October 19, 2004

Rep. Barney Frank Speaks About LGBT Rights, Israel

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Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) came to Cornell yesterday to give a talk entitled, “Victories Won, Challenges Ahead: LGBT Rights in the United States and Israel.”

Frank is Jewish, and is the only openly gay member of Congress. His visit was sponsored by the Cornell-Israel Public Affairs Committee (CIPAC), Haven, Ga’avah, the Cornell Democrats, Mock Election, and Cornell Hillel. Mock Election events are co-sponsored by The Sun.

“As the first openly gay congressman and as a Jew, he’s taken a special interest in LGBTQ rights in Israel,” said Lara Chausow ’05, president of Ga’avah, Cornell’s Jewish LGBT group. “Both of those issues are areas in which he is a leader in the Congress.”

Frank began by discussing Israel’s democratic ideals, saying that Israel dispelled the idea that democracy only arises in politically stable areas.

“Israel was created under siege,” he said. “Within the borders of Israel, there is a flourishing democracy. Israel is one of the least secure countries in the world, and also one of the most democratic.”

He admitted that he does have reservations about some of the policies of the current Israeli government, but argued that it is possible to be supportive of a nation while questioning aspects of the government or administration.

“I do consider myself supportive of the United States of America, even though we have a President now who makes me crazy,” he said.

Frank then went on to discuss Israel’s progressive LGBT policies.

“Israel is the only country in the [Middle East] which is fully supportive of LGBT rights. Indeed the Israeli record in this area is better than the American record,” he said.

The Congressman used the military as an example of this claim, calling the United States’ current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding LGBT individuals in the military “foolish.” He pointed out that Israel allows LGBT people to serve in their military.

“It is impossible for anybody to look at the fact that gay and lesbian people are openly serving in the Israeli military and argue that the presence of openly gay and lesbian people makes a military ineffective,” he said.

Frank added that Israel has been granting asylum to gay Palestinians who would have otherwise been persecuted by their people.

Dan Greenwald ’05, president of CIPAC, enjoyed Frank’s discussion.

“We were absolutely thrilled to have a proud pro-Israel member of Congress come to speak, and he was fantastic,” he said. “There are so many reasons to be pro-Israel, and it was great to have Congressman Frank give us his.”

Chausow was interested in Frank’s ability to provide a unique perspective on LGBT issues.

“We are currently fighting for a lot of rights for LGBTQ people — the right to marry, the right against discrimination in the workplace on a federal level, and people need to hear about [these issues] from someone who is addressing them in the Congress,” she said.

During the question and answer session, Frank clarified his plans regarding a possible run for Senate.

“If the Democrats take back the House, I will not run for the Senate,” he said, explaining that he would be the chair of a major House committee. “If John Kerry wins and we don’t take back the House, I will run for the Senate.”

When asked about Senator Kerry’s support for LGBT issues, Frank cited Kerry’s support for him, both before and after he came out as.

“I came out publicly in 1987 … and John Kerry has been as personally and publicly supportive as it is possible to be,” he said.

Archived article by Andrew Beckwith
Sun Senior Writer