In 1986, when it appeared then-closeted gay congressman Barney Frank would be outed by a former colleague, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill told a staffer Frank would be “coming out of the room.”
That’s one of the stories Frank tells in an interview with Washington Post reporter Ed O’Keefe, one of the Post’s series of “exit interviews” with retiring legislators.
Frank notes that in 1986, former congressman Bob Bauman, who came out after being implicated in a gay sex scandal, was publishing a book in which he strongly implied that Frank was gay. Frank went to O’Neill, a longtime Massachusetts politician who had mentored him, to alert him that this news might break. O’Neill said not to worry about such rumors, but Frank told him the rumor was true.
After expressing some sadness that the fact might cost Frank the opportunity to be the first Jewish House speaker, O’Neill told the news to his press secretary, Chris Matthews (now the host of the political talk show Hardball), saying that Frank “may be coming out of the room.”
“Aides had to explain to O’Neill that in fact Frank was coming out of the closet,” the Post reports. Frank came out the following year.
Frank shares other stories about coming out privately to colleagues in the years before he made his public announcement; in one incident, he had to explain why he didn’t show much interest in a woman who was his arranged date for New Year’s Eve.
Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is retiring after 30 years in Congress, also has some advice for other gay politicians — to come out if they’re ready, “because your ability to live as an integrated human person is more important than anything.” But don’t get “pigeonholed as a one-issue candidate,” he adds.