Barney Frank (D-Mass.) addressed a capacity crowd in Reiss Tuesday, discussing barriers he has faced in trying to pass gay rights legislation and the growing acceptance of homosexuality he has seen in America over the last 30 years.

Frank, who disclosed his sexuality seven years after he was elected to Congress, has been a gay rights activist since the 1970s.

“There are right-wingers who denounce what they call the `gay agenda,'” Frank said, “and they are correct because there is an agenda.” The “agenda,” Frank said, is a set of goals to “make people free to pursue their own nature without suffering the legal discriminations.”

“Nobody that I know is going to set laws that people shouldn’t dislike gay people,” he said. “People are free to dislike gay people or not.”

Frank said the main planks of the gay agenda are that sexual orientation should not be held against someone trying to get a job, partners should be able to commit themselves to each other not just personally but financially and students should be protected against abuse in school regarding their “basic nature.”

In the 1970s,”the opposition to the legislation was very explicitly based on prejudice,” he said. “People who were against [gay rights] were very explicit in saying, `hey, we don’t like fags and dykes, and we don’t want to hire them, and they’re no good and we’re against your bill.'”

Today, the opposition disguises itself, Frank said. Alluding to Oscar Wilde, he said homosexuality was the love that dare not speak its name, and that “what now dare not speak its name is anti-gay prejudice.”

Currently, those opposed to gay rights are in the minority, Frank said, because of a drastically changing society. “Ultimately, millions of gay, lesbian and bisexual people decided to tell the truth about who they are.” They started “coming out.” Frank characterized it as “answering honestly the questions people ask you. You cannot go 48 hours in this society and be honest and not tell people your sexuality.”

As more people came out of the closet, “there were tens of millions of Americans who have learned that their relatives, their clients, their teammates, their bosses, their friends, a whole lot of people they deal with are gay and lesbian,” he said. “I think what happened is that Americans discovered that they weren’t anti-gay, they just thought that they were supposed to be.”

Frank himself came out in 1987. “I tried every which way not to acknowledge publicly that I was gay and I said, `This was making me crazy,’ and I decided to acknowledge publicly being gay,” he said, adding that being in the public eye makes homosexuality difficult to hide. bring to the White House?” he said.

“What if there’s a party? Who do you Frank polled his district, and it turned out that overall his district was not disappointed to learn that he was gay. But twice the number of people thought he would lose votes than the actual number that said it would change their mind on the vote.

According to Frank, the responses in this poll were indicative of feelings of the rest of the country. “I think what happened is most Americans have learned that they are not homophobic . and you see this translated now into the political culture.”

He said the debates have transformed to the point where those opposed to homosexuality are the people who have to avoid the truth of their beliefs.

“They understand that if they told the truth, they would lose,” Frank said. According to Frank, anti-gay legislators fight against anti-discrimination bills by saying, “We’re not opposed to anti-discrimination, but we don’t want to give these people `special rights.'”

He said that most people think that gays and lesbians are already protected, but that is not the case. The courts have even held that a public agency can discriminate, he said. He cited as an example Michael Bowers, a former Republican attorney general of Georgia who fired a woman once he found out she was a lesbian.

Beyond job discrimination, Frank said harassment leads to a higher depression rate and a higher suicide rate among gay and lesbian children.

“This notion that it’s okay for people in high school to be pushed around and beaten up and physically abused is nuts. If you’re 30 years old and a group of people are physically harassing you and knocking food out of your hands and taking away your briefcase . if you’re 15 and are supposed to ignore that, it’s ridiculous,” he said.

Attempts to pass legislation to prevent this harassment in schools are foiled by those against gay rights because they say that these are measures to “promote homosexuality,” Frank said. But he responded, “If you gave me a lot of money and told me you want me to promote homosexuality, I don’t know what I would do . How would you promote homosexuality? Have, like, a jingle?”

Student reaction to Frank’s speech varied.

“I don’t exactly agree with his insinuation that the Republican party was at a stanstill. I’ve gotten a different sense of the political climate. I don’t see any single-party antagonism towards homosexual behavior and homosexual lifestyles.”

Frank’s speech was sponsored by GU Pride and the College Democrats.

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