by Leah Waldron
This past week at the DNC, the gay marriage support was historic, but one speaker’s pro-gay remarks were a bit too vitriolic—even for some in the gay community. At the LGBT Caucus on Thursday, openly gay Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass) compared the Log Cabin Republicans, a pro-gay Republican group, to the title character of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”:
“When they tell us that they’re happy to be Republicans because they’re getting acceptance and civility, I gotta say that I am again inclined to think that they’re called Log Cabin club because their role model is Uncle Tom.
Frank’s “Uncle Tom” epithet, which colloquially refers to a person who is subservient to a group that has no intention of letting him get ahead, was spot on (in a literary, but not a literal, sense). Not since Dan Savage called GOProud a bunch of “house faggots” (for endorsing Mitt Romney) has an insult been so perfect, yet so controversial.
But as apt as Frank’s comparison was (and I think it was), was it racially insensitive to call a bunch of mostly-white GOP gays a traditionally black stereotype/epithet? Would it have been okay if Barney Frank was a black man? Even more interesting, what if the Log Cabin Republicans were a black, gay GOP group?
Perhaps because of the remark’s racial undertones, national LGBT organizations such as the HRC, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and even the Stonewall Democrats, which Frank helped create, publicly denounced the “Uncle Tom” quote as divisive and unnecessary. HRC president Chad Griffin added that “the Log Cabin Republicans are good people doing good work,” and that Frank’s comparison was “certainly not [his] perspective.” As for the Log Cabin Republicans, Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper took Frank to task for spreading “bile” about his organization:
“We understand that Barney has earned his protected place within the Democrat Party by being their attack dog on gay rights issues, demonizing Republicans and undermining efforts at bipartisanship that would actually improve LGBT Americans lives. We expect this kind of bile from Barney, especially when it plays into the Obama campaign’s efforts to divide, distract and deceive the American people.”
I can understand why the Log Cabin Republicans would be a bit turned off by Frank’s comments. The group’s mere existence is a conundrum, at best, to many in the LGBT community, and Republicans barely give them the time of day, let alone policy concessions. The Republican Party gets more out of a pro-gay Republican than pro-gay Republicans get out of the Party. The GOP proves to the world that it does not hate gay people, while still keeping the group “in check” by blocking any conciliatory measures for LGBT rights.
So yes, the LCR has every right to be not only angry, but furious. But does the HRC (and others) have the right to call Frank out? Are gay Republicans, as Chad Griffin noted, really “good people doing good work?” The group may be helping bridge the gap between the two Parties, but for every gay person who joins the “bipartisan” LCR, another vote is taken away from the Democratic Party, which has our best interests—those precious civil rights—in mind.
Frank’s comments were, like Dan Savage’s, clever, but insensitive. But not to gay Republicans—a group that chooses to be on the wrong side of social history because they agree with the Party’s other policies. The “Uncle Tom” comparison was insensitive to black people. As much as the LGBT community wants to compare our fight to the civil rights conflict of the 1960s (or Uncle Tom’s fight, which was centered around the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act), the war against racism, past and present, is not the same as the fight for gay rights, and it never will be.
Just like Log Cabin Republicans have nothing to do with Abraham Lincoln.
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