Metro Weekly

Frank Talk

Barney Frank's decades-long House career has come to a close, but the gay firebrand is far from retiring

MW: You’re leaving Congress now as a married man. Is that something you ever thought would be possible?

FRANK: No, not remotely. I never thought I would get elected to anything. I got elected in 1972 to the Legislature in a very atypical, very upscale urban district in Boston. I never thought I could go beyond that. I got here and never thought I’d come out, but came out and it had no negative effect. I then thought I would never get a leadership position, but won by seniority to this really important chairmanship and there was not a whisper.

When I first got here and came out I would get asked to go campaign for my colleagues, but … it was almost certainly going to be within 15 miles of an ocean, because coastal politics is liberal politics. Now I go to Ohio and Missouri and Texas.

Since I filed a gay rights bill in 1972, if at any time you’d asked me, ”Well, what’s gay rights going to look like three years from now?” I would’ve been too pessimistic. When Obama came out for marriage in May I said it wasn’t going to hurt him. I didn’t realize it would be interpreted as helping him so much.

It never would’ve occurred to me that I would be married and a member of Congress. I did make a point of being married while I was still here because I wanted these people to, you know, I’m very pleased to run into some conservative Republicans and introduce them to my husband. And Jim is a very popular guy with the other spouses and we’re the only same-sex couple other members of Congress really know. I think that’s very important.

To make it kind of a teaching moment, one Republican member of Congress, a more moderate conservative, sent us a wedding present and then voted to reaffirm the Defense of Marriage Act. So I brought the present back and the response was, ”Well, why?” And I said, ”Are you kidding?”

MW: Do you think your marriage has changed any minds or made some people rethink their positions on same-sex marriage?

FRANK: Not in and of itself. I think it’s a reinforcement of good trends. What’s turned this around in the country more than anything else is coming out. With my colleagues it’s now not some abstract gay couple, it’s me and Jim, who they like, who are friendly and have seen the positive impact. People have said to me, ”Gee, you seem happier now.” Putting two faces on it is very important.

MW: You mentioned your career started with the broader gay-rights movement. Do you think there has been too much focus on this fight for same-sex marriage? Is that obscuring some of the other issues of the LGBT-rights movement?

FRANK: Not for this reason: Winning on the same-sex marriage issue was always a judicial and state-by-state issue. The competition at the federal level in 2009 and 2010 was between ENDA and ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It was hard to get them both done and Speaker Pelosi got the impression from the LGBT community that they thought ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was more important than ENDA. And that’s why we moved on that. I don’t see marriage has in any way distracted us from other issues.

MW: Do you have any regrets looking over your long career here?

FRANK: Strangely, I would’ve voted, if I had known how it was going to turn out, for the first Iraq war. I thought President Bush Senior did a much better job than I expected. I was afraid he would do what his son did.

I obviously regret personally the involvement with a hustler, which came about when I was dealing very stupidly with the pressures of being closeted. On public-policy issues, no, other than the war.

MW: What do you think is the defining part of your legacy.

FRANK: Oh, that’s a hard one.

MW: That’s why I saved it for last.

FRANK: You can’t answer that because you look arrogant. Either you look arrogant or you try to sound humble and no one believes you.

MW: Well, what are you most proud of?

FRANK: That’s the same question. I’m very proud of when a reporter asks me a question I don’t want to answer and then tries to get me to answer it by changing it a bit I still don’t answer it.

I will say I am proud of being the first member of Congress to come out voluntarily. It troubled me some because two and half years after I voluntarily came out I had this hustler making these accusations against me, one of which was true, most of which were false. And in some people’s minds I was outed by him. But that’s just not true. So I am proud of coming out voluntarily. I think that’s important.

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.