“It was clear that I was not nearly as interested as he was,” Frank said. “So he asked me the next morning whether, why I was not more forthcoming with the friend, and I told him.”
He was gay, but not ready to be openly so.
Frank (D-Mass.), who is retiring after more than three decades in Congress, is easily the nation’s most prominent gay politician and one who charted a path for others like him.
“I certainly regard Barney Frank as somebody who is an incredible role model in my life and who showed me and so many others that this could be achieved,” said Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who in November became the first openly gay candidate elected to the Senate.
Frank will be remembered as a champion of financial regulatory reforms enacted in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse. As chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, he led the effort to rein in Wall Street, and the Dodd-Frank legislation that bears his name represented some of the most significant changes to financial regulation since those that followed the Great Depression.
The low point of his career came in July 1990, when the House voted 408 to 18 to reprimand him for using his position to fix tickets for a male prostitute with whom he had been sexually involved.
Frank survived the humiliation and became a liberal darling who worked to limit the use of the death penalty and federal drug laws. He helped thwart Republican efforts to impeach President Bill Clinton and worked with the George W. Bush administration to pass the Troubled Assets Relief Program. Along the way, he has been a popular television figure, often appearing to spar with show hosts or guests presenting a contrarian view.
Frank’s retirement is occurring at an important moment in the gay rights movement. It was just two years ago that the Pentagon repealed its ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in uniform. And his departure comes as federal courts are considering challenges to the nation’s ban on same-sex marriage. He also is leaving a Congress that is much more welcoming to gays than the one he entered 32 years ago. The 113th Congress, which will convene in January, will include seven openly gay or bisexual members, a record number.
Frank did not publicly disclose that he was gay until 1987, but in a recent interview he described how he wrestled with the question during his first run for Congress, in 1980, and in the years following.
“When I decided to run, I said, ‘Either you come out and become an activist and have a major role there, or I run for Congress,’ ” Frank said. “There was no way I could have been out and won.” In fact, he said, rumors that he was gay nearly cost him that first election. “In the end, I almost lost on suspicion,” he said.