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Topics In the News
Barney Frank versus the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 09/16/12
Last updated on: 09/16/12
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Barney Frank (left) and Richard Tisei.

Representative Barney Frank has endorsed Massachusetts Congressman John Tierney, a Democrat with an impeccable pro-gay voting record, in his race against gay Republican challenger Richard Tisei. In so doing, he criticized the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund for its endorsement of Tisei, describing its strategy of "blanket support" for gay candidates a "cultural lag."

The race between Tierney and Tisei has gained national attention both because Republicans have an opportunity to gain a Democratic-held Massachusetts congressional seat, but also because if elected Tisei would be the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress. (In the 1990s, two openly gay Republicans, Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin and Jim Kolbe of Arizona, were re-elected to Congressional seats after having been outed while in Congress.)

On September 14, 2012, Frank told Bryan McGonigle of TewksburyPatch.com that Tisei would not be able to affect the Republican Party when it comes to gay rights. He said that electing Tisei would only give another seat to the Republican party, and that no pro-gay legislation would be permitted a vote as long as Republicans control the House.

Tisei has said that he disagrees with the Republican leadership on several issues, especially issues relating to gay rights and marriage equality.

"I was an advocate on the state level, I introduced legislation on the state level, I fought for equality on state level, and I'm not going to be any different on the national level," Tisei said.

Frank, however, said that the only way pro-gay legislation will be advanced is by returning Democrats to the majority.

He also criticized the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund for endorsing Tisei. Frank said that while blanket support for gay candidates was a useful strategy 20 years ago, times have changed. Visibility used to be the key thing, but, he said, "We've gone beyond that now."

"Richard Tisei should not mislead people by suggesting he can influence John Boehner's lifelong efforts against all that we stand for," Frank insisted. "It would be great to have another gay person in Congress, but not at the price of keeping Eric Cantor as majority leader."

According to Justin Snow of MetroWeekly, Frank said, "The fact that Richard Tisei is openly gay is a good thing. The problem is that it is of no use to us."

Tisei is a moderate Republican who supports marriage equality and is pro-choice. He has attempted to distance himself from the Republican Party's national platform, describing the document, which opposes marriage equality and supports the Defense of Marriage Act, as espousing "beliefs that exclude many from our party, including myself."

Tisei's moderate social views and record of working across party lines have propelled his campaign against Tierney, who has faced scrutiny for the October 2010 conviction of his wife for tax fraud.

Following his endorsement by Frank, Tierney reiterated his strong support for glbtq rights: "I have continually supported equal rights of all Americans and although we have made significant strides toward equality, we still have a long way to go. I will keep fighting to end discrimination against LGBT Americans."

Tierney has been endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign.

In contrast, the Victory Fund has doubled down on its endorsement of Tisei.

"The Victory Fund was proud to endorse Richard Tisei, and we stand with him as he seeks to represent the people of the 6th District in Washington," said Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe. "We need authentic and courageous voices like his and Barney Frank's challenging both parties to change, and advocating for the freedoms all LGBT Americans deserve."

I believe the Victory Fund has made a serious error in endorsing Tisei. While the idea of promoting glbtq candidates in both parties is a good one, it is folly to support candidates simply on the basis of their sexual orientation.

More particularly, it is destructive to target straight allies like Tierney, who has one of the most progressive voting records in the entire Congress, by endorsing an opponent simply because of his sexual orientation.

At a time when there are real possibilities for progress, it is foolhardy of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund to help enable the obstructionist tactics of the Republican Party.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund is damaging its brand by using its resources to help unseat strong allies of the equal rights movement.

In the video below, Barney Frank speaks at the LGBT Caucus at the Democratic National Convention.

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