Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, one of the nation's first openly gay federal lawmakers and an always-outspoken member of the House of Representatives for an impressive 33 years, didn't seek reelection at the end of last year, but one of the causes he championed is still very much alive in Washington, D.C.
Frank was a strong proponent and early cosponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on Thursday. The legislation has been introduced in every Congress except one since 1996, and would make it illegal on a federal level for an employer to fire, refuse to hire, or decline to promote someone solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
While several senators on both sides of the aisle have made impassioned speeches about the need for ENDA's passage this week, Speaker of the House John Boehner said Monday that he thinks the law would lead to "frivolous litigation" and incorrectly stated that it was already illegal to fire people based on their sexual orientation. In fact, it's legal to fire someone for simply being gay, lesbian, or bisexual in 29 states. In 33 states, employers can fire a worker solely because they're transgender.
Since this year's ENDA proceedings won't include the always-polarizing Massachusetts Democrat, we pulled up one of Frank's most compelling arguments in favor of the long-languishing legislation. On November 7, 2007, Frank delivered the remarks below on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. We think they're still relevant today.
"Mr. Speaker, we say here that we don't take things personally, and usually that's true," said Frank about halfway through his remarks. "Members, Mr. Speaker will have to forgive me — I take it a little personally. Thirty-five years ago, I filed a bill to try to get rid of discrimination based on sexual orientation. As we sit here today, there are millions of Americans in states where this is not the law. By the way, 19 states have such a law, and in no case has it led to [the legalization of same-sex marriage]. … I used to be someone subject to this prejudice. And through luck, circumstance, I got to be a big shot. I'm now above that prejudice. But I feel an obligation to 15-year-olds dreading to go to school because of the torments, to people afraid they'll lose their job at the gas station if someone finds out who they love. I feel an obligation to use the status I have been lucky enough to get to help them."
That's when Frank became visibly emotional, before driving his point home. Watch Frank's 2007 remarks below, with the relevant comments beginning at the 2:50 mark.