Frank sees a gay
president in 20 years
by James Patterson
Outspoken gay former Congressman Barney Frank was in San Francisco this week and told a gathering of the Commonwealth Club that while he won't consider a presidential run, he predicted the U.S. could have a gay president in 20 years.
Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, has never shied from speaking his mind, and he held forth on a wide range of topics during an interview with gay radio reporter Scott Shafer of KQED. The audience of over 500 people, including former Ambassador James C. Hormel and his partner, Michael Nguyen, gave Frank a standing ovation as he stepped to the stage.
Frank, with his husband, businessman James Ready, seated just a few feet away, is known for his humor and wit, and quickly had the audience laughing.
"I'm glad to see so many of you who apparently have attention spans that exceed a tweet," Frank, 73, quipped. He said early in his 45-year political career, he always answered his phone with "How can I help you?" However, free from Congress, he now asks: "Why are you bothering me?"
Now retired, Frank said he enjoyed "freedom from stress." He said members of Congress were in the "grief business" because people only go to them when they have complaints.
Frank is spending his time now writing a book at his husband's place in Maine.
Elected to Congress in 1980, he said in the early years he could find ways to work with House Republicans, but not today. "There is no such thing as a moderate Republican anymore," he said. "It's all right-wing Republicans now and it has caused gridlock."
During House debate over repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy a few years ago, Frank said Republicans tried to separate the repeal from a large military bill with a pledge to pass the repeal as a stand-alone bill.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who Frank called "one of the greatest leaders in House history," was speaker at the time and got angry. Her "heritage came forward" Frank said, as she told Republicans they could repeal DADT in the bill or there would be no military bill. This drew large applause from the audience.
Regarding legislation in response to the economic slowdown and Great Recession near the end of President George W. Bush's administration, Frank said Democrats and Republicans argued over whether a bill should be called stimulus or recovery. He preferred stimulus, he said, "Because people like to be stimulated."
Despite political differences, Frank, who once served as chairman of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, said Democrats and Republicans "pulled together" to do the best for the country during the economic crisis. Still, he said, after President Barack Obama was elected, Republicans laid the crisis on him.
Frank detailed the political bargaining and deal-making behind the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, which the Washington Post called "the most sweeping overhaul of the nation's financial regulatory since the Great Depression." He said a new book by Washington Post veteran reporter Robert Kaiser covered the political action on the bill well.
Frank called Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (D), who helped with Dodd-Frank, "a star of the party," and "an extraordinary woman" with "great accomplishments."
Though elected to Congress in 1980, Frank did not come out until 1987. It was a gradual process for him, he said. He first came out to his family and friends and in LGBT circles in Washington, D.C.
When Frank told House Speaker Tip O'Neill, a fellow Massachusetts Democrat, that he was gay and coming out of the closet, the speaker was unfamiliar with the term. "Barney's coming out of the room," O'Neill told press aide Chris Matthews.
"Hell," was how Frank described living in the closet during his early political career. When Boston Globe reporter Kay Lazar finally asked him if he was gay, Frank replied, "Yes, so what?"
Frank said two Republican senators congratulated him on coming out: Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, now retired, and former New Hampshire Senator Warren Rudman, now deceased. Frank said Simpson told him he hoped he had never said anything anti-gay to him. Rudman, when he met Frank in a store shortly after his coming out, shouted, "Good for you!"
"One House member," Frank said, "refused to use the House gym with me over HIV concerns."
Frank said he married Ready, 44, while he was still in Congress because he wanted his colleagues to be "confronted with the reality of marriage equality." He said a House colleague gave him a wedding gift and later placed an anti-gay House vote.
"We returned the gift," he said. Of his marriage to Ready, Frank said, "it strengthened an already strong bond."
Frank called former President Bill Clinton "a hero of gay rights." He said Clinton had been politically forced to sign DADT into law by Republican homophobes. At the time, "it was the best Clinton could do," he said.
Among Clinton's accomplishments for the LGBT community, Frank cited the president's reversal of a longstanding executive order that denied gays security clearances. Clinton also ended discrimination against LGBT federal workers and allowed persecuted LGBT people in other countries to seek asylum in the United States. He called the GOP House impeachment of Clinton "an attack on democracy."
Frank said "being gay in Washington, D.C., is not easy." He teased the audience by saying he knew closeted politicians on Capitol Hill: three in the Senate and four in the House. He did not mention any names.
"What's behind the Republican disrespect for President Obama?" asked one questioner.
"Race is a factor," Frank said.
He also said basketball star Jason Collins's recent announcement that he was gay was "helpful" and "important for LGBTs in the African American community." Frank said that the Congressional Black Caucus had been better for LGBT rights than LGBT members.
After Frank's remarks, Hormel said he "made a rapid fire" presentation. He said he regretted Frank was no longer in Congress, but he "appreciated his reasoning" for leaving. He said he agreed with Frank that gays should come out, because people needed "to recognize the presence of gays in our society."
Attendees Jeff and Rhona Shulman, a retired couple from the East Bay, said they had, "a warm place in our hearts for Barney Frank." They said Frank, while in Congress, had the "best interests of the people at heart" and that he "put people before banks and corporations."
The Shulmans expressed a common view among the large and adoring crowd. Barney Frank, they said, "definitely did not disappoint."