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In Conversation: Barney Frank

So I got to Washington. I figured, okay, here’s the deal: I’ll be out privately but I’ll be ambiguous publicly, I won’t be out publicly. I’ll be out to the gay community. And that was unsustainable.

JZ: How did you think you were going to be able to do that?

BF: I didn’t think. This is how I got in trouble with that hustler. You know, we all have emotional and physical needs that have to get expressed, and being closeted publicly, either people were too out for me or I was too out for them. I was not able to find a successful private life, an emotional life, a romantic life, so I took to hustling. I didn’t realize at the time how crazy that was. And it’s not an accident that whole deal ended when I came out. Remember, I came out voluntarily.

JZ: Yeah, I know, in the Globe.

BF: The crap with the hustler came more than two years later.

JZ: When you did come out, was it more of a personal than a political decision?

BF: Yeah, I knew it had political implications. But I’ll tell you what finally touched it. Gerry Studds had been outed and for the first time acknowledged being outted, which most of them hadn’t done. So that meant I couldn’t come out for a while—two in the whole country and we have districts next to each other? He got reelected in ’84, after his problem, and then, I figured ’86, it’s too soon.

Then a member of Congress died of AIDS, named Stewart McKinney, and a major debate ensued about whether he was or wasn’t gay, and it was very distasteful. Stewart was a wonderful man, he did a lot for the homeless, one of the last of the really liberal Republicans, and I said, geez, this is awful, if I get hit by a truck tomorrow, I don’t want there to be this big debate, was he gay? Was he not gay? So I decided that I was going to come out.

JZ: What was the most difficult conversation you had with a colleague about that? Or were they all pretty receptive?

BF: They were all very receptive. I didn’t tell that many people.

JZ: You told O’Neill, right?

BF: Yeah. Robert Bauman had written a book in which he outed me. He incorrectly referred to somebody as my boyfriend — he wasn’t, he was a close personal friend — but he referred to me as gay. The press didn’t pick it up, but I thought, I’d better tell Tip. So I went to Tip. We were sitting on the floor, it was a bad day, we were losing the vote on the Contras, and I sat next to him. I said, Tip, I’ve got to tell you something. Bob Bauman is coming out with a book that says I’m gay.

“Awww, Bahney, don’t listen to that shit. You know they say these things about people.” I said, well, Tip, the point is it’s true. He said, “Oh Bahney, I’m so sad.” That’s when he told me he thought I was going to be the first Jewish Speaker. He acted as if it was the end. A few minutes later, I ran into Pat Schroeder, Congresswoman Schroeder, and she said, “Oh, Barney, am I glad to see you.” I said why? And she said, “Because I just saw Tip, I thought you might be dead. He said, ‘Oh, Pat, have you heahd the news about Bahney? I’m so sad.’ ”

But he was then wonderfully supportive. The final part of the story was when he told Chris Matthews, “We better get ready to talk to the press. They tell me Bahney Frank is going to come out of the room.” Matthews said, “What?” Finally he figured out he meant come out of the closet.

JZ: How was it taken?

BF: There was one guy in my district when I came out, who was furious, he said I’d lied to him. I probably had, I said I was not gay. But people were wonderfully supportive, including some Republicans. Al Simpson called—we’d worked together on immigration. He said, “Hey, pal, I just have this terrible feeling I might have said an anti-gay joke sometime in your presence, I’m so sorry.”

I was at a grocery store, Roland’s market on Capitol Hill, Warren Rudman was in there, the former senator. I was in the back, and he actually yelled the length of the store, “I’m proud of you.” I guess the people who were negative just didn’t say anything.

JZ: But later, you did have these instances, people like Dick Armey and Henry Hyde, saying stuff.