When LGBTQ activists protested Gov. Charlie Baker's lack of commitment to a transgender rights bill and almost booed him off the stage, it made huge news locally and brought the issue to the forefront of the discussion. It's unlikely that many outside of the room where the governor was speaking would have known about the demonstration without the aid and agitation of Kevin Franck, an experienced issues advocate who wants the LGBTQ community to be more vocal.
Franck has molded himself into the outsider's insider—using political connections to advance advocacy for LGBTQ issues. With a well-read column in Bay Windows, frequent appearances on NECN's "The Take" news show, columns appearing in the Boston Herald, and an aggressive social media voice, Franck is becoming hard to ignore.
"I'm trying to use my voice and whatever profile I've built up in politics to say things that I think need to be said," Franck explained. "The political culture in Massachusetts is so 'insidery' and parochial that a lot of people are reluctant to say things that just need to be written, that need to be said, need to be discussed."
The transgender protest turned out to be a major catalyst in getting the transgender bill moving in the House. After reports that Speaker Robert DeLeo was trying to wrangle up a veto-proof majority of votes before bringing the bill to the floor, a new draft of the bill moved out of committee late Friday, giving momentum and a clear path to a vote on the bill.
The protest against Baker was organized by transgender and other LGBTQ activists at the grassroots level, not Franck. But Franck used his media influence to make sure others outside the community knew what was going to go down.
"I know reporters follow me on Twitter and look at my Facebook pictures," he said.
At the same time as he's trying to give outsiders a voice on the inside of Beacon Hill, Franck tries to stand firmly outside clubby Beacon Hill culture.
Franck said he's able to back more controversial issues—and use more aggressive tactics—because he doesn't worry about ruining his political purity or value as a lobbyist.
"I have no interest at all in exploring the lobbying side of this business," he said, adding that most campaign staff in Massachusetts use the campaign as a precursor to their real paycheck: selling access to the official they just helped get elected.
Is Franck burning bridges and pissing people off?
"Probably," he said. "Look, I am a transplant to Massachusetts. No one knows my father. My uncle's not a high-ranking official. No one went to high school with me. My last name's not one that people have heard before. I am not of this political culture. Those bridges just don't exist for me."
Franck hails from Harwood, Md., south of Annapolis. He came out as a gay man in high school before attending Antioch College, where Franck said he truly learned to be himself.
After teaching high school for three years after college, Franck earned a master's degree in Education from Columbia University and then pursued a Ph.D. in education policy until academia "reached its useful limit for me."
Franck started working on electoral campaigns around 2007 and by his own admission "earned a little bit of a reputation as a good attack dog," which led him to a job with the Louisiana state Democratic party. In April 2011, Franck got a call to move up to Boston and target his attacks at U.S. Sen. Scott Brown before his 2012 reelection race.
After a brief stint at Gov. Deval Patrick's Office of Labor and Workforce Development, Franck worked for Boston City Councilor Rob Consalvo's mayoral bid, where he had some success getting his candidate to stand out in a very crowded field by pitching innovative ideas like rubber sidewalks and illuminated crosswalks.
Many of Franck's clients are now from outside of Massachusetts, he said.
The job with the state party, and his own fierce partisanship, have contributed to Franck's legislative strategy: advancing issues he cares about while doing maximum political damage to Republicans.
What the transgender protest showed, Franck said, is that Baker "has a bit of a glass jaw. He did not take criticism well. He looked very small and petty when he walked off the stage."
That moment, he said, only happened because of activists who don't have ties to the politically influential in the state, and weren't worried about burning bridges and losing access to the powerful.
Baker's not the only one forced into an awkward political position by the growing push by activists to bring the transgender bill to a vote. DeLeo, Franck says, needs help giving his Democratic members in more conservative districts information and enough cover to take what might be a damaging vote.
Legislators, explains Franck, need to know how to properly and informatively answer legitimate questions in order to protect themselves from antitransgender groups like the Mass Family Institute, which opposes equal access to public accommodations.
For that lack of aid to loyal Democratic House members, Franck blames a dearth of LGBTQ supporters willing to give Democrats what they need to win.
As Franck sees it, after equal marriage rights were established in Massachusetts, gay leaders turned their efforts to more national efforts. That left a vacuum which was filed by what Franck calls "a sort of JV team" that for a variety of reasons has not been able to give the speaker the help he says he needs.
Franck would rather make Baker's position on transgender accommodations legislation—whatever that may be—irrelevant to the debate.
"If we help Speaker DeLeo wrangle enough votes to beat a veto, this bill will become law," he said.
Since the booing incident, Baker has hinted that he just might sign a transgender accommodations bill—depending on its provisions.