Announcing his retirement on Monday, Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., leaves behind more than three decades of public service, making him one of the most prominent lawmakers in our nation’s history.
Elected to office in 1980, he remained in the closet until 1987, when he finally outed himself as a gay male.
Since being the first openly gay man elected to federal office, Frank has been an outspoken advocate for many civil rights issues. He is well known for his quick wit and outspoken nature, which in many instances made front page news.
In 1990, Frank played a major role in enacting the 1990 Immigration Act, which made it so a person could not be denied a visa based on sexual orientation.
When Dick Armey called him “Barney Fag” in 1995, Frank famously rebuffed Armey’s explanation that the comment was a slip of the tongue, by stating, “I turned to my own expert, my mother, who reports that in 59 years of marriage, no one ever introduced her as Elsie Fag.”
In 1998, Frank founded the National Stonewall Democrats, a grassroots network connecting LGBT Democratic activists across the nation.
In 2006, Frank was accused of having a “radical homosexual agenda,” to which he responded with “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.”
Frank’s most recent accomplishment, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed into law mid-2010. The stated aim of the Dodd-Frank act is “to promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end ‘too big to fail,’ to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and for other purposes.”
Frank’s decision to not seek re-election is partially due to his district being redrawn, stating, “If I were to run again, I would be engaged full-fledged in a campaign, which is entirely appropriate. Nobody ought to expect to get elected without a contest. But the fact that it is so new makes it harder in terms of learning about new areas, introducing myself to new people. And I have other obligations; one is to continue to serve the people I currently serve.”
After serving in public office for more than 40 years, Frank also stated he would also like to spend more time with his boyfriend, and no longer maintain a residence in Washington, D.C. When asked about his boyfriend, Frank stated, “We’ve been together for five years now and this came late to me,” adding, “but it’s all the more cherished.”
Frank’s contribution to the LGBT community is so much more than simply being an advocate. By serving in public office he has been not only criticized for his work, but also harshly criticized for his home life. Even after announcing his retirement, rhetoric like “Good riddance you sodomite POS!” was hurled at him from organizations like the Tennessee chapter of the Tea Party.
By opening himself up to such criticism, he brought nationwide awareness to the bigotry the LGBT community faces. Frank never let this criticism stop him from serving the American people.