Bil Browning

Barney Frank defends Bill Richardson

Filed By Bil Browning | August 13, 2007 5:34 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Barney Frank, Bill Richardson, election 2008, HRC, Logo

Congressman Barney Franks has now weighed in on Bill Richardson's gaffe at the HRC/Logo Presidential Forum. The Representative released the following statement to The Bilerico Project today:

"Governor Bill Richardson's apology for the mistake he made in saying that sexual orientation is a choice did not surprise me, because he has been a strong supporter of our right to be treated fairly throughout his public career. It is especially relevant that he voted consistently on our side from the start of his Congressional career in the 1980s, when the issue of LGBT rights had far less support even from Democrats that it has today. I regret Gov. Richardson's misstatement - as I sometimes regret one or two of my own - but his error in the pressure of a debate should not detract from his very strong record in defense of equality for all Americans, including those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender."

That's a darn good friend to come to your defense, eh? The Guv does have the best record on LGBT civil rights - hands down... Personally, I'm willing to forgive an obviously stupid mistake, but I've liked him since the beginning. Even I have to admit, if anything else happens it is going to look like he's never been educated on our issues or just isn't interested enough to learn, but this one I can forgive when I balance it against his record. Hell, I don't really care if the candidate understands the science behind homosexuality so much as I do what they'll do for my civil rights if they get in office. After all, Lincoln had no idea what made black people have a different skin color but it wasn't really pertinent to the idea of "equal." What do you think? Are you willing to forgive it as a slip of the tongue - realizing that most of our straight allies screw up something every now and then? Or are you still angry and distrustful?


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I was not angry so much as dismayed...I remain dismayed and distrustful particularly in light of previous remarks (the infamous "maricon" statement).

In The Advocate (as posted on Gay.com) Richardson simply says he "did not understand the question" As I recall, the question was "Do you think homosexuality is a choice?" Seems a pretty clear-cut question; what was ambiguous about it?

Anyway...he then goes on to say he would support domestic partner laws but not marriage. Blah, blah, blah.

As for "maricon" he says there is ambiguiety in regards to translation. He says the term means "homosexual" and is not derogatory (tho' admits he should not have used it). My Spanish is rusty at best; my only previous encounter with that term is from Lorca's poem "Ode to Walt Whitman." In one translation the word is translated as "faggot;" in another it means "pervert." Either way it seems clearly derogatory.

Is Richardson sticking his foot in his mouth? Or talking out of both sides of his mouth? My guess is the latter.

Leland Frances | August 13, 2007 7:17 PM

I've previously essentially said the same thing re his etiology disaster, but I remain troubled by his use of "maricon" [and disingenuous defense of] two years ago on the Imus show. Even the self-serving Democratic hired gun Bob "The Curse" Shrum [Kerry's was the 8th Presidential campaign he has lost] never accused Edwards of using such slurs. Further, I'm befuddled by Richardson's apparent inability to answer "Yes," when asked if he would, as governor, sign a bill legalizing MARRIAGE if it reached his desk, contrary to the "I won't let my personal beliefs stand in the way..." statements of others. While his efforts helped defeat New Mexico's own DOMA, as a congressman he voted for federal DOMA.

Which brings us to the core weakness in his alleged strength. Richardson's "best record on LGBT rights" is a crown without a kingdom, for none of the three leads have had the same opportunities to act directly on gay equality that he has for none of them have been a governor.

I don't think Richardson's mal mots suggest he's homophobic as much as somewhat homo-ignorant. But combined with similar strange missteps such as his explanation that he named a conservative Supreme Court Justice as his favorite only because he was JFK's favorite and Richardson assumed, therefore, he must have been OK, he remains considerably lower in my estimation than the top three.

Lisa Duggan | August 14, 2007 12:08 AM

When did it become a requirement to claim that sexual "orientation" is fixed and unchosen? Supposedly because "the science" says so? "The science" is very sketchy and a lot of it is patently ridiculous, similar to "the science" over the last 2 centuries about gender and race (see Ann Fausto-Sterling's work making hash out of "the science"). But more....it's so *defensive*! And self-abnegating. As if....choosing to be queer would negate our right to equality and justice? I *chose* to be lesbian--because I didn't like the straight world and didn't want to live in it, and because I figured out that butches were usually better lovers than men. I like being queer better. The question isn't "why would anyone chose to be gay if they weren't born that way?" as so many gay rights supporters say. Rather, it's "why would anyone choose to be *straight* if they felt like they really had a choice?" All the anti-gay law, ideology and stigma are designed to deprive us all of the choice to be queer--by working very hard to make it costly. If sexual "orientation" were fixed--that wouldn't be necessary, would it? I happily chose to be queer, after being straight and married, despite the costs imposed on my choice in law and society. I did that because given the persistence of the gender hierarchy, and the historical weight of conventions of monogamy and the double standard, being straight sucks-especially for women. Being queer is a delightful *choice* for many of us. Remember the old Alix Dobkin song, "Any Woman Can Be A Lesbian?" Well, it's true, as any dyke who specializes in seducing straight girls (it's easy) can tell you.

Lisa Duggan | August 14, 2007 12:52 AM

A p.s. to my previous post: Sure, you can find a smattering of biologists and social scientists of various sorts who claim sexual orientation is biological,or otherwise fixed. And you can find others who dispute those claims (persuasively, in my view). But the vast majority of reputable historians and anthropologists at US universities (of which I am one) argue that sexuality is NOT biological or fixed, but historically constructed, culturally shaped and socially regulated. This isn't quite the same thing as saying sexuality is always experienced as individually "chosen"--it is deeply ingrained like language or religion, which are historically and culturally embedded. But--you can also learn other languages and change your religion. There's an extensive bibliography of historical and cross cultural work showing the vast variation in organizations of human sexuality--enough variation to make it impossible to claim that sexuality is biologically given or otherwise fixed. I've always wondered why mainstream gay rights advocates push the sketchy science and ignore the history, etc. But I guess it's obvious. There is a defensive sense that if sexuality isn't fixed, then we're giving in to the right's wish to regulate it. But that move is ultimately self defeating, because such claims of fixity often also come with the implication that gay sexuality is so undesirable that it wouldn't be, or even shouldn't be, chosen. Some believe that we must claim lgb sexuality and t identity as fixed because legal protections require that it be "immutable" to be worthy of protection from discrimination. But religious practice, and religious choice, is legally protected--and religion isn't "fixed." So I'm with Bill Richardson.....it just doesn't matter whether sexuality is experienced as fixed or chosen--we all have the right to equality and justice regardless. Stop beating the man up.

I do agree with Barney Frank's statement and I am willing to forgive someone for their ignorance. However, there is something about Bill Richardson's appearance that I cannot put my finger on: Either he looked exhausted or what concerns me... perhaps depressed. Comedian Alec Mapa summed it up best when he said Bill Richardson appeared to be Eeyore (from Pooh)in his demeanor. I have noticed this in other debates and forums.

I realize Richardson is not one for dramatic speeches and he is extremely pragmatic. He has been extremely positive to our community. Perhaps it came off as aloof by stressing that he would do what was achievable, when his appearance followed Kucinich and Gravel. It is a shame that for some reason, he is not connecting with voters. Perhaps a more impassioned pragmaticism is needed here.

The flap over "choice" is irrelevant. More telling was a question and non-answer that came a minute later in the forum.

After talking about the importance of working for what is "achievable", and touting his support for domestic partnerships in New Mexico, Richardson was asked a simple and direct question: "If the New Mexico legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill, would you sign it?"

Richardson sat, stunned, for a few seconds, absolutely dead silent.

Then he waffled, trying to retreat to the familiar ground of domestic partnerships, spewing babble.

He was asked again. Again he waffled.

It was a simple question: If presented a same-sex marriage bill that had passed the New Mexico legislature, would he sign it into law, or would he pull a Schwarzenegger? Richardson could not, or would not, answer with a "Yes" or a "No". He seemed paralyzed by the question.

Whatever chance Richardson might have had for widespread support from the gay and lesbian community, it evaporated right then and there, whatever his views about "choice".

I agree with Lisa. As controversial as this may seem: so what if it is a choice? So what? How does the freedom to choose mitigate my equal rights?

Eric Georgantes | August 14, 2007 11:00 AM

Whether or not it is a choice shouldn't matter in theory, but it does matter in practice. Support for equal rights is always significantly higher among those who believe that it is not a choice, but something that is unchangeable (regardless of whether it is something you are born with, the result of early childhood experiences, a combination of genetics, hormonal conditions in the womb, and those early experiences, or whether fairies from Jupiter cast magical spells upon you).

A book I read recently, called The Sexual Spectrum was written by Olive Skene Johnson, a neuropsychologist, and had some very illuminating information on the idea of choice.

I've noticed sometimes in blog comments, where, when the subject comes up, one or more people suggest that they had a choice in their own homosexuality, and are somewhat perturbed by the suggestion that they did not. I had assumed that these people were simply bisexual, but it seems that women - who make up the majority of those making those comments, near as I can tell - are simply much more flexible in their sexual orientation than are men.

I've started to think that, at least with some women, their sexual orientation is something that can be shifted somewhat, which could explain the difference in perception between my experiences - which tell me that it is impossible to change and ridiculous to think I chose it - and the experiences of some of those commenting here.

I have thought, in the past few days, that perhaps we were a bit hard on Richardson. His record does speak for itself.

And I have to ask... What if Richardson does personally believe sexual orientation is a choice? It isn't what we'd want him to think, but if that really is his deep-down personal view it certainly hasn't affected too much how he treats our community.

For example, I'm in conversations with a very conservative, Christian man here in North Carolina who has an exploratory committee up. He's deciding whether or not he's going to run for Congress. I know that personally he isn't on the same page as me on LGBT equality, but if I can get him to a point where he might be able to support us in some ways, that is a good thing... *no matter* what his personal views are.

I think that is the point of our democracy here... Politicians and elected officials represent the best interest of the People, *no matter* their personal views. Their personal views could be in direct contradiction to what the people think, but as long as they are representing the People's best interest, that is all that matters, right?

I'm going to chime in here.

As much as we say that he's mr "best record" on gay equality, I can't believe that we're forgetting that he voted for the DOMA. Actually, I won't find a link just yet, but Bay Windows even quoted him as saying that he still stands by that vote a few months ago, even tho he says he's against it in the debate.

But either way, yeah, it doesn't matter if it's a choice or whatever as long as his politics are good. But he didn't say that at the forum and said it afterwards in a press release that he probably had little to do with actually writing.

I'm not offended by what he said because it wasn't all that offensive, although it is erasing of the experiences of many LGBTQueer people, including myself, who feels that it isn't a choice. I know that we all read Foucault and he was like sexuality is a learned identity, blah, blah, blah, but that's pretty far off base from the way many people actually experience sexual orientation. So to say it's a choice, with an implied "always", shows that he just isn't listening.

I think this incident is funnier than it is offensive, but that's just because I have a strange sense of humor. It's like that scene in King Ralph where John Goodman moves when he's being made king because he didn't know the protocol and gets his ear cut or like when someone uses the wrong fork for the salad - going to an HRC event and saying something like that and then not accepting help from Melissa or Margaret, and not even going into a deep analysis of the social construction of sexuality, which I doubt he's familiar with, is pure slapstick to me. It's like, nobody prepped him for the gay debate and he fell on his face, and like Buck with the Beyonce video, I just love watching it again and again.

Wait... does that make me a bad person?

This choice argument is a rather self-defeating one. Basically, the activists are saying that if it were proven to be a "choice" then this choice is so horrible that we would suddenly lose all claim to equal rights. Its as if - oh we can't help ourselves, we poor pathetic homos. People do have choices, and living an open and happy gay lifestyles is one of them. We should embrace this, not always be on the defensive for our own existence.

As a one-time visitor to this site, just to read the Richardson colloquy, I must comment that the tone here is the most civil I have seen anywhere on the blogoshpere, despite the apparent deeply-felt differences of opinion. Keep it up.

I must second that of Thomas. I came to this site just to read the article and read all of the comments. Very civil and intelligent discussion.

My own personal opinion is that I do think he messed up and he has already apologized for it. Frankly, I don't see that as the grave injustice. That is his own personal opinion whether or not he think sexual orientation is a choice. What matters most is policy and I have a troubling time dealing with his, and the others' views on accepting civil unions rather than civil marriage. Not one of them have offered a logical, legal, argument as to why they support one and not the other.

As a person who has voted in almost a dozen presidential elections, I know that it is unrealistic to expect to find all that any of us would want on all issues important to us in a single candidate. So, it gets down to an imperfect choice among those who are running. I would like to see some dialogue on whom this community sees as acceptable, if imperfect, and whom it sees as unacceptable under any circumstances.