Posted: July 20, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts got cheered. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner got an honorary membership. The name of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia got hissed.

No one could mistake what was happening. The Delaware Stonewall Democratic Club had come out.

It was an exuberant show of rising expectations and emerging political influence, as about 250 people flocked to the first big event for this new organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

The occasion was a $35-a-ticket fund-raiser held Saturday evening in -- where else? -- Rehoboth Beach, the Delaware resort that passes as daring but more realistically occupies a middle ground geographically and politically between Provincetown and Key West.

The crowd gathered on a delightful summer evening outside a home at Silver Lake, a row of small U.S. flags in the front and tropical-colored parrots, pets of the owner, in the back where the program was. It seemed very gay.

This was most determinedly a political event, meant to be as partisan as any other group of people with shared traits coming together, like the Democratic Women's Club of Delaware or the College Republicans.

"We want to help the party," said Richard Barnett, a Stonewall vice president who lives in Rehoboth Beach and Washington.

The party wants their help. Like Willie Sutton going to a bank because that is where the money is, the politicians came to the rally because that was where the votes and the open checkbooks were. Politics at base is pragmatic, not dogmatic.

So Minner was there, as were Treasurer Jack A. Markell, Democratic State Chairman Richard H. Bayard, aides representing U.S. Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Thomas R. Carper, as well as legislators, other party officials, local officeholders and potential candidates for 2004.

"You will make a difference in every district up and down the state," Minner told the crowd.

The governor made herself at home, remarking about a conversation she had. "I told one couple from out of state that Delaware's the land of tax-free shopping, and I need all the help I can get for my economy," she quipped.

One couple. Minner did not say what kind of couple. Straight? Gay? Men? Women? On this night, it did not matter.

The Delaware Stonewall Democrats are part of a national organization that takes its name from the moment regarded as the birth of the gay rights movement -- a 1969 police raid in New York City on the Stonewall Inn, where the gay patrons decided enough was enough and fought back.

The keynote speaker was Barney Frank, a movement hero who in 1987 became the first member of Congress to acknowledge he was gay. His presence showed that the Stonewall Democrats were serious about their involvement and already were being taken seriously.

"To be here with the governor of Delaware, with the state chair, it is enormously moving," Frank said. "No one should expect us to be grateful. . . . Yes, there is less prejudice than there used to be, but there never should have been any."

As Frank explained, he came to the gathering with previous experience in discussing his sexual orientation with a Delawarean. On a congressional trip to Egypt in the 1980s, Frank was traveling with Carper, then a House member, who wanted to fix him up with someone else on the plane. It was typical Carper. Frank put a stop to it by quietly coming out to him.

Frank is known for his scathing wit and did not disappoint. He skewered Scalia -- whose name brought hisses from the crowd -- for his dissent in the Supreme Court's recent opinion striking down a Texas sodomy law. Scalia scalded the court for taking sides in a culture war and signing on to what he described as "the so-called homosexual agenda."

Frank noted, "I have long felt that stupidity can make you bigoted, but I now know that being bigoted can make you stupid."

As the crowd left afterwards, one participant looked nervously at a state trooper near the long line of parked cars and wondered whether they were being ticketed. Not on this night. Not at an event attended by the governor.

In an earlier day the police might have been summoned to arrest those present for being themselves, but on this night the police were there simply to protect them as they crossed the street and to see them safely on their way home.