Joe Mirabella

Barney Frank Visits Seattle and Discusses ENDA

Filed By Joe Mirabella | May 18, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Barney Frank, DOMA, ENDA, marriage, trans employment, trans rights bill

On Tuesday Barney Frank visited Seattle to help raise money for Congressmen Jim McDermott.3950609968_6b1e796de2.jpg

I had an opportunity to meet Barney Frank in a small group setting at Equal Rights Washington. He spoke to the group about the state of the movement. He went through a laundry list of goals achieved and still on the horizon.

He spoke about the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and briefly mentioned that right after the repeal passed, "someone from the White House asked me if there would be much political fallout if the President came out in support of same sex marriage." Barney Frank replied to the staff member, "there would be absolutely no fall out." Shortly after that conversation, the President announced he would no longer defend DOMA, according to Frank.

I pressed Frank further to see if he would tell us who the staffer was, but he would not.

"This is just my intuition, but I think the President will be supportive of marriage in the states that offer it before the 2012 election," Frank said.

Barney also talked about political strategy. Someone pondered the possibility of attaching pro gay legislation to a more popular bill. Frank said it would be impossible because the Republicans would never let it happen. "There just aren't the votes," he explained.

ENDA won't pass for several years, according to Frank. He talked about the need for more lobbying from the transgender community specifically, "People may not like to hear this, but there is still a lot of transphobia."

He told the small group that we need more public dialogue about transgender people. I asked him about the possibility of introducing a transgender only bill, specifically one that would require insurance companies to cover medical costs associated with transitions. "No." he flatly said, "It would be a waste of time. There simply aren't the votes."

"But it could inspire a national conversation," I said, "Isn't that important?"

"Things like that, just don't move votes. Lobbying does," Frank said.

He is right. Lobbying is extraordinarily important. Frank's primary goal is to win votes in Congress and lobbying is the best way to do that.

However, there are multiple campaigns continually in play. At the state level, transgender and transexual people are under attack in legislatures throughout this country. Simply leaving one's home can even be life threatening for some transgender people.

There are not enough public conversations about transgender people, so while Frank may be right that a trans specific bill would never go anywhere, it would inspire a desperately needed national conversation that would change hearts and minds at the grassroots level. Simply put, if we need more lobbying, we need to create more lobbyists.


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"People may not like to hear this, but there is still a lot of transphobia."

Durh. That's the whole point of a non-discrimination bill. Did we wait until there was no more homophobia before pushing for DADT-repeal, marriage, etc?

Don't ever allow yourself to forget that Barney Frank has repeatedly demonstrate that his politics are entirely based on "gay rights first and foremost, even if that means gay rights only". He doesn't really give a shit about trans people; indeed, he has made it very clear that he actively opposes bathroom rights for trans people.

I disagree. He does care, but he's also perfectly ok with gay-only legislation if that's all he feels he can get. We are a concern for him but a secondary concern to the rights of gays and lesbians to be sure, as he proved in '07.

I think you're overly optimistic -- what happened to ENDA in 2010 at least strongly suggests that Frank personally hates trans people so much that he's willing to put gay rights on hold in order to spite us.

As was pointed out right here on Bilerico, the inside story was that Frank had ENDA cut from the legislative calendar because he was warned that the Republicans were prepared to use the anti-trans provisions he'd inserted as a poison pill. He wanted those provisions so badly that he dropped ENDA entirely rather than remove them.

Oh, believe me, I'm not going to forget that.

Frank said "People may not like to hear this, but there is still a lot of transphobia."

No one can dispute this point, but the implication that the responsibility is on the tiny, underfunded, underresourced trans community alone to clean the Augean stables is wrong. There is also a lot of homophobia but that didn't stop DADT repeal. Lobbying by the trans community is definitely important. However, we are such a small group that one by one lobbying is not going to make the difference all by itself. There must also be educational campaigns that enlighten Members of Congress, such as formal hearings on trans civil rights and more informal means, such as educational campaigns for legislators and their staffs. There must also be educational campaigns for residents of states where Members of Congress could be swayed.

But is the gay community willing to support these efforts with sufficient resources? The answer has largely been no.

Justus Eisfeld Justus Eisfeld | May 19, 2011 7:29 AM

The irony with anti-discrimination legislation is that it only protects those who are hated only by a minority, instead of a clear majority or almost everybody, as there needs to be a majority to agree that a specific group is worthy of protection. That more or less leaves only the somewhat vulnerable groups protected, not the most vulnerable groups. It is a contradiction in terms that has to be addressed, not just for trans people, but for all groups who are currently excluded from society.

I want to know why you asked him about a transgender/transsexual bill only. What was your thinking behind that? It almost sounds as if you are suggesting we take transgender/transsexual out of the current ENDA. Is this what you were saying?

Thank you for asking that question. I brought up a trans only bill first and foremost because two congressmen were in the room and I wanted to introduce the idea of health care reform for transgender people.

I live in Seattle where places like Microsoft, Google, and other large corporations provide transition related health care to their employees.

Seattle is about to provide coverage for transgender city employees.

My friends who have utilized those services were in a far better situation than my friends in Iowa who did not have access to medical care. Some people had to leave the country for their surgery, because they could not afford it here. Others could not afford hormone therapy, so they resorted to black market work.

Congressmen Jim McDermott is very supportive of LGBT health, so I knew it was an idea that would catch his attention.

Furthermore, from a strategy point, there has never been a transgender specific piece of legislation introduced to my knowledge. Since I do a lot of media work, I feel confident that such a bill would inspire a national conversation about trans people and their needs.

I do not want trans people dropped from ENDA. I have no idea why you got that out of my idea, but your theory is utterly wrong.

Forgive me about being paranoid about ENDA but I think it shouldn't come as a surprise that some of us are scared something like that might happen.

BTW, I am worshiping at your feet about the healthcare advocacy. That is a huge problem right now. I have been lobbying the University of Pennsylvania for the last year+ to change the insurance policy. They did for students but not for staff yet (though there are rumors we get it next year).

This city of San Francisco has some very interesting data about the increased cost to their insurance provider once they implemented the change.

When they implemented the policy, their insurance provider insisted on a multi-million dollar rider to cover the costs. However, the actual cost to the insurance company over has been minimal. If I recall, it was a little over 300K.

At Penn, we found the insurance policy to cover triadic care for transsexual faculty and staff to be just $5,000 per year.

Duh, that's a no brainer for the amount of time that Frank and his GLB Facista has thrown us under the bus. But on the other hand always looking for support from the Trans Community for the GLB agenda.

Did you ever notice that Barney Frank always says, "There's not the votes" no matter what topic you ask him about? I'm sure there was a reference to the NRA in there somewhere too...

Yes he did bring up the NRA. He said the LGBT movement needs to be more like the NRA. He used that opportunity to take another jab at the national equality march. "You never see the NRA have a shoot out, do you?" He said the NRA is successful because they lobby constantly. He thinks we need to be more like them.

Cripes, another gay man (barney) who has gone out of his way to shut down trans voices telling people there has to be "more education". It is a perfect plan. Keep trans people from talking about trans-specific issues then blame trans people for not educating about trans-specific needs.

Much as I hate it, Jill is right. The funding isn't there for any effective campaign on trans issues. This is due in part to the size and relative poverty of trans people, but also because the greatest amount of "education" we invariably have to do is within the L/G communities. We end up spending our time and resources on LGB folks leaving pitifully small amounts of time or energy to actually making social gains.

Joe, I'd have to say there are plenty of public conversations about trans people. The problem is, largely, it seems to be the same conversations that we were having 20 years ago. Rather than talk about what we need in order to simply access the basic aspects of society, we are having to prove our legitimacy. We are having to defend our place within a political movement. We are having to do continual damage control from our allies. If we can't move the conversation past "man in a dress/ self-hating lesbian" within the community, how are we supposed to have the important conversations about medical care and legal documentation?

Yes there are public conversation (like this one here). But Chris Matthews has not invited Jillian Weiss on his show. He had Dan Choi on multiple times because the national conversation was about the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell".

We need opportunities like that for transgender/transexual people.

MSNBC never has transpeople on as guests, not rarely, not occasionally, but not ever. Even lesbian and gender-variant Rachel Maddow totally erases us from any story that's relevant and should include us, such as her coverage of the hate crimes bill last year.

Witness the recent coverage of the Chrissy Polis beating. Just about every mainstream media outlet covered it, including ABC This Week and even FOX. The only network that made no mention of it whatsoever was MSNBC.

Of course, if you look at who runs ads on MSNBC, the oil lobby, the natural gas lobby, Boeing, etc., you realize that none of these companies want to see LGBT and especially transpeople get equal rights in this country. ENDA enacted into law would, of course, cost them money, lots of it. That's why you see lots of coverage of the struggles of those employed by the government (DADT, Wisconsin) but virtually none of LGBT Americans working in the private sector.

In addition, chronically unemployed and underemployed minorities tend to fix snd maintain what they already have as opposed to buying new. Their sponsors don't see lower and middle class LGBTs as lucrative demographics so when MSNBC does cover our community it's about the topics which are most appealing to rich white gay gays and lesbians and not upsetting to their wealthy corporate sponsors.

In the end, just as with FOX and most other mainstream newsmedia, for MSNBC it's all about making money and maximizing profits, not actually reporting or commenting on the news.

ENDA enacted into law would, of course, cost them money, lots of it.

Not if they obeyed it.

I disagree, Kat. Even if we exclude the expense of potential lawsuits from breaking the law, there's also the training of staffs and especially Human Resources departments to respect the new law, as well as accommodating the needs of trans employees in terms of both insurance and on-site facilities. While those might not be as big a deal in more liberal areas of the country, it could prove quite an expense of both time and money to comply with an ENDA law in others.

Also, don't forget that Exxon-Mobil, a major advertiser on MSNBC, remains the only Fortune 500 company to actually rescind LGBT protections for its employees after they had already been enacted. You can be sure that the mega-conglomerates who advertise with MSNBC, including the country's largest one, General Electric, a part owner of the network, aren't in favor of giving LGBTs (or any workers really) more rights than we already have.

Very interesting. I bet if we generated enough public pressure through a petition or letter writing campaign, we could get MSNBC to interview transgender people. Who would you like on?

Manoman, is that a loaded question. Aside from myself (just a personal fantasy, not a (necessarily) serious suggestion), I think there are several transfolks who'd do a great job of discussing our issues on-air for a mainly straight audience: Mara Keisling, Dana Beyer, Donna Cartwright, Ethan St Pierre, Allyson Robinson, Jill Weiss, Babs Casbar-Siperstein, and I'm sure several more who I just can't think of right now. There's no shortage of good candidates for that job, just a lack of interest on the part of MSNBC.

You are right, we (trans people) need these opportunities to direct the conversation. But, when GLBT media quotes and interviews cis gay men and lesbians on trans stories, how can we expect the mainstream to do any different?

ValerieKeefe | May 22, 2011 3:21 AM

I'd also note that neither has Rachel Maddow. In fact, the last time she had anything to say about anything trans was the Amanda Simpson hiring, and even then it was just running blocking for the administration. Her silence on this issue is deafening.

Yeah, including gay rights in other bills won't happen now as all committees have Republican majorities.

And people wonder why Barney Frank is often called "Barney Fag".....

If Frank was really concerned about Transpeople, then why didn't he raise Trans-issues in the last congress? Oh yeah, that's right!! Gays need to get their rights, before the evil Trannies get anything!!

/rant