Frank: Gay Rights Opponents AREN’T Homophobes


So Barney Frank called Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia a “homophobe.” Then Scalia supporters on Fox News defended him, with Sean Hannity insisting he was one of the most “brilliant jurists of all time.” And now Frank is vehemently defending his use of the word to describe Scalia — who IS A RAGING BIGOT — while drawing a line between homophobes and those who simply don’t support gay rights.

“What a ‘homophobe’ means is someone who has prejudice about gay people,” Frank tells told WBZ radio. Scalia’s court opinions “makes it very clear that he’s angry, frankly, about the existence of gay people.”

But: “While I support same-sex marriage, I don’t think if you’re against it you’re homophobic. I don’t think Clarence Thomas is homophobic.”

Okay, question time: Must you be overtly hateful to be a homophobe? Or does simply not supporting equal rights for gay people — which to some is a clear denial of civil rights for all Americans — qualify you as well?

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  • ajax

    A very interesting question. Unfortunately, I think Mr. Frank is talking himself into a circle. He says that a homophobe is someone who has a prejudice about gay people. Can one withhold rights from a group of people or without prejudice? I don’t know the answer to that.

    Homophobe actually means fear of homosexuals. While I don’t think majority of people who are prejudiced against us are physically scared of us. I absolutely think that fear is the basic emotion that underlies their prejudice. In the broadest sense, its the fear of “the other”.

    I don’t think homophobia is at all about hate. I think some homophobes are full of hate and hateful. Some – not all.

  • Adam

    I agree with Ajax. I think the question is not the action in itself (eg, I do/don’t support same sex marriage), but the motivation behind the action–which, in itself, is how we got around to defining ‘hate crimes’ versus ‘crimes’. If you don’t support gay marriage because the ‘gay lifestyle’ is sick, perverted, and endangers kids, then you’re homophobic. If you don’t support it because you’re hung up on the word ‘marriage’–perhaps the religious definition, as opposed to the legal/civil definition–then perhaps the ‘homophobe’ tag is too extreme.

    Of course, now that I’m writing this, I’m picturing this same discussion forty years ago. If you didn’t (or still don’t) support equal rights for blacks, were (or are) you a racist?

    So now I’m confused.

  • Chris

    I am annoyed because the conversation has turned from Scalia being a homophobe into defining homophobic and whether a Senator has the right to label a sitting SCOTUS Justice as a homophobe.
    Shouldn’t the gay community be rallying behind Frank who is trying to make a point that legislation and litigation are challenging because the gatekeepers to democracy are patently adverse to providing equality for gays and lesbians? Shouldn’t we be vocalizing our dissatisfaction with a court designed to protect the rights of minorities, but whose members may not believe in the those rights at all?
    We need to take control of this conversation again and put it back on track. We need to openly label homophobes wherever they may be and make it clear that we are not afraid to stand to our detractors. We are not willing to let people deride our lives and families without even a response.

  • Smokey Martini

    Er. I would say ‘homophobe’ usually refers to someone who harbours hateful thoughts towards gays and is willing to act on them, channeling the person’s hatred into his/her conduct.

    In the case of Scalia and other conservatives who are all talk and no action, I would perhaps use the term ‘anti-gay’ or ‘heterosexist’ since it only connotes a difference in ideologies/ beliefs.

    The difference, of course, being the possibility for physical violence – something conservative don’t see Scalia resorting to because of his position as a judge.

  • Ogre

    I think the queer community should stop using the word homophobic and start using the word anti-gay. When confronted, people who hate queers always say they do not fear us. But if we use their own words and writings to present evidence that they are anti-homosexual, they can’t get out of that semantically.

  • Ogre

    I should have read Smokey Martini’s post before posting my comment. What he said ;)

  • Mark M

    @Ogre: I completely agree with this. Language is everything. And Queerty: next time you post a photo of Barny Frank, pull back and make it smaller.

  • ajax

    @Chris: Awesome and very smart point, Adam. Mr. Frank is both right, and within his rights to call Justice Scalia on his behavior.

  • Jaroslaw

    I want to congratulate Chris #3 also – great observation, the heat should be on Scalia not Frank.

  • RM

    Scalia is a homophobe. Opposition to equal rights for gays is homophobic. Clarence Thomas is a homophobe.

    Whether you are a gay basher on the street or a gay basher on the supreme court makes no difference.

    I applaud Frank for whipping out the “H” word. We’re far too timid about naming the bigots.

  • RM

    @Smokey Martini:

    Scalia’s judicial opinions have enabled violence against gay people on a huge scale.

  • Jaroslaw

    As to the actual definition of what a homophobe is, I would disagree with Smokey a little – the point Frank was trying to make is that Scalia doesn’t like to even deal with the fact we exist. That is actually beyond prejudice, beyond religious disagreements etc. – I don’t even know what to call it besides irrational. Irrational because we don’t bother anyone; almost all others get to live their lives, make choices of all kinds without question. It is (only?) homosexuals that have to defend every move they make and beg for every slight consideration they get in this society. Eg. if I get married, how does that affect YOUR (straight) marriage? If they could point to one tiny examply of how society is going to disintegrate if Gays marry, then maybe I could at least understand them, but they can’t!

  • emb

    @Ogre: Excellent point on the use of “anti-gay” vs “homophobic”, because “anti-gay” is what they are, even if they fall short of phobia.

    And Jaroslaw, another good observation: The common denominator of anti-gay Americans is their unwillingness to acknowledge our right to exist. I never cease to be astonished by the ease with which rightwingers pontificate on the nature and character of something that I, well, AM. If you’re not gay, you don’t get to tell me it’s a choice. We need to stop acknowledging these people’s bigotry and small-mindedness as somehow worthy of respect and debate, even–or especially–when they wrap it up in the impenetrable flag of religious faith. We need to call their beliefs what they are: fear, intolerance, hatred, and ignorance. All those simple words apply to Scalia; we should use them.

  • RichardR

    Fascinating discussion, and in my mind it links to an earlier posting that poses the question, “Whom shall we hate next?”

    Missing from this discussion about the definition of “homophobia” is the aspect of irrationality, which most definitions include.

    Scalia, for example, indeed a raging homophobe, is a very vocal and public and conservative Catholic, and his “irrational fear and hatred of homosexuals and homosexuality” surely originates in his religion, itself an irrational body of belief, like all religion.

    I agree with earlier posters that 1) we need to stick up for Barney and 2) it’s more difficult for our enemies to wriggle out from under the term “anti-gay.”

    As for whom shall we hate next, those who need to hate are endlessly creative and resourceful, and stubborn, too — they’ll find us useful long after we’ve won the legal and social victories we’re s l o o o w l y but surely achieving.

  • Kid A

    I think the use of “homophobic” often becomes just a blanket term, whereas if we actually look at the content of the word, it essentially describes the irrational FEAR of homosexuals. (Or technically, things that are the same. In the strictest sense, people who are afraid of matching salt and pepper shakers may be homophobic. Another reason the word loses its effectiveness.)

    I have dealt with individuals who are truly phobic. This guy didn’t want me to even look at him, lest he follow through on his promise of physical violence he made several seconds earlier.

    But I don’t think this applies to people who simply look at things from a heteronormative viewpoint, or haven’t even thought about gay people enough to have a cohesive stance.

  • spb

    It’s about rationale. Scalia makes it clear in his opinions that he thinks being gay is a perversion.

    Clarence Thomas makes it clear in his writing that he simply believes strongly in states rights, and doesn’t believe the federal courts have the power to regulate the issue. I think he is wrong, but it’s not homophobia.

    Thomas’s short opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, which decriminalized sodomy:

    “I write separately to note that the law before the Court today “is … uncommonly silly….. If I were a member of the Texas Legislature, I would vote to repeal it. Punishing someone for expressing his sexual preference through noncommercial consensual conduct with another adult does not appear to be a worthy way to expend valuable law enforcement resources.

    Notwithstanding this, I recognize that as a member of this Court I am not empowered to help petitioners and others similarly situated. My duty, rather, is to “decide cases ‘agreeably to the Constitution and laws of the United States.’ ” … And, just like Justice Stewart, I “can find [neither in the Bill of Rights nor any other part of the Constitution a] general right of privacy,” … or as the Court terms it today, the “liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions,”.”

  • DMAKron

    I have the mixed blessing of having lived my entire life in southern states. Here we have people who will complain about rap music and anything black as that “n!gger” music or what have you. When you call them on it, they will turn to you shocked and say “I’m not a racist, I have plenty of black friends at work, church, etc.” And they mean it.

    So I think it is with homophobes. There are people out there opposed to gay marriage, grouse and say “I wish those queers would shut up about their ‘Pride’.”, etc. In the same breath they will talk about their gay friends antics and life in an almost envious tone as if that was proof they weren’t a bigot.

    You have an extreme and vocal group that is small and a much larger group that are hypocrites. So it goes…

  • Adam

    @SPB: Thanks for the clarification on Clarence Thomas’ viewpoint–which I think supports Frank’s view that Scalia is a homophobe, and Thomas isn’t.

  • Jaroslaw

    DMAkron – I think what you are talking about is the significant percentage of humanity of all societies that go along with the loudest, most influential voices of the day. The sad thing for me in this age of great access to information, is that simple, unthinking prejudice is still so common.

    Some people say things about “N**er” music for sure, but I don’t think even they really believe that Blacks are no longer less than human the way our society once thought.

    The same will be true of Gays. Once we get the right to marry and people see the sky hasn’t fallen, attitudes have to change. Slowly they seem to be.

  • rogue dandelion

    if you are against marriage equality- you are either a
    or an political opportunist depending the votes of the previous two.

  • Brianna


    But some of us do have the right to marry, and still some people think the sky is falling.

    For example, from MassResistance:

    “What same-sex “marriage” has done to Massachusetts
    It’s far worse than most people realize”

    I know most just think they’re a joke, and they are, but it’s still kinda worrying. I don’t know how many people they can convince.

  • Jaroslaw

    Dear Briana #21 “It’s far worse than most people realize?” I know you didn’t make the comment, but what exactly does that mean?

    There are now Gay parking spaces? Child molestation is now legal? What? the comment you quoted doesn’t spell out WHAT they are afraid of.

  • geoff

    So if we’re not supposed to use the word homophobe anymore, what should the new word be? My vote is for fucktard, assbag or twatwaffle.

  • Bill Perdue

    Barney has his own problems with homophobia (in the anti-gay usage of the word) and they’re demonstrated in his opposition to advances to same sex marriage and in anti-discrimination laws like an inclusive ENDA which he opposed.

    His relation to the fight for equality is epitomized in his leading the effort of Republicans and anti-gay Democrats in gang-raping ENDA. He engaged in wildly abusive and disruptive attacks on transpeople. He accepted, for the Democrat majority, every amendment to ENDA made by Republicans, including one that stipulated that ENDA could not be used to undercut DOMA.

    I agree with those who prefer anti-gay or homobigoted to homophobic. Those are clear and concise terms and if you preface homophobia with internalized we get an accurate term to describe a different, but formidable problem in our own communities.

  • strumpetwindsock

    The term “homophobia” does imply that one is afraid of homos – and that we are the actual theat and danger.

    Bigot, shithead or just plain anti-gay is probably a bit closer to the mark.

  • strumpetwindsock

    Gee Bill… does that mean you have to admit you agree with me again?

    (visions of you running for the bottle of bleach).

  • Brianna


    It wasn’t a comment, it was the title of the article I linked to. It has the usual fear mongering, “oh noes! they’re teaching children about teh gays!” and the blathering on about AIDS and pride parades and “putting the legal stamp of approval on homosexuality and imposing it with force throughout the various social and political institutions of a society that would never accept it otherwise.”

    Can someone point me to the Connecticut wackos? Any of them saying the sky has fallen since they started marrying same sex couples?
    The whole marriage issue over there has been very quiet.

  • Brianna

    Also, what’s wrong with the word “homophobia”?

    I like AmnestyUsa’s definition.

    “Homophobia is used to describe fear of, discrimination against or hostility towards lesbians, gay men or bisexual people.”

    Sounds about right to me, and I think the word applies here.

  • Robert, NYC

    In my book, if anyone opposes same-sex equality not just marriage equality for whatever reason, then that to me smacks of fear, bias, prejudice which boils down to homophobia. If its not, then what is it exactly? If you hit on a straight, what’s the betting that the majority of them would respond with some form of verbal abuse or physical abuse, that to me spells “fear” and a “threat” to their sexuality. It IS homophobia, otherwise why would they react that way and so negatively? Would we react to a straight hitting on us in the same manner? Hardly!

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