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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 2, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 48
Barney Frank to retire in 2013
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Barney Frank to retire in 2013

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

'I've always had a reputation for honesty,' Barney Frank says, 'not always for tact or tolerance.'

Long known for saying what was on his mind - and not in the most diplomatic way - Frank made his share of enemies in his 31 years in Congress.

Predictably, those enemies greeted his November 29 retirement announcement with unrestrained glee.

'Mr. Frank's departure in January 2013 will remove from the House one of its more offensive members,' Karl Rove wrote for Fox News. 'Until then, this petulant, abrasive, and downright nasty Congressman will keep making his presence known.'

'Mr. Frank is incapable of feeling shame, regret, or a sense of personal responsibility. These are emotions for lesser beings. He's leaving because of redistricting or to avoid having to raise money or facing those nasty little voters every two years. The House will be a better place for his departure,' Rove continued.

The Tennessee Tea Party was even blunter: 'Good riddance you sodomite POS!' @tnteaparty tweeted.

Also predictably, Frank's friends spoke of him in glowing terms.

'Barney Frank is one of a kind,' NGLTF said, stating the obvious. 'He has brought his own brand of brashness, boldness, unmatched wit, discipline, and skill to Capitol Hill, at times ingratiating and infuriating friend and foe alike. We thank him for his years of service.'

President Obama and the HRC, both of whom worked closely - if not always smoothly - with Frank, spoke of his many legislative accomplishments.

'For over 30 years, Barney has been a fierce advocate for the people of Massachusetts and Americans everywhere who needed a voice,' Obama said.

'He has worked tirelessly on behalf of families and businesses and helped make housing more affordable. He has stood up for the rights of LGBT Americans and fought to end discrimination against them. And it is only thanks to his leadership that we were able to pass the most sweeping financial reform in history designed to protect consumers and prevent the kind of excessive risk-taking that led to the financial crisis from ever happening again.'

'As the first openly Gay Member of Congress, Barney defied stereotypes and kicked doors open for LGBT Americans,' HRC said in a statement.

'Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act would never have happened without his leadership.'

'His service as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee during a time of great economic upheaval made a Gay man one of the most powerful people in the country and he used that power for great good.'

Frank represented the 4th Congressional district in southern Massachusetts, a seat which has been Democratic since 1947. He won the seat in 1981 after his predecessor, liberal Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan, was ordered to retire from politics by Pope John Paul II.

Frank became a protégé of Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill, who also represented a Massachusetts district. His hard-driving style and party loyalty impressed O'Neill, who came to see him as a potential successor.

In 1987 Frank came out, under dramatic circumstances. His roommate, escort Steve Gobie, whom Frank had hired and then befriended in 1985, had used Frank's apartment for sex work, and was trying to sell his story to the Washington Post.

Frank felt he had no choice but to make his relationship with Gobie public. The revelation changed his career.

The first consequence was that Frank was reprimanded by the House for using his influence to fix 33 of Gobie's parking tickets.

Ironically, the move to get the House to discipline Frank was led by then-Congressman Larry Craig. Frank chastised Craig 20 years later, when Senator Craig was arrested for soliciting sex in an airport men's room.

The more lasting consequence was that Frank was no longer considered a suitable candidate for speaker of the house.

Afterwards, Frank liked to tell the story about how he came out to Tip O'Neill.

'Oh, Bah-ney,' he would say, imitating O'Neill's South Boston accent, 'I'm so sad. I thought you could be the first Jewish speak-uh&.'

Although he was no longer thought of as a potential speaker, Frank was easily reelected in his district, and went on to become a fierce advocate for Gay rights. At that time, only Frank and Garry Studds, another Massachusetts Democrat, were openly Gay congressmen.

Characteristically, Frank's relationship with LGBT activists was not without its own stress and strains.

In 2007, Frank got the House to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), but only by dropping protection for Transgender workers from the bill. Every national LGBT organization, except the HRC, called for Trans protections to be put back in the legislation.

Ultimately, ENDA was not taken up in the Senate at that time because then-president George W. Bush promised to veto it if it came to his desk.

When ENDA was reintroduced in 2009, it contained both sexual orientation and gender identity protections, but in spite of repeated assurances by Frank, Labor Committee chair Rep. George Miller, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi that a vote on the bill was imminent, the House never took it up.

Frank also declined to co-sponsor Rep. Jerrold Nadler's Respect for Marriage Act to repeal DOMA, because, he said, he thought it had no chance of actually passing.

Frank believed strongly in the legislative process, slow and convoluted as it might be, and he was dismissive of mass demonstrations. When activists David Mixner and Cleve Jones organized the National Equality March on Washington, D.C., in 2009, Frank was openly hostile.

'The only thing they're putting pressure on is the grass on the Mall,' he said.

Frank has always been a loyal Democrat, and like most Democrats, he is a centrist. When Republican Rep. John Hostettler accused him in 2006 of having a 'radical homosexual agenda,' Frank responded:

'I do have things I would like to see adopted on behalf of LGBT people: they include the right to marry the individual of our choice, the right to serve in the military to defend our country, and the right to a job based solely on our own qualifications.

'I acknowledge that this is an agenda, but I do not think that any self-respecting radical in history would have considered advocating people's rights to get married, join the Army, and earn a living as a terribly inspiring revolutionary platform.'

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