For The Advocate, I conducted an exit interview with Barney Frank, the first voluntarily out LGBT member of Congress. I needn't tell Prospect readers that Frank has had an incredibly distinguished career as a legislator on behalf of the downtrodden, progressive attack dog, gay advocate, and master of the withering soundbite. Before I went, I told my wife that my goal was to be told a particular question was "stupid" fewer than three times. In fact, I didn't hear that once. Do we need any more evidence that imminent retirement has mellowed the man?
Frank said a couple of things that I found immensely moving, and which I'll excerpt here. I asked him why, when he spoke with Jason Zengerle of New York Magazine, he listed progress on LGBT issues as the first of the accomplishments he was proud of—before financial reform. Here's what he said when I asked him why:
[Financial reform] may be important to more people—but it’s not as important as your own personal dignity and rights. We went through a terrible period with financial irresponsibility, and I’m proud of what we did there. But I don’t think the economic problems people face [compare] to being 15 and being afraid that your parents are going to find out who you really are or being bullied in school because of the way you look or thinking you’re never going to have a real life. I’m a big shot now, I’m immune from the prejudice. Jim and I can go anywhere we want as a married couple. But I used to be 15. I remember what it was like.
... Now, I don’t claim that this was my accomplishment. My career and the gay rights movement are the same age .... I’ve been helped by the movement, and I’ve helped the movement. So yes, I’m proud of what I’ve done.
But he could have run away from LGBT issues, I noted. I've read him explaining why he didn't before, so I was surprised and moved when he explained how he think his choices hurt his personality and his effectiveness as a politician:
... The chance came to run [for Congress from Massachusetts], and I decided, I can’t be honest about who I am. It means sacrificing having a personal life, but I’ll have a great public life, and that will be a substitute. And one thing I can tell you is, that is bullshit. The best, most satisfying public life in the world doesn’t come close to meeting the needs that a private life meets. And in fact I think denying yourself a full private life becomes a kind of impediment to your public life, especially if it’s one where you’re trying to interact with people. You’re just not as nice, you’re not as open. You harbor resentments. And even though the resentments are your own fault because you’re closeted, that doesn’t make them less of an impediment.
That's certainly not an apology for his famous irascibility, but I haven't heard that explanation before. And it's yet another reason to integrate LGBT people fully into society, among other things, through marriage. Why waste our talents and efforts?
To read the rest, head over to The Advocate, here.
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