senator Collins is withholding her support from us, unlike any Democrat who would have run against her.  And remember, these are the best that the Log Cabin Republicans can cite.

Some have complained that in comparing the Log Cabin Republicans to Uncle Tom, I was ignoring the fact that they are nice.  I accept the fact that many of them are nice – so was Uncle Tom – but in both cases, they’ve been nice to the wrong people.

ADDENDUM


Recent headlines in the Washington Blade make the point as clearly as I did.  In the August 10th issue, a headline proclaims that the “Log Cabin seeks to purge anti-gay language from Republican [platform] document.”  In the August 31st issue, another headline states that “Republicans affirm anti-gay views in platform, speeches.”  In the September 7th issue, a third headline reports that “Democrats embrace marriage; hundreds of LGBT delegates take part.”

 

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

3 Comments
  • I think Barney Frank has hurt the Gay movement more thanany other politician in recent times. He is leaving office at a low point of his career. he is a laughing stock.

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