Barney Frank on coming out in Congress

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Barney Frank at KCRW. Photo: Gari Askew


In his new book, “”Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage” Barney Frank tells his story of navigating Congressional politics as a gay man. “We gay and lesbian people don’t discuss our sexuality any more than straight people do,” he told Warren on “To the Point.” It’s just that when we do it, it’s called ‘coming out.’ When straight people do it, it’s called talking.”

By the end of his career (he retired in 2013), Frank said being gay was much more socially acceptable than being in Congress. “My having married a man when I was a member of congress was much better received than having chaired the committee that wrote the financial reform bill,” he said.

But it wasn’t easy, particularly as a young politician. Frank knew that being a politician was very important to him, and that he wanted to make a difference on a public scale. “My first choice was being in politics,” said Frank, who thought he could sacrifice his personal life. But that was impossible. “In public life you don’t have the choice to be private, you have to be secretive,” said Frank, “and I didn’t want to be secretive anymore.”

Frank came out in 1987 – the first member of Congress to do so – and his life changed for the better. “Legislating is a very personal business,” Frank said, and being honest played an important role in that business. Also, “it adds to the authenticity,” which isn’t a trait that most politicians are known for.

Beyond being a role model as a gay Congressman, Frank’s legacy is tied to the Dodd-Frank law, which imposed financial reforms after the Recession. Getting that bill passed was more challenging than coming out, he told “To the Point.”

Frank is confident that Dodd-Frank will stand through the end of President Obama’s presidency despite Republican opposition. “I am convinced there will be no weakening of that bill over the next two years,” he said, “But if the Republicans win in 2016, you will see financial reform gutted.”

“The bigots have kind of withered away in America to a great extent,” said Frank, “but the financial institutions trying to make money without any set of rules – they dug in.”