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First Congressman to voluntarily come out as gay, Barney Frank, reflects on career from Maine home

Former Congressman Barney Frank served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Mass. (1981 -2013). He was the first member of Congress to voluntarily come out.

OGUNQUIT, Maine — Politicians aren’t usually known for their honesty. 

Politics aside, Congressman Barney Frank who represented the state of Massachusetts for more than three decades (from 1981 - 2013) has been called many things but few can dispute, he's been truthful about who he is, even if it took him years to get there. 

I sat down with the 80-year-old democrat in Ogunquit where he’s been living full-time for the last several years. I bumped into Frank quite literally in October, when I backed into his Ford Fusion. I rushed up to his office to apologize and exchange insurance information and I have never seen anyone less fazed or interested in their car being hit. 

When I remind Frank of how we met, he corrects me, "our cars met before we did," he says taking the blame away from where it should surely rest, on my shoulders. 

For Frank, material things come and go; he says he just wants them to function properly but in his own words "I have never cared about the aesthetic of my car so a dent or two is literally not an issue."

And it's not just cars that the former Massachusetts Congressman, isn't concerned about. Early on in his political career, when he was elected to the   Massachusetts House of Representatives where he served for eight years beginning in 1972, he was often criticized for having a disheveled appearance. In his defense, he remembered something he would say to his elementary teacher when she would criticize his untidy but correct work.

"I would argue with the teacher and say well neatness shouldn't count," remembers Frank. His sister, who had teenagers at the time Frank was running suggested he tweak his idea for a campaign slogan and so he did. 

"She said, 'well if you say neatness doesn't count you're going to be at war with every mother of teenagers in the world so you better moderate it."

Frank says in the first of many compromises, he changed his campaign slogan to say, "Neatness isn't everything." And it worked. 

Credit: NCM
Former Congressman Barney Frank

While voters could see his untidy appearance, hidden was the internal struggle about whether to share his private life with his constituents. Frank was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980 and says as time went on people began to be suspicious of his sexuality. Despite being worried about being found out he decided he could not be a hypocrite. 

"I can accept not being volunteering that I am gay, I can accept not being honest in that sense, but I can't live with hypocrisy and that's been my principal ever since that the right to privacy does not involve the right to hypocrisies."

On Memorial Day in 1987, sick of keeping his private life a secret, Frank did something no member of Congress had ever done, at the age of 47, by his own choice, he publicly came out as gay in an article that ran in the Boston Globe. 

The response was not as bad as he thought it might be. Frank says he was convinced then that people were and are less homophobic than they think they are supposed to be. 

Decades later, Frank married his partner Jim Ready who he had met at a gay political fundraiser in Maine. The couple has been living in Ogunquit full-time for the last several years. 

Among the highlights of his career spanning more than three decades: his work to bring equality to LGBTQ people and sponsoring the Dodd-Frank bill which overhauled financial regulations in response to the 2008 market meltdown. He isn't without regrets, and in true Barney style, he is Frank about them. 

Frank recently made headlines because he and his husband are suing a construction contractor they say abandoned the building of their home in Wells.  

Today, Frank is focused on what's important to him: his husband James, good food, and working on his upcoming book that explores the issues of democracy and equalizing economic conditions. He hopes the book will be on bookshelves sometime next year. 

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