Barney Frank, (D)
Born March 31, 1940
U.S. Representative, 4th Congressional District
Elected to State House of Representatives November 1972
Re-elected 1974, 76, 78
Elected to Congress November 1980
Re-elected 1982, 84, 86
Came out in 1987
Re-elected 1988, 90, 92, 94, 96, 98, 2000, 02, 04, 06
Interview with Barney Frank from Out and Elected
Congressman Barney Frank is widely regarded as one of the intellectual and political leaders of the Democratic Party in the U.S. House of Representatives. Of Frank, The Almanac of American Politics wrote in its 1998 edition, that he is both a pit bull and political theorist who, “…soon gained a reputation as one of the smartest talkers and best debaters in the chamber – he is surely the best floor debater in the House today, and may be one of the best of all time. At a time when so many members seem to rely on canned speeches produced by staffers and letterhead interest groups, Frank listens to others’ arguments and engages them in his inimitable rapid-fire delivery. He has made many telling criticisms of conservatism over the years, and some of liberalism as well, especially in his 1992 book Speaking Frankly in which he criticizes some standards beloved by some [4th Congressional District] liberals. ‘Democratic positions are fully consistent with the values of patriotism, free enterprise, working hard for one’s self and one’s family, and holding people to a standard of behavior fully respectful of the person and property of others.’”
In August 1989, Frank experienced the greatest challenge to his political career when news broke that a personal aide was also a male prostitute and was conducting business out of the congressman’s apartment. Frank claimed no knowledge of the activity and that he had thrown the man out when he came to suspect it. With national media scrutiny intense, Frank himself requested a House Ethics Committee investigation. The House ultimately voted against a censure of Frank, but did vote to reprimand. In spite of the public scandal and professional rebuke, Frank survived his next election and, with the support of his constituents, effectively put the episode behind him.
Q: You have been in elected public service for a long time. Any general thoughts or reflections?
A: Only that I am very lucky, I think, to be able to do it. It’s great to be able to do for a living what you would do voluntarily if you had the total freedom. I find it especially exciting to be here now because I think we are in the midst of defeating homophobia as a legally prevalent doctrine. It’s taken a while, but we have already made more progress than I thought we would.
And, as unpleasant as the remaining homophobia is, in some ways it’s nice to be in on the kill. I really believe that if we keep this up, and if the gay and lesbian community and our supporters step up their political efforts, we can break the back of this thing in another fifteen years.
Q: What would you say is this thing called the “gay agenda,” and how do you think we are doing?
A: It is for us not to be penalized by other peoples’ prejudices. That is the agenda. The agenda is for us as gay men and lesbians and bisexuals to be able, in our private lives, to do as we see fit with consenting adults, and not have to pay a price for that. Not be penalized in the tax code, not be penalized in our jobs, not be subjected to hate and ridicule; for teenagers who are gay or lesbian, not to be subjected to abuse – it’s a very simple leave-us-alone-and-treat-us-fairly agenda.
And we are making progress on it. I think as it is fairly understood, we win. I’ve seen an evolution. When I started out in politics, people who were against us didn’t bother to hide that fact. They would just make anti-gay remarks. The public is now making it clear that it doesn’t think that pure anti-gay prejudice is justified. Therefore, the opposition is starting to lie and distort. And that is a good sign. There is a great quote from the French author LaRoche Foucault, “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.” That is, when people start saying things they don’t believe, it is because they realize that if they were honest about what they thought, they’d loose. And I think we can keep it up and we will win.