Barney Frank’s three-decades-long congressional career is coming to a close. As the liberal, 72-year-old politico prepares for retirement, he is speaking out about his sexuality and his “coming out” to colleagues. In an interview with The Washington Post, Frank detailed the process, while giving advice to other gay officials who may still be “in the closet.”
While Frank has, at times, been the pit of jokes (in 1990, he was officially reprimanded by his House colleagues for improperly providing assistance to a male prostitute), the politician has also served as a prominent voice in the gay rights movement. In an interview with Washington Post’s 2chambers, Frank shared his reasons for waiting until 1987 to announce his sexuality. Overall, he wanted to avoid being typecast and labeled for life.
“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” he said. “There was no way I could have been out and won. In the end I almost lost on suspicion.”
Once he was in Congress, Frank recalls a conversation with Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.), who later died in 1996. The Post explains how the dialogue, during which Frank admitted his sexuality, unfolded after Synar asked Frank if he had a girlfriend:
“No,” Frank told Synar.
“Are you gay?” Synar asked Frank.
“Well, yeah,” Frank said.
That was it. They moved on.
Frank recalled telling others about his homosexuality as well. Perhaps the more comical and fascinating exchange, though, came when Frank told his mentor, House Speaker Tip O’Neil (D-Mass.). At the time, Rep. Bob Bauman (R-Md.) was about to publish a book that was set to imply that Frank was, indeed, gay. So, out of fear over what the publication would do to his image, Frank consulted O’Neil.
At first the House speaker dismissed the information as a bad rumor, but when Frank admitted that it was true, O’Neil’s reaction was noteworthy. The Post continues, noting the comical response:
“But I said, ‘Well, in this case it’s true,’” Frank recalled, adding that O’Neil responded with some sadness and told him: “I thought you might be the first Jewish speaker.”
O’Neil then alerted his press secretary, future talk show host Chris Matthews, that Frank soon “may be coming out of the room.” Aides had to explain to O’Neil that in fact Frank was coming out of the closet.
During the interview, Frank also encouraged other gay politicians to come out and, if they feel strongly, not to worry about the political consequences. He said that these individuals should not waste time on people who are prejudiced against them simply because of their sexuality.
Watch the interview, below: