Rep. Barney Frank, the first openly gay member of Congress, says he’d rather see gay rights supporters lobbying their elected officials than marching in Washington this weekend, calling the demonstration “a waste of time at best.”
Frank , in an interview with The Associated Press, said he considers such demonstrations to be “an emotional release” that does little to pressure Congress.
“The only thing they’re going to be putting pressure on is the grass,” the Massachusetts Democrat said Friday.
Thousands of gay men and women are expected to gather for Sunday’s National Equality March.
Many gay rights advocates have criticized President Barack Obama for not moving faster to keep his campaign promises to extend gay rights, and Congress has also drawn flak for not doing more. Obama plans to speak Saturday at a dinner hosted by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights group.
This weekend’s activities in Washington aren’t likely to have much impact with lawmakers, Frank said, since most of them are back in their states or districts for the Columbus Day holiday weekend.
Frank’s comments underscore divisions in the gay community over the pace of progress on civil rights.
Obama’s election, coupled with the Democratic control of the House and Senate, boosted hopes in the gay community for breakthroughs on sweeping measures to end discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
March organizers have said they’re no longer willing to quietly wait for Democratic office holders to make good on decades-old promises. They contend that lawmakers’ actions should catch up to the growing acceptance of gay relationships.
Organizers say the march is only part of a broader effort that includes the kind of lobbying Frank is urging.
“We hear Congressman Frank when he says this is about getting back into your district and doing the work there,” said Kip Williams, co-director of the march. But he said the march in Washington “is about building community and building a network who will go back and do that work.”
But Frank said the real problem is gathering enough votes in the House and Senate to win passage of anti-discrimination legislation.
Gay rights advocates should borrow from the playbooks of the two most effective interest groups, the National Rifle Association and the AARP, said Frank.
“Call or write your representative or senator, and then have your friends call and write their representative or senator,” Frank said. “That’s what the NRA does. That’s what the AARP does.”
Congress is on the verge of making it a federal crime to assault people because of their sexual orientation. The so-called hate crimes legislation was attached to a major defense bill approved by the House.