Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) will not be seeking re-election to the House of Representatives, putting an end date on his more than 30 years in Congress, where he was the longest-serving out LGBT member and rose to the chairmanship of the House Financial Services Committee.
According to a statement put out by his office this morning, Frank will hold a news conference in Newton, Mass. at 1 p.m. today "to formally announce and answer questions about his decision not to run for re-election in 2012."
[READ Metro Weekly's full report, "Frank Departure," for more details on today's news.]
The statement also notes that Frank will hold a meeting in D.C. on Tuesday, Nov. 29, "in order to answer questions from Washington reporters."
Frank first won election to Congress the same year Ronald Reagan was elected president. After his 1980 election, Frank served without being out until his association with Steve Gobie, who ran an escort business out of Frank's D.C. apartment, became public. Although his received a reprimand from the House in 1990 for actions he took and statements he made relating to Gobie, he was easily re-elected during those years and served as an outspoken gay member of Congress since then.
In a statement regarding Frank's decision, Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said, "Barney Frank has exemplified true leadership over his more than 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. As one of the first openly gay members of Congress, Barney defied stereotypes and kicked doors open for LGBT Americans."
Chuck Wolfe, the president of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, issued a statement, saying, "Barney Frank's political career may be coming to an end, but his legacy will outlive us all. His decision to come out as gay more than two decades ago gave LGBT Americans an authentic voice and a persistent champion in Washington. He has used that voice loudly and often, speaking personally, humorously and effectively about the hopes and challenges of Americans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender."
Wolfe also noted Frank's specific impact on the work of the Victory Fund, which advocates for and supports out LGBT candidates and elected officials, saying, "The good news is that Congressman Frank has also inspired a new generation of LGBT leaders who are following in his footsteps and choosing to serve in public office openly, honestly and unafraid to be themselves. More than simply inspiring them, he has helped them run and win, and he has been an enormously supportive and generous friend to the Victory Fund."
Solmonese, who worked on one of Frank's early campaigns, went on to note, "Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act would never have happened without his leadership. But it goes beyond that. His service as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee during a time of great economic upheaval made a gay man one of the most powerful people in the country and he used that power for great good. America, Massachusetts and LGBT people are better off for Barney Frank's service."
The importance of Frank's decision was clear when viewed through the prism of social media, with "Barney Frank" being one of the 10 highest "Trending Topics" on Twitter by 11:40 a.m. Above Frank was movie star Anne Hathaway, who was in the news for getting engaged to her longtime boyfriend, Adam Shulman.
In September 2007, Frank made a decision that put him at odds with transgender leaders and advocates of a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that prohibited both sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. Frank announced that moving forward with such legislation at the time would be a "mistake" and instead urged a path that would allow for a vote on a sexual orientation-only version of ENDA and allow LGBT leaders "to continue the educational process that [he] believe[d] will ultimately lead to our being able to add transgender protections" through consideration of a second ENDA bill that would have included gender identity protections.
In the years since, Frank has been a strong advocate of what has become known as "an inclusive ENDA" that would contain both types of protections, although he has maintained that work remains to be done on transgender issues before Congress will be ready to pass such legislation. In introducing the legislation in the 112th Congress this March, Frank told Metro Weekly, "[W]e have work still to do and we have overwhelming -- over 90 percent -- support on the Democratic side for ENDA based on sexual orientation and we had, in the last Congress, about 30 Republicans that way. Unfortunately, there's a drop-off from that number to transgender, and this is a chance to work hard to sway those who are committed to ENDA to support the full transgender inclusion as well."
In 2010, however, it was work outside of LGBT issues in his role as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee for which he may be most well known in the broader political world. Working with his Senate counterpart, then-Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the two worked to address the ongoing financial crisis through passage of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was signed into law in July 2010.
[Photo, above: Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) speaks at a memorial service for Frank Kameny held on Nov. 15 in the Cannon House Office Building. (Photo by Ward Morrison.) Photo, below right: Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) speaks at a news conference announcing the introduction of the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act in March. (Photo by Chris Geidner.)]