Part 5: Our Hall of Fame
BY Advocate Contributors
March 28 2012 1:00 AM ET
Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts is the first openly gay member of Congress to come out voluntarily, and ever since he has been a lightning rod for antigay rhetoric. Never one to just take a punch without punching back, Frank's blunt take on politics didn't make him any less of a target. But that same style combined with know-how got things done for LGBT rights.
To name a few, Frank helped pass a hate crimes bill, he is a founder of the Stonewall Democrats, and he hired a senior legislative assistant who become the first openly transgender Hill staffer in 2009. His critics claim he pushes the "gay agenda," an accusation which Frank proudly replied to after repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" was signed by the president in 2010, saying the agenda is "to be protected against violent crimes driven by bigotry, it's to be able to get married, it's to be able to get a job, and it's to be able to fight for our country. For those who are worried about the radical homosexual agenda, let me put them on notice. Two down, two to go."
Frank, the highest-ranking openly gay member of Congress, came out after the late Gerry Studds of Massachusetts. Studds was forced to come out while Frank was the first member of Congress to come out voluntarily. He talks now about starting work in 1971 at age 31, a year before being elected to the Massachusetts state House, worried that someone would learn his secret.
"I spent nights and weekends alone and terrified that someone would find out that I was gay," said Frank in an It Gets Better video. "I didn't have the courage to be honest about my sexuality until I was 47 years old, I'd been a member of Congress for six years." But Frank understands the value of coming out at any age, even while downplaying the weight of his own decision. "I have enormous admiration for people who do that now when they're in their teens and are not in some ways insulated from the prejudice," Frank said. "So for those who do that, I thank you, because you've helped make this world better or all of us."
Frank is retiring from Congress in 2012 after 16 terms.