Original Photography by Michael Wichita
Gays in Congress, while not exactly a dime a dozen these days, are also not the anomaly they once were. And it really wasn’t that long ago (1987, to be exact) when Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank — outspoken, pugnacious, a true party Democrat through and through — came out to his colleagues, to his constituents, to the world.
It was a moment in American gay history unlike any other.
And you would have thought that it would have been the one big moment for Congressman Frank.
But other moments followed — and they weren’t always always quite so positive.
In 1989, Frank was enmeshed in a scandal devised by Steve Gobie, a male prostitute he’d hired. Gobie claimed to have run an escort service from the Congressman’s apartment, and charged Frank as its ringmaster. The scandal subsided after Gobie’s claims proved false, and Frank got off with a reprimand.
“It was a signal of how irresponsible I’d been, ” he says now. “All the positive aspects to my coming out were nearly undone by my own stupidity. ”
Ironically, Frank’s own scandal put him in a unique position ten years later, as he went to bat — like a champion — for a president under similar moral fire from Republican opponents. Frank participated as a minority leader during the House’s impeachment hearing of President Clinton — a hearing that would become the centerpiece of Let’s Get Frank, an outstanding new documentary by Bart Everly.
The movie, which will have its World Premiere next Thursday, March 27 at an event hosted by One-In-Ten, is a candid, insightful and vibrant behind-the-scenes look at the hearing, Congress, the media wolfhounds who feed off soundbites and standups, and, of course, Frank himself, who is on full throttle throughout (save that one shot of him sleeping like a baby on his office couch).
“I’m not a forgiving man. I stay angry. I have no respect for [Dick] Armey or this guy Gobie, who lied to me. ”
Let’s Get Frank addresses the Gobie scandal, but it also runs with structured abandon through all things pertaining to Barney — including Dick Armey’s “Barney Fag ” slip of the forked tongue. The movie is a respectful testament to Congressman Frank, a celebration of the life of a gay man who came to Washington and came out.
Frank, who will turn 63 on March 31, has the youthful, clear-complexioned look of a man ten years his junior. A regular workout routine has helped him lose most of his excess weight, and a steady relationship with a loving partner has clearly kept him ensconced in the realm of personal happiness.
Barney Frank remains one of the toughest cookies in Congress — an Ã¼ber-Democrat who not only fights for the gay cause but for all things that he sees as just. Recently appointed to co-chair the Homeland Security Council, he is an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s rush to war with Iraq. And he knows, with resignation, that the gay causes dear to him are on hold — at least until a Democrat retakes the office of Commander-in-Chief.
A visit to Frank’s D.C. apartment — modest and small, yet comfortable, a retreat from the craziness of Congress — gives one the impression that the Congressman sees himself as an everyman. A fast talker whose machine gun delivery is a trademark, Frank’s intellect shines through his slightly gruff veneer without an ounce of pretense.
Last Saturday — on a bright, beautiful Washington afternoon — we sat down with this gay Washington monument for an on-the-record talk that turned out to be about as frank as Barney ever gets.
METRO WEEKLY: I’d like to start with the film. You allowed filmmaker Bart Everly extraordinary access during the 1999 House Judiciary Committee hearings on whether or not to impeach Bill Clinton. Why put yourself out like that?
BARNEY FRANK: I thought it would be good for people to get a sense of how things functioned. I’d like people to understand what the political process is all about. There is an inevitable tendency when either journalists or historians are writing about these types of proceedings to impose a little more order than actually was there. It is a very human process, and I think people should see that.
I also thought, “Look, this will make it a better movie. ” If it was just the public and news [footage], it wouldn’t have had as much value as people getting some kind of sense of what it’s like to live through it.
MW: One of the things I found most interesting was that the movie focused very heavily on the media coverage of the proceedings.
FRANK: I agree. As I watched Bart directing, I realized the film was as much about the media as it was about Congress. As I look back, I think I spent more of my time talking to TV and radio and print reporters than I did in the formal processes.
MW: In the film you complain that all the media you have to do is a “strain. “
FRANK: The biggest strain is repeating yourself. I hate to repeat myself. One of the reasons I’m a politician and not an academic — and I started out in life to be an academic — is because I have a very short attention span, a very low boredom threshold. One of the attractions to me about being a legislator, in particular, is that we have to deal with so many things over the course of a day. When you are in the midst of a story like that, which is so dominant, you’re into a kind of a one-scene operation, and the biggest strain was having to repeat myself all the time. Not everybody watches every show, so it’s kind of arrogant to think “Okay, I’ll say something once and the whole world will hear it and that’ll be it. ”
MW: One thing I enjoyed was watching you use your natural sense of humor to defuse people, especially your more adversarial colleagues.
FRANK: Humor is really helpful — I use it constantly. The main reason is that I enjoy it and it helps me from getting bored. But it can be a weapon politically — ridicule can be very effective. And I would say this in defense of the use of ridicule. Ridicule doesn’t work unless the subject is ridiculous. And I did think these people were being increasingly ridiculous.
As to being gay, humor has a special role there, too. Obviously there are some people who are haters and I have no interest in conciliating them — they’re the enemy and I want to fight them every step of the way. There are other people who I understand are uncomfortable with those of us who are gay. And I can’t blame them at the outset — adults today, especially people who are forty years old or older, grew up in a very homophobic society. It’s hard to overcome the emotions and the prejudice that were inbred when you were growing up; there’s a lack of comfort there. And so what I’m really doing is making fun of the prejudice. I think it helps make my point, it helps get them used to it and reduces the discomfort.
“If you help the worst party get into power, you can’t claim credit for making them less bad. It’s a little bit like being the arsonist who says, “Hey, I helped put out the fire. ”
MW: The instance where [House Judiciary Committee Chairman] Henry Hyde says, “I’ll swing to the gentleman from Massachusetts ” and you milk the line for all the laughs you can is priceless — just like a seasoned comic.
FRANK: And Henry also did a very good double take — we had a good comedy routine there. It helps to have everybody laughing — including the people who use anti-gay rhetoric.
I guess that’s another reason why I joke about being gay: I don’t want to discourage people from coming out. I want to say, “Hey, this is fun. Come on in, the water’s fine. ”
MW: The film touches on virtually every hot topic of your career from 1989 on, especially the initial scandal with Steve Gobie, to the “Barney Fag ” comment by then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey. What are your feelings about Gobie and Armey today?
FRANK: Well, I’m not a forgiving man. I stay angry. I have no respect for Armey or this guy Gobie, who lied to me. But it’s interesting — and this is one of the perspectives I brought to the Judiciary Committee proceedings — that Bill Clinton got in more serious trouble, like a lot of other people, because of the cover-up more than the act itself. I learned that lesson in ’89. I’d already come out. This guy Gobie decides he’s going to become famous by attacking me. Well, he couldn’t out me, because I’d been out for more than two years. So he decides not just to talk about me having paid him for sex, which was true, but to talk about a lot of other things that weren’t true.
Now I had this dilemma. Almost everything he said wasn’t true. But there was one core of truth there — I had paid him for sex. And the only way I could convincingly deny the things that were false was to admit the one thing that was true. And I realized that’s the understanding I brought to the [Bill Clinton scandal]. People cover-up because the only way to deny the really bad stuff is to admit the one thing that you did do wrong. Gary Condit got in trouble that way. If Gary Condit had said, “Yes, I was having a sexual affair with [Chandra Levy], it was wrong, ” he wouldn’t have been in much trouble. His problem was that he had people thinking — totally inaccurately — that he was involved with her being murdered.
So that is the one perspective I bring — “Okay, cut your losses. Admit what you did wrong because otherwise you’re not gonna be able to refute all these inaccurate things. ” Generally what happens is that the things you didn’t do are almost always more lurid and worse than the one thing you did do.
MW: The film includes a clip of someone claiming that the ’89 scandal would politically finish you. Of course you weren’t finished. But did you feel that way at the time?
FRANK: To be honest, I thought that I was. But I was never gonna quit because I wanted the ethics committee to go through its investigation. I knew I could prove that most of what Gobie said was bullshit. But I did at some point think, “Well, I’d better not run again, because I can’t win. And if I’m the nominee, the Republicans can win the seat. ”
Then it turned out that [voters] responded well, saying, “Okay, fine. You did something wrong, but you admitted that. ”
MW: Do you think Americans are more forgiving of certain scandals?
FRANK: They’re forgiving of weakness. But I think they make distinctions. It’s one thing to do something that’s damaging to yourself, that’s inappropriate or unwise and foolish. But I think people are less forgiving if you’ve hurt somebody else. In my case I was stupid. But I didn’t hurt anybody else. And, by the way, that was true of Clinton, too. In the end, there was no evidence that Bill Clinton had done any of the other things he had been accused of. And it was as if the Republicans understood that.
MW: In the past decade alone, we’ve kind of softened on how we view politicians. They are viewed as human, with frailties and all. That’s why character assassinations and other negative campaigning may be losing a bit of its effectiveness during campaign time. I believe people are starting to elect people more on their ideas and ideals rather than their lifestyles.
FRANK: I think politicians are both better and worse than people think. We’re better in that I do think the average member of Congress overwhelmingly is well-motivated. Most members of Congress are really there because they want to do what they think is the right thing for the world, though I don’t agree with some of their views. But there’s also less perfection, there’s a lot more human emotion and error. I hope the movie gets across both of those.
MW: In the film, as you’re talking to the media, you state that Clinton’s approach to gays during his term in office was of historic importance. Can you expand on what you meant by that?
FRANK: Clinton’s record with gays was better than John Kennedy’s with regard to blacks. Similar, but better. Clinton was the first president to officially say that discrimination based on sexual orientation is wrong — and presidents don’t go one hundred percent of the way. John Kennedy is revered by a lot of blacks, but, you know, Kennedy said when he was campaigning, “We should do away with housing segregation with the stroke of the pen. ” He didn’t do it for two years. Whereas Clinton tried earlier than that on gays in the military, though we lost all the votes.
So he was the first president to say these things. And he also did a number of things which didn’t get full attention. One of the problems with the media is that things get attention because they are controversial, not necessarily because they are important. Clinton lost on gays in the military. But he won on something that was probably more significant in the lives of most GLBT people, namely doing away with the security clearance situation. There were millions of people with security clearances — not just people working for the government, but people working for private companies that have contracts with defense department or the state department. I used to get a lot of concern from people who would call me and say, “I’m up for a job, ” or “My lover’s up for a job and we’re not out, what do we tell the FBI? ” Bill Clinton abolished that. Signed an executive order and just abolished it. So we went from a situation where there had been a rule that said if you were gay you couldn’t get a security clearance to one in 2000 where I was the speaker at gay pride day at the CIA.
MW: Is there any area in the Bush administration where Clinton’s legacy is being carried forward?
FRANK: Two things have been going on in this country. First, the country as a whole has been getting better and better as people have been coming out. And I’m convinced that what we discovered by coming out is that we helped America discover that people were less homophobic than they thought they were supposed to be. That’s immensely important.
The Republican Party — sadly, compared to the rest of the country — has been getting worse. They’re getting more right wing. So while the country as a whole has been getting better, the Republicans are caught between two places. President Bush the First refused to do three things that Bill Clinton did — declare that gays were eligible for refugee status as immigrants; put out a rule that said you can’t be discriminated against in the civil service; and do away with the security clearance.
Now, while President Bush the First wouldn’t do them, his son isn’t undoing them. So the legacy works this way: We’re at a point now where there’s enough political support in the country so that even when the Republicans are in power, while we might not make any progress, they won’t undo the progress we have made.
“The general sense was that once I came out, I would be a one-issue guy not by my choice but by reaction. That turned out to be totally wrong. ”
MW: Let’s talk about Log Cabin. In your opinion, has their presence made it any easier for the gay issues to be heard by the Republican party?
FRANK: Unfortunately, I’d have to say not much. They’re absolutely right to say to the Republicans, “If you do the right thing, we will support you. ” But my differences with Log Cabin historically have been that they’ve tended to support the Republicans even when they didn’t do the right thing. I mean, when Bob Dole gave back the money and then said, “I wish I hadn’t done that ” and they endorsed him anyway, that seemed to me problematic.
I understand the dilemma that the Log Cabin people have. I think they saw progress where there wasn’t, and I think, as I said, they tend to reward the Republicans prematurely. And when you reward people prematurely, you don’t give them an incentive to change behavior. Where there have been Republicans who have been supportive, then they ought to be supported. But there are far fewer of them. And if you look at the average record of the people Log Cabin supports, it’s not very impressive.
Secondly, and they have to confront this, party does matter in America in some areas and not in others. With a governor, party probably doesn’t matter that much. There was no reason for gay people to vote against Bill Weld for [Massachusetts] governor. But the single most important thing about Congress is who are the leaders and who the Chairs are. When people say there’s no difference in American politics — well, let me put it this way: anybody who can’t tell the difference between [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi and [House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay — the fact that that person’s allowed to vote is a sign of how tolerant we are in this country.
The Republicans are better than they were twenty years ago in the absolute. But they’re worse compared to the median in American society, which, as a whole, is getting less homophobic. When the Republicans are in power, they use their majority, particularly in the House, not to let any pro-gay things come up and to give any gay things a boost. With the Democrats, it’s the reverse. So I think it’s a good idea for there to be people who say to the Republicans: “We will only vote for you if you do the right thing. ”
People will ask, “But shouldn’t there be people supporting both parties? ” The answer is “Yes, if both parties are supporting you. ” But I think it’s a mistake to give away your support before you get what you think you’re gonna get.
MW: But Log Cabin’s basic argument has been that if the Republicans are in power, then it’s better that we’ve got a group who will represent our interests, who they can connect to in a politically friendly — as opposed to hostile — way.
FRANK: If it were fore-ordained that the Republicans were going to be in power, that would be a good argument. But in the last two years things have been very close. The Republicans barely won the presidency. They barely won the Senate back this time. They have only a small margin in the House.
Here’s the problem. If it’s clear that one party is going to be in control then you can make an argument for people being within that party who try to help. But if it’s a close race, and you help the worst party get into power, you really then can’t claim credit for making them less bad. It’s a little bit like being the arsonist who says, “Hey, I helped put out the fire. ”
If all gay people had voted Democratic, and the Republicans didn’t get that twenty-five percent, Bush wouldn’t have been close enough for that fiasco that happened. So you can’t, on the one hand, help the people who are much worse on our issues get into power and then take credit for having ameliorated the damage they do.
MW: We have a record number of openly gay politicians. People are finding, I think, that if you’re good at your job, if you stay true to your cause and to your constituents, they will support you.
FRANK: The real breakthrough at our level was [Rep.] Tammy Baldwin. Because [Congressman Jim] Kolbe, myself, [former Rep. Gerry] Studds and [former Rep. Steve] Gunderson all came out after [voters] already knew us. And I think we now know once people know you and like you, coming out is not nearly as much as a problem.
MW: But you had to pave the way. You would not have been elected if you were an openly gay man in 1981. You would have never made it in.
FRANK: I agree. And in ’87 I was still unsure what the response was going to be. In fact I’ll tell you what’s interesting. The word was getting out that I was gonna come out. And a lot of the most liberal, pro-gay members of the House who heard the rumor came up to me and said, “Are you planning on coming out? ” I said, “Yeah, I gotta do it. ” They said, “Well, we wish you wouldn’t, because we need you as an ally on fighting defense spending or on civil liberties or on choice or on race discrimination, or housing, et cetera. ” The general sense was that once I came out, I would be minimized, and I would be a one-issue guy not by my choice but by reaction. And I couldn’t deny that. I hoped it wasn’t true, but I couldn’t prove it. There was this fear in ’87, sixteen years ago that coming out would be the end of it. That turned out, of course, to be totally wrong.
MW: You came out pretty late in life, yet you told me earlier that you knew since you were 13. It must have been very stressful for you prior to 1987.
FRANK: I experienced a lot of tension, a lot of fear. I overate. I was very fat. I made the mistake a lot of other gay people make — “I can’t have a real personal life or social life, so I’ll have a career that makes up for it. ” And that was a terrible mistake. When you try to have your career substitute for your public life, your private life, you wind up, I think, poisoning your career. Because there are emotional and physical needs that can’t be satisfied.
Some time after I came out, [then-Rep., now Senator] Chuck Schumer said to me, “We’re all so happy you came out. You’re so much easier to deal with. You’re better at your job. ” So coming out made me better at my job, because my job is based on a lot of interpersonal reaction. When you’re self-hating and frustrated and repressed and frightened, you’re not as effective in this kind of job.
MW: Do you think your coming out was an inevitability?
FRANK: Put it this way. Yes, but I didn’t know that at the time. One of the things that I’m encouraged about, even when I get kind of down about this or that particular political outcome, is that the progress we’ve made in gay and lesbian rights has come quicker than I thought. I worked for the mayor of Boston as this kind of liberal in [the late sixties]. There was no gay rights movement in Boston. If there were, I would have found it. And then Stonewall came and that really did make a big change. Now I’ve been active in the gay rights movement since ’72 — I filed the first gay rights bill in the history of Massachusetts thirty years ago. And at any point since 1972 if you were to ask me to predict what the state of gay rights would be like thirty years down the road, I would have been too pessimistic. But there’s been enormous progress.
So that’s the answer to your question: if I had known what kind of progress we were making, I would have come out sooner. But it didn’t seem to me inevitable at the time.
Actually, I take that back, there was a point. I got elected to the [Massachusetts] state legislature in ’72. And I didn’t think I could go anywhere, I didn’t think I could win any statewide office. I was living in [former House Speaker] Tip O’Neill’s congressional district, and that didn’t seem too promising for my career [Laughs]. So in ’79, I started coming out to people. I was getting ready. I was going to run one more term and then by 1982 I was gonna quit and just become a gay rights activist.
And then in 1980, there was what I guess you would call divine intervention. Pope John Paul said he didn’t want any Catholic priests in Congress and made Father Robert Drinan quit. And that was in the district next to mine. So I moved in and won the seat. Once I got elected to Congress, that delayed my coming out for several years.
“The biggest argument the Bush people make is that if we overthrow Saddam Hussein, it will give an impetus to modernization in the Arab world. I think it’s exactly the opposite. ”
MW: Given the control of the House by Republicans, in context of the impending war, are there any chances of any gay legislation seeing the light of day?
FRANK: No. People need to understand this — and this is one of the things I think that Log Cabin and the Human Rights Campaign aren’t prepared to admit, and I think they’re making a great mistake — in the House of Representatives, control over the agenda is one hundred percent in the hands of the leadership. And this is the real flaw with the Log Cabin argument. When you keep the House in the control of the Republican leadership, as it is now constituted, has been, and sadly probably will be for the foreseeable future, you guarantee that a) no good stuff will come up for us and b) bad stuff will be allowed to come up.
And here’s my problem with some of the moderate Republicans who are supportive. Overwhelmingly they will tell us they agree with us in substance — and many of them do — but they will go along with the procedural moves of the Republicans that keep the bad things coming up. That’s what happened with the faith-based situation. We wanted to offer an amendment to knock out the anti-gay parts, the parts that allowed discrimination. And most of the pro-gay Republicans — including Kolbe — voted with the party to set it up procedurally so that we didn’t get a chance to offer that. And then they said, “Oh well, I would have supported that, but it couldn’t come up. ”
So the answer is this: as long as the Republicans control the House, Tom DeLay, the Majority Leader, is in control of the agenda. He will not allow hate crimes to come up, he will not allow a non-discrimination bill to come up, he just won’t allow it.
MW: You were recently named co-chairman of the newly formed Homeland Security Council. I’ve lived in Washington since the mid seventies, and I don’t remember being more anxious in my life here. Can you give any indication of how things are going?
FRANK: I’m more supportive — or less critical — of the administration on this. It’s very hard. And here’s the problem. We are a pretty free society. In Washington, when I got here in ’81, the general public could drive back and forth in front of the Capitol. I mean, access was pretty unlimited. But here’s what’s transformative: In a free society, your basic rule is you have a right to go where you want to go and do what you want to do and yes, you have the chance to do something bad. But if you do something bad, we’re gonna do everything we can to catch you and punish you. That’s deterrence.
And then, beginning in the ’80s, but culminating on September 11th, 2001, people killed themselves. All of the sudden your law enforcement model doesn’t work anymore. How do you deter suicides? What can we threaten to do to people who are ready to kill themselves? So we are now trying to deal with that. That is, we’ve got to get more into prevention. Because deterrence doesn’t work. Prevention means a diminution of freedom, so yes, we are less free at the airports. You’re less free at the Capitol. I’m less free at the Capitol.
But I think given the constraints, the administration is doing a pretty good job. But you have to accept the fact that if people are ready to kill themselves and you cannot stop them. So yeah, there is reason to think that we have unfortunately not seen the last murderous incident here. But we’re doing our best to diminish the chances they have and to minimize the damage they do.
MW: I know you’re against going to war with Iraq, but it seems like an inevitability at this point. Any comments?
FRANK: Saddam Hussein is a terrible man. I wish he would die tomorrow. Or yesterday. But I don’t think [the public] thinks he’s a threat and I don’t think Saddam Hussein is a threat.
I don’t want to ignore Saddam Hussein, but people who say we can’t appease him, don’t understand what appeasement means. Adolf Hitler was left alone to march into the Rhineland, which he wasn’t supposed to do, and to build up his military. But in Saddam Hussein’s case, from the day he marched into Kuwait, the western world said, “Okay, that’s the end of it. ” And we were pushing him back. Today, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is under more restraint than any country in the world. He’s had inspectors. There are sanctions. He can’t go within twenty miles of this border or thirty miles of that border. There are people flying over him. In fact, the American military has said that the Iraqi military is today only one-third as strong as it was eleven years ago.
Now, Adolph Hitler, eleven years after he started being a total asshole, was ten times as strong, not one-third as strong. So I think what we’re now doing works. And I am afraid — and you see this now — the opposition that we’re getting in the western world is very discouraging. We’re losing our ability to have a lot of influence elsewhere. I think we’re going to pay a terrible price. The biggest argument the Bush people make is that if we overthrow Saddam Hussein, it will give an impetus to modernization and democracy in the Arab world. I think it’s exactly the opposite.
I’d throw in one other thing, by the way. What I take from Colin Powell’s speech to the U.N. Security Council is that when Saddam Hussein sneezes, we know it. I mean look at the degree of electronic penetration we have. So I do not think he’s in the position of doing anything bad, even though he would like to.
I will say that I don’t think that gay people need to feel constrained to take a position one way or the other. This is not an issue where somebody being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender is relevant.
MW: Until you bring up gays in the military and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Clearly, we’re going to continue to be in a holding pattern on this issue throughout Bush’s administration.
FRANK: Right — but I think we can defeat it the next time we get Democrats in power. The dissenting argument in 1993 — and we were able to force them into this — was not that we’re bad soldiers or sailors or airmen, but that straight people were so prejudiced against GLBT people that it would be a disorganizing factor. Well, you know, I think they’re going to have a harder time making that argument. Because I think today’s twenty-year-olds are a lot less anti-gay than the twenty-year-olds were ten years ago. They’re going to have a hard time arguing that it’s going to freak out the current generation.
MW: Last week I read in the New York Post that hate crimes were down but those that do occur are far more violent.
FRANK: Yes. I saw that, too. And you know what it means? The bigots know they’re losing. And they get angrier. They feel more threatened. There’s often more violence when you’re making progress.
MW: Any thoughts about Rep. Jim Moran’s recent comments regarding Jewish Americans and Iraq?
FRANK: Oh, it was terrible. I’m really disappointed. I think he’s forfeited his ability to represent the area — and maybe [openly gay Arlington County Board Chairman] Jay Fisette could replace him, by the way.
Nancy Pelosi fired [Moran] as a whip, you know. And while I think what he said was terrible, the Republicans are being a little hypocritical because you know who used to say similar things? [Former Rep.] Jim Traficant. They didn’t get as much attention, but Traficant used to make those same kinds of remarks — the Jews are driving foreign policy, they want us to have a war so they can sing “Onward, Christian soldiers. ” I think the Democrats have been pretty good. There’s been virtually unanimous condemnation. And I think if Moran does run again, he’ll get no support from any organized Democratic group and I know there’s a lot of pressure on him not to run. If he does run, there will be overwhelming support for opponents.
MW: Will you run again?
FRANK: Sure. Yeah.
“I don’t think [President Bush] is personally anti-gay at all. But I do think he’s political. I think [he] does not want to anger the right wing. ”
MW: Any other political aspirations on the horizon?
FRANK: To be honest, if [Sen.] John Kerry became president, I would think about running for the Senate. But the earliest that would be would be 2006. On the other hand, I’m now the senior Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. And if the Democrats win the House back, I’m chairman of the committee that supervises the Federal Reserve, the World Bank, the IMF, the entire banking industry, the entire securities industry, and Federal housing programs. That’s a lot to give up to be a freshman senator.
MW: Clearly you’re in a position to know the president better than most of us. So let me ask you about your perception of Bush. If he didn’t have to toe the party line, do you think he’d have a more pro-attitude toward gays?
FRANK: Well, I don’t think he’s personally anti-gay at all. But I do think he’s political. I will say this: Sergio and I have been in the White House a couple times now. He’s very friendly. We kid around. But he’s purely political. There’s no question. Unfortunately, that’s not terribly relevant because he goes along with the party thing — and the parties have become very different in terms of how people vote at the national level. I don’t think it’s personal. I think it’s just that George Bush does not want to anger the right wing.
MW: How long have you and Sergio been together?
FRANK: Four and a half years. It’s interesting because part of the problem in my job is that it’s kind of hard to be as good about the relationships. Well, luckily for me, Sergio’s job is as demanding as mine. He travels a lot, too, and he has to work late. During the week, he’s sometimes working later than I am. So it is helpful for our relationship that we both have very demanding jobs that we like a lot. And it also means that we tend to spend a lot of time just sort of mostly at his apartment, sometimes at mine, watching television, doing nothing. I think we both get kind of “peopled ” out.
MW: You’ve outlasted many of your detractors. How does that make you feel?
FRANK: Good. I feel lucky in some ways because I didn’t always make the right choices. I think I came around at just the right time. If I were twenty years older it would have been impossible. There just wouldn’t have been any way in 1967 to do what I had done in 1987. And if I was twenty years younger it wouldn’t have been as big a deal. I think for people to be out in 2007 isn’t going to be that big a deal. Still important, though. I was right at the moment where I got the chance to be one of the people making a difference. And that’s as much a matter of when you’re born as what you bring to it. And I do feel good about making the best of that. On the whole I screwed up a couple times but I do feel given the time I lived in that I made the best of it.
MW: Looking back from this point, what do you think will be your own personal legacy as it relates to the gay community?
FRANK: Well, first, people have done more for me than I’ve done for them. That’s one of the things about politics. There’s a great disproportion in rewards versus output. An awful lot of people have worked very hard on my behalf and I get to reap much of the reward. So I really feel much more indebted than not. But I do think I was one of those who showed that you could come out and prosper.
Let’s Get Frank will have its World Premiere on Thursday, March 27, at the Carnegie building, 1530 P Street NW, at 7:30 p.m. There will be a post-screening celebration for ticket holders at a location to be announced. Tickets to the film can be purchased online at www.reelaffirmations.org or by calling 202-986-1119.