Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Today in Gay History

Happy 70th Birthday

March 31, 1940

Congressman Barney Frank

Turns '70' today!

United States congressman Barney Frank is known for his intelligence, his quick and acerbic wit, and his spirited defense of his social and political beliefs. He has been a leader not only in the cause of gay and lesbian rights, but also on issues including fair housing, consumer rights, banking, and immigration.

Frank was born on March 31, 1940 in Bayonne, New Jersey, where his father owned a truck stop. As a youngster Frank developed an interest in politics. He did not, however, foresee a career in government for himself because he observed in politics a dismaying amount of corruption and an inhospitable attitude toward Jews. He had, moreover, realized at the age of thirteen that he was gay, which also seemed an obstacle to a political career.

Frank first ran for the United States House of Representatives in 1980, when the incumbent, Father Robert Drinan, retired. Drinan endorsed Frank to succeed him, but Boston's Humberto Cardinal Medeiros tried to mobilize Catholics to vote against him because of his pro-choice stance. With narrow victories in both the primary and general elections, Frank became the Representative of the Fourth District of Massachusetts and began his career on the national stage.

The liberal freshman congressman zealously defended programs that protected low-income people, the elderly, and other groups at risk, and he was also a vigorous opponent of initiatives by the Reagan administration to give tax breaks to large corporations, especially those in the oil industry, at the expense of the general populace. One commentator noted that Frank showed "a combination of humor and conviction that left even ideological opponents paying him grudging respect."
Although always an advocate for gay and lesbian rights, Frank was closeted at the beginning of his political career. Fearing that disclosing his sexual orientation would jeopardize his chances for election, Frank "made a conscious choice for a political career over a personal life." Gradually, however, he came out to various friends and colleagues, but it was not until 1987 that he commented publicly, when questioned by a reporter from the Boston Globe. The response of Frank's constituents was overwhelmingly favorable; letters of support outnumbered those critical of him by a margin of six to one.

Frank's record on gay and lesbian concerns is second to none, but he is far from a one-issue legislator. He has supported civil rights, gun control, fair housing, reproductive rights, and the medical use of marijuana. He favors a balanced approach toward environmental issues, opposing oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge but also arguing against restrictions on the fishing industry that "are too rigid and reflect inaccurate science."

In 2003 Frank became the Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, whose oversight includes issues of banking, insurance, real estate, consumer rights, and financial privacy laws. He has been Chair of that powerful committee since the Democrats regained control of Congress in 2006.

Frank has raised the profile of gays in government by attending White House dinners and other official functions with his partner. Herbert Moses, Frank's companion for over a decade, was the first partner of a gay Representative to be granted spousal access privileges to the Capitol. Frank and Moses parted amicably in 1998, about the same time Frank co-founded the National Stonewall Democrats. For severa years Frank attended events at the White House with his then partner, Sergio Pombo.

A true old school liberal, he is equally beloved by his constituents as by Hill staffers, who named him the "most eloquent," "brainiest," and "funniest" Member of the House in both 2004 and 2006. Frank is sixty-nine today. His current partner, Jim Ready, is forty year-old surfer who runs an awning company in Maine.

Frank is known for his intelligence, integrity, and work ethic. Called a "political theorist and pit bull at the same time" and "one of the most colorful and quotable figures in Congress" because of his quick and often biting wit and his rapid-fire style of speech, the congressman is a force to be reckoned with in debate and is also an engaging public speaker.

Frank calls political engagement and participation the most effective course for glbtq people. "Marches and demonstrations may be fun, but they don't affect politicians," he stated. Those who wish to bring about change should, he said, "vote and let [their] elected officials know [they]'re there."


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