Rep. Barney Frank lived up to his reputation as a firebrand this week by twice slamming the Log Cabin Republicans as “Uncle Toms.”
The gay Democratic congressman from Massachusetts originally made the characterization on Michelangelo Signorile’s Sirius OutQ radio show Wednesday, saying, “I now understand why they call themselves Log Cabin: Their role model is Uncle Tom.” He repeated it when addressing the Democratic National Convention’s LGBT Caucus Thursday: “I am again inclined to think that they’re called the Log Cabin club because their role model is Uncle Tom.”
Uncle Tom, a character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 19th-century antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is a gentle slave who has become a symbol of minority-group members who cooperate with their oppressors.
Frank’s remark received a mixed reaction at the caucus (see video below), prompted a response from Log Cabin, and led some LGBT leaders to quickly assert their disagreement with him.
“It’s a badge of honor to be attacked by a partisan hack like Barney Frank,” said Log Cabin executive director R. Clarke Cooper said in a press release. He noted that Log Cabin brought a lawsuit that led a federal court to rule “don’t ask, don’t tell” unconstitutional and that his organization lobbied to secure enough Republican votes in Congress to repeal the policy.
“Frank calls us ‘Uncle Toms’ and pretends that Log Cabin hasn’t been on the front lines of the fight for equality,” Cooper continued. “The truth is, by speaking conservative to conservative about gay rights, Log Cabin Republicans are doing some of the hardest work in the movement, work that liberals like Barney are unwilling to do and couldn’t do if they tried.”
Some other LGBT activists distanced themselves from Frank’s statements, reports BuzzFeed. “The Log Cabin Republicans are good people doing good work,” Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin told the website, adding, “We need all fair-minded Americans to rally to the side of equality, and that most definitely includes Republicans. They provide a voice within the Republican Party that’s important.”
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told BuzzFeed her group “would never say something like” Frank’s comments. Mara Keisling, head of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said, “It’s pretty clear to me which party is much, much, much better on LGBT equality, but I’m not going to cast aspersions on Log Cabin Republicans. Bless their hearts for trying.” Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said he “wouldn’t use that language,” but he thinks Log Cabin members “do play a certain role of kowtowing to the Republican Party in a way that borders on inappropriate itself.”
Frank, who came out as gay in 1987, after six years in Congress, is retiring at the end of this year. On Thursday, Joseph Kennedy III, grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, won the Democratic primary in the suburban Boston district with about 90% of the vote. He will face Republican Sean Bielat, a businessman, in the general election. Because the district is heavily Democratic, Kennedy is likely to win. In 2010, Frank beat Bielat by 54% to 43%.