Congressman Barney Frank and former Massachusetts State Senator Cheryl Jacques visited Emerson April 21 to speak about queer politics. Both political leaders are openly gay and are equal rights advocates; Frank was the second openly gay member in U.S. Congress, and Jacques was one of the first openly gay members of the Massachusetts legislature. The event was sponsored by Emerson Alliance for Gays, Lesbians, and Everyone (E.A.G.L.E.).
The evening’s topics ranged from personal stories about relationships and coming out to current political issues, such as President Obama’s decision not to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act and proposed state bills that would ban discrimination against transgender people.
Both Frank and Jacques told the gathering of about 40 people that they had positive experiences coming out of the closet. They said that the best way to advance the cause of equal rights is for gay men and women to be open about their sexual identity because, as Jacques said, when people realize gay people are their mothers, sisters, brothers, best friends, and co-workers “that really breaks down barriers.”
Frank talked about the importance of gay men and women in relationships coming out “not just as individuals, but as a couple.” He said gay couples shouldn’t feel intimidated about doing anything as a couple that heterosexual people do. Frank said he brings his partner Jim Ready with him to any event other couples in Washington attend. “We don’t do anything just to make a point,” he said, “but we don’t let other people do things to make a point either. We just decided we’re going to live the way we want to live, and if that bothered people that was their problem.”
Frank expressed his optimism at the progress that has been made in the gay rights movement thus far.
“There are fewer and fewer reasons for people of a sexual minority to think that their lives are going to be limited.”
Frank cited the reversal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (a military policy that banned openly gay people from serving in the armed forces) and a general change in congressional attitudes about voting on gay rights issues as recent positive developments. “I think we are within 10 years of full legal equality,” he said.
Jacques, who is also a former president of the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign, emphasized that although the fight for gay rights has come a long way, there are still legal issues left to fight for, such as federal recognition of gay marriage. She said she “fears complacency” from many who think the fight is over. Even once full legal equality is attained, she believes homophobia will still exist, just as racism still exists, even though there is equal protection under the law.
Jacques is hopeful, though, that society can someday overcome prejudice. She quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to close the discussion: “The arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The event was part of E.A.G.L.E.’s 20th anniversary celebration of Queer Spring. The celebration concludes Friday (April 29) with the “Gayla” dinner from 7:00 to 10:00 pm at the Billy Bordy Theater.