Leading from the Left

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I Wish There Were More Republicans Like Don Frankenfeld

Ed Farthing, EqualityNC's Community and Political Director and a gay Republican, sent the following to me today. It's from www.hoghouseblog.com and was posted by a Republican former legislator in South Dakota. It's a powerfully written piece.

By Don Frankenfeld, Hoghouse Blog columnist

In July I became a founding board member for Equality South Dakota, an organization dedicated to securing and protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender South Dakotans. When I explained this to my wife, she wondered if there was something else I wanted to tell her. As it happens, she was already on to me, but for the sake of full disclosure to my new friends in the LGBT community, it is time to come out of the closet: I am a Republican. Also, I am straight – not that there is anything wrong with that.

The fact is homosexuality baffles me, particularly when looking at the most fundamental physical aspect: an attraction to certain body parts and certain sex practices. I can't understand why some guy would be mesmerized by my equipment, and want to do that with it, when he has the same equipment himself.

Wait a minute. I don't understand heterosexuality any better. Over the years I have become accustomed to the thought that a guy would naturally be sexually attracted to a woman, particularly certain body parts. (I write from the perspective of a guy, as it is the only perspective I have.) Moreover, a guy might relish the thought of doing that. But why?

Whatever your orientation, desire propels you, and is in turn propelled by intrigue, instinct and mystery. Sometimes sexual attraction is irrational, but always, it seems to me, it is trans-rational. So given the mystery of our own sexuality, who are we to judge someone else's, as long as it is between consenting adults?

I don't expect my participation in Equality South Dakota to change the face of South Dakota, or its politics. I believe I can make a contribution, however. And yes, it is time to make amends, as well. I have had a long journey, with quite a distance yet to go.

I won't detail my mental cruelty toward gays over the years, except to observe that I was fairly typical of my generation. During junior high and high school, gay-bashing was pretty much the only permissible, respectable manifestation of cruelty toward someone for what they were. I'm not saying that racism didn't exist, only that anti-black or anti-Indian remarks were at least regarded as politically incorrect, and this somewhat inhibited bad behavior. Homosexuals had no such protection.

I sincerely thought homosexuality was a dangerous perversion, and as a teen-ager I was mean to those who I thought were "queer." By college (at an all-male school), I came to know quite a few homosexual faculty members and classmates, and sometimes to put aside (but not eliminate) my squeemishness to form friendships.

Early in my career as a state senator, a gay rights activist thanked me for my willingness to meet with him — never mind that our meeting was more or less in secret for our mutual benefit. He was not openly gay, and I wanted to be re-elected.

Later I was testifying as an economic expert on behalf of a number of claimants to the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, some of whom were gay. I had the extraordinary gift of reading many deeply felt love letters of a flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 11 to his registered domestic partner of eleven years. The last of these letters was written on September 9, 2001, around midnight. "The time we are apart seems like years to me. It is a good thing when one's presence is missed." Aside from gender, these poetic letters are indistinguishable from those between any passionate and deeply committed lovers. My rare and privileged intimate glimpse into the private lives of this couple was transformational, partly because it was so moving and partly because it was so routine.

Lately I have been suggesting to my gay friends that they should take a Republican to lunch. That is because Republicans and the gay community need each other. Republicans need to be reminded that they are the party of Lincoln; the party of equality, opportunity and tolerance. And in South Dakota, gays need the understanding and compassion of the Republicans who are likely to control South Dakota government for the foreseeable future, and hence the destiny of gays with respect to many vital issues.

I don't expect immediate or revolutionary changes. I do expect progress. I think Equality South Dakota can help.