“John Soto was running against me. During the campaign he demanded that I take an HIV test; I told him I would be happy to, as soon as he took an IQ test”.
Barney Frank is the soon to retire Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts. He is widely considered the most high profile openly gay politician in the United States – and he isn’t even from San Fran! A respected expert on budgetary matters he used to chair the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee and showed how he was unwilling to be pigeonholed as a “gay” politician whilst being a strong voice for the gay community. His views on the economy have never carried as much weight as they do in the current recession and he is a political force to be reckoned with.
Here he speaks with Mike Spradley of the Huffington Post.
In your opinion, what are the most productive actions people can take to achieve equality in the United States?
To be out, and be the person you were born to be. This will help defeat the prejudice all LGBT people experience. The second is to vote and know the people are you are voting for. Use your rights as a citizen of the United States, and know what that means. Be an active Democrat.
What is your advice for LGBT youth in America?
You should be honest with yourself about who you are. Hiding who you are takes a great deal of energy. Coming out will make you a much more productive member of society, because you won’t have to worry or create a person that you’re not. Seek family members and friends that will support you being gay or lesbian. I also want to let young LGBT youth know that you will find a family that will support your life whether they are your traditional or an alternative family that you create.
In the HRC study, bullying was a major concern for LGBT youth. Is there any federal legislation on the table or that has recently passed Congress that will address bullying in K-12 and higher-education institutions that receive federal dollars?
This is a complicated question. School policy is determined by each state and also at the local school-board level. We need to start there. Society allows teens to mistreat each other while we would not tolerate this behavior in adults. We must look for bullying at younger ages and try to curb it before it gets out of control.
You were the first member of the House of Representatives to come out on your own terms. Why did you decide to come out of the closet?
To me, my life was unacceptable; I wanted to live my life on my own terms, and that meant being the person I am. I felt I was hiding.
When you announced you were gay, how were you treated by the other members of Congress?
I was pleasantly surprised and welcomed with open arms by members of both parties, with the exception of Dan Burton (R-Ind.), who refused to use the House gym after I announced I was gay. He thought he would catch HIV or something from me. The funny thing about the whole situation is that we had worked out in the same gym for five years before I announced I was gay.
Do you have a story from the campaign trail that you wish to share?
Yes, John Soto [a Republican] was running against me. During the campaign he demanded that I take an HIV test; I told him I would be happy to, as soon as he took an IQ test.
You announced after serving 16 terms that you were not going to seek reelection. What do you hope your legacy will be? What was your greatest accomplishment?
I am most proud of the Financial Reform Bill. I hope I leave a legacy that makes life fairer for all Americans. I hope that I helped all Americans gain equality, not just the LGBT community.
What are your plans for retirement?
I plan to write, lecture, to marry my partner Jim Ready, and continue to work on equality issues as a private citizen.