Posted: July 20, 2003
DEMOCRATS, STANDING LIKE A STONE WALL
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
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
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
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.
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