Forty-nine years ago, I rode in the second Gay Pride parade (as it was then called) in Boston’s history. Then, and on several occasions since, I joined parades anticipating some manifestation of homophobia, and I have been pleased by the overwhelmingly positive reception we received.
While this may not seem surprising for Boston or the coastal cities even in the 70’s, I was especially gratified when that happy experience was repeated in areas less known as bastions of cultural liberalism. Neither in Tulsa nor on the space coast of Florida were there anti-LGBT demonstrations at the first Pride parades in their history (although there were pickets outside the restaurant where we later had celebratory dinner in Florida).
Having gotten used to Pride parades being occasions when the broad community can come together in an atmosphere of complete mutual respect, I was very disappointed at the injection of bigotry that has marred this season. I am referring to the decision of the organizers of the New York march to demonize some of the most courageous and effective opponents of homophobia in our community — the LGBT police officers who have combatted prejudice in places where it was deep-rooted.
I’m particularly disturbed by two aspects of this gay-on-gay bashing directed against LGBT police officers based upon who they are, with no suggestion that any of them have done anything wrong.
First is the repudiation — by those who claim to be upholding it — of the principle for which we have marched for 40 years: that people should be treated as individuals based on their behavior, and not on some prejudice against the category to which they belong.
I am somewhat comforted by knowing that those who have made this decision speak for a small minority of the LGBT community. But that very fact underlines the danger of letting our agenda be dictated by deferring to the small minorities within our ranks who compete with each other in a purer-than-thou contest.
Second is the personal aspect: I have worked closely for my entire career combating homophobia with several police officers who refused to be silent victims of discrimination when that was a risky thing to do and who have gone on to be important spokespeople in our fight.
For the last 15 years, I have benefited significantly from the friendship, personal support and political advice of Peter Ford as he rose to become captain of the Postal Police at the main station in Boston. I was pleased when the two officials of the Postal Police in the Northeast affirmed the value of gay networking when they asked him to arrange a meeting with me to discuss legislative matters.
More than 30 years ago, Springfield, Mass., Police Officer Mike Carney was the first victim successfully to invoke the Massachusetts law against anti-LGBT discrimination when he was denied readmission to his department after acknowledging — and dealing with — alcoholism. Eight others in the same situation had been accepted back. Mike has ever since been a leader in our fight.
In the nineties, he appeared in his uniform at my request as a witness before Congressional Committees to refute the conservative argument that we were inventing a problem where none existed.
Officer Matt Stanislao of Glen Rock, N.J., refused to be the victim of anti-gay discrimination and filed a lawsuit that challenged the behavior of those who had harassed him. He won; they lost, and I was proud to stand with him on Pride Day in Glen Rock in 2017 when the City raised the rainbow flag outside headquarters. Matt’s being included in this prohibition is especially poignant because as an openly gay police officer with a master’s degree in social work, he has been victimized by tribalism on both sides for his effort to bridge our social divide: attacked by some of his police colleagues for being too far left and by many of his fellow and sister social workers for working for change from within. Now Pride has closed him out as well.
Finally, I remember the day I spoke at a Massachusetts High School where anti-gay bullying had been a problem. I was accompanied by openly gay police officer, Steve Morin of Raynham, Mass., who was my driver when he was off duty. And I am still moved by the memory of the young student who followed us outside when we left so he could show his appreciation with a hug — for Steve, not me.
Two last points. When my opponents in a debate use a wholly implausible argument, it means that they are embarrassed to cite their real reasons — or are aware of how weak those reasons are. I can't think of any other explanation for the claim of defenders of the ban that having gay and lesbian cops march will frighten some of the other participants. I do not deny that some wholly irrational fears exist; I do object to letting those who suffer from such fears dictate to the rest of us with whom we can associate.
Finally, those most committed to reforming police practices damage this important cause when they refuse to distinguish between police officers who victimize others and those who have stood proudly against bigotry. Collective punishment that puts heroes and villains in the same category is flat out wrong on three fundamental counts. It is a blatant violation of the principle of fairness at the center of our struggle; it is a distorted picture of the reality which we have worked to present; and it is counterproductive to inform people in positions of some authority that they are guilty by definition — no matter how hard they fight on our side.
Barney Frank represented Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 terms (1981-2013) and was chairman of the House Financial Services Committee from 2007 to 2011.