Op-ed: Frank Schubert Can’t See the Pain He Causes
“Why should we care about Frank Schubert?”
That’s what a reporter from The San Francisco Chronicle asked me while doing interviews for a profile on the Prop. 8 strategist and proponent.
The question, I thought, was a bit odd because the answer seemed so obvious. Schubert is the man who orchestrated the Prop. 8 win, imported that same campaign to Maine, re-ran it in North Carolina and as the newly appointed political director for the National Organization for Marriage is hitting the replay button in the four states holding same-sex marriage referendums this fall. He is no peripheral figure in this issue. He is the person who is most shaping the outcomes on behalf of the antigay side.
The headline from The Chronicle says the “Strategist behind Proposition 8 is loved, feared.”
I observed Schubert’s tactics in Maine when he prevented gays and lesbians from getting married via a marriage referendum battle in 2009. During the three months that me and co-director James Nubile covered the campaign for our documentary Question One, while embedded as filmmakers in the heart of both campaigns, I never met Frank Schubert. Nor did I ever speak to him.
Although he rarely set foot in Maine, his prints were everywhere. I saw him from afar and heard him at pro-marriage rallies, on numerous conference calls and on Election Day when he practically pushed aside the local campaign co-chairman to claim victory. His pervasive influence and personality shaped the course of events.
The Chronicle story mirrored a carefully crafted image, spun by the PR guru (who with his partner Jeff Flint was awarded the American Association of Political Consultants’ Public Affairs Team of the Year award in 2009),of a man who claims he experienced a spiritual epiphany afterProp 8. and has since dedicated his life to defending “traditional” marriage.
Religious callings and how they play out come in different forms. Some are driven by missionary zeal (think, Crusades) and others are wrapped in a warm blanket of humanity. I might question Schubert’s intention and the post-Prop 8 timing of his calling, wondering if instead a lucrative pay check was a stronger lure to lead the “good” fight rather than a call from God. But who am I to question his faith?
What I do question is something Schubert told The Chronicle, which reported that the strategist was worried his actions had caused some pain. "In retrospect, I wish I would have done more communication about the good of marriage."
When exactly after Prop. 8 did Schubert start feeling these pangs of concern? And did his actions after Prop. 8 reflect a man who was truly concerned about causing people pain? Not from what I saw.
I saw Schubert for the first time at a Stand For Marriage Rally in Maine’s state capital of Augusta. The event was invitational and was off-limits to the general press.
“What is it about homosexual marriage that requires us to abandon the idea of monogamous relationships?” he asked, trying to stir up the crowd.
“What is it about homosexual marriage that requires us to eliminate the interests of children from our marriage laws?” asked Schubert, who happens to have a lesbian sister who is in a long-term relationship with two children.
“What is it about homosexual marriage that forces us to forget about families and only consider the desires of the two adults involved in the relationship?” he asked, the crowd now on its feet cheering wildly.
Could saying that gay people are not monogamous be the type of pain Schubert should have been concerned about causing again? Or maybe he should have thought about the conference calls with “Yes On One” leadership during which he vociferously advocated running an ad he created that showed sex toys graphically depicted with the sole intention of scaring parents into voting against us.
In these ads, it was strongly inferred that if Mainers voted to let gays and lesbians get married, then gay sex toys would be used in the schools to teach children about the birds and the bees. The ads were set to air, and — as was often the case — local leaders were seeing it for the first time at the eleventh hour. Up until this point, the locals in Maine had pretty much rubber stamped any decision being made in Sacramento where Schubert’s firm was located.
Not this time.
The sight of a dildo going into a vagina had co-campaign chairman Marc Mutty going into an apoplectic fit.
Stammering and stuttering, Mutty tried to convince Schubert and NOM President Brian Brown (who was also on the call) that the ad went to far, would turn people off and offered up this assessment: “Mainers had had enough of these tactics.” Mutty was referring to previous ads that diverted the issue away from marriage to kids and schools — two more potential sources of pain for LGBT folks.
But with polling numbers in a dead heat, Schubert was adamant that vaginas were the way to go.
“We’ve done our research,” said Schubert, “and we’re not going to lose this.”
After rounds of backs and forths, Schubert offered up a compromise — a “less offensive” 30-second ad that also featured sexual graphics. The sex-toy ad was put on hold for later use if needed.
“So Frank wins the day again,” muttered Mutty in disgust as he hung up the phone.
Perhaps in referring to the pain he caused, Schubert should have thought twice about the bogus press conference he choreographed and scripted in Maine in which children as young as 12 were trotted out in front of the press to claim how they as straight students were being “discriminated” against in schools by being denied Bible study classes, and how gay students were being given “preferential” treatment by being allowed to start organizations like the Gay-Straight Alliance.
It’s now been almost four years since Prop 8. Three years since Maine. Only a few months since our defeat in North Carolina. And it’s a few months away from a new round of referendum campaigns in Minnesota, Maryland, Washington and Maine again — all to be run by Schubert as well. And so the questions to be asked are: Is Frank Schubert truly concerned about the pain he caused gays and lesbians? If so, what pain in particular is he concerned about? And what will he do differently to cause less pain?
Will we be seeing a kindler, more gentler Frank? Sure didn’t look that way in North Carolina. Sure doesn’t look that way in Minnesota, with “Marriage Minute” ads on The Minnesota For Marriage website citing “facts” and statistics about our supposed inability to be monogamous.
And it sure didn’t look that way even in The Chroniclearticle when asked about his gay sister. “I pray for her children,” he said.
How could that remark not cause any pain?
A recent Advocate profile on Frank Schubert called him “The boogeyman.” The definition of Boogeyman is “an imaginary monster used to frighten children.” And for many years, as The Advocatepointed out, that’s how Frank Schubert stayed – like the Boogeyman lurking in the shadows. Schubert used to be content to stay in the closet, so to speak, for fear that if his corporate clients (Coca Cola and Ford to name a few) knew about his role in defending “traditional” marriage, that his business would suffer. He has recently split his anti-marriage operation away from the firm for just that reason.
In Maine, I approached Schubert no less than three times for an interview. Each time he refused. With the last refusal came an explanation that he did not “want to be known as the same-sex marriage firm.”
Shortly after “Question One” was screened in Sacramento and for the first time outed Schubert in his hometown, he announced he was leaving his public affairs firm, Schubert and Flint, which he founded and ran for decades. As the recently appointed political director of NOM, Schubert is no longer the boogeyman. He has now taken on a more public and visible role and has in some ways become the new public face in the same-sex marriage debate.
As such, a more appealing public persona needed to be created. Hence the spiritual aura projected in The Chronicle. It’s merely another tactic.
“Why should we care about Frank Schubert?”
Because as the boogeyman slowly recedes and Frank Schubert becomes a more visible figure in his new role, he will grow stronger, and so will his tactics. His games are used to stop voters from seeing us as human beings and instead as immoral, degenerates who aren’t worthy of marriage.
Why should we care? Because it’s the type of pain we cannot ignore.
JOE FOX is the co-director of Question One, a documentary about Maine’s recent same-sex marriage referendum, which opens in theatres nationwide in the fall. On the following pages, see more clips from the movie that were mentioned in this article.