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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 20, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 20
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Barney Frank visits Seattle
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Barney Frank visits Seattle

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

'You think John Boehner cries a lot?' Barney Frank said defiantly in his rapid-fire staccato. 'You ain't seen nothin' yet. I could return to my youth, to Johnnie Ray - 'cry me a river.'

In Seattle on May 17 to support the reelection bid of his House of Representatives colleague, Seattle's Congressman Jim McDermott, Frank spoke with SGN by phone as he made his way from the airport into the city.

Describing McDermott as 'a friend - a personal friend as well as an ally,' Frank said his reelection was important to LGBT-friendly legislation in Congress.

'He's one of the people who helps us lobby other people,' Frank told SGN. 'From the day he got to Congress, he's been one of our closest allies on the things we want to get done.'

'He's also one of the leading authorities on health care,' Frank added. 'It's been very important to have that - to have an authority on healthcare as an ally - on AIDS as well as other things.'

According to Frank, allies like McDermott are even more important now that the House is controlled by Republicans in the throes of ideological fervor.

While Democrats controlled the House, from 2007 through 2011, Frank was chair of the powerful House Committee on Financial Services (sometimes called the Banking Committee), charged with regulating the country's securities, insurance, banking, and mortgage industries.

He recalled that a more collegial atmosphere prevailed in the previous period of Republican control.

'From 2003 till 2007, I was ranking member on my committee - in other words, the senior Democrat on a committee led by Republicans,' he said. 'I had a very good relationship with Chairman [Mike] Oxley (R-OH).

'Now it's a totally partisan atmosphere, a totally right-wing atmosphere.

'You know, I'm going to go back to work next week, and when I get back to work I'm going to have to try to stop them from deregulating derivatives,' he said, referring to proposed Republican legislation to undo reforms put in place after the financial crash of 2008.

Frank says many of his Republican counterparts are motivated by fear for their careers, rather than ideological loyalty to a right-wing agenda.

'It's not so much that a lot of them are so right wing,' he says, 'but they're afraid of the right-wing in their party. They're afraid that if they're reasonable they'll be challenged in a primary by some Michele Bachmann type.'

While he acknowledged that LGBT-friendly legislation is at an impasse while Republicans control the House, Frank remained upbeat when he talked about the future.

'[On LGBT issues] we're on defense now,' he said. 'But they won't be able to undo the things we accomplished. They won't be able to undo [the repeal of] 'Don't Ask Don't Tell.' Plus, the public is moving in a more and more supportive direction.'

'The challenge now is abortion much more than LGBT issues,' Frank added.

Frank was - and is - the prime sponsor of ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) in the House. In spite of a series of announcements in 2009 and 2010 that ENDA was about to come up for a vote, it never did.

Asked what was the main obstacle to getting a Democratic-controlled House to adopt ENDA, Frank replied, 'It's the Transgender language, plain and simple.'

'We've spent 30 years educating people on the LGB issues,' he said. 'And we've passed ENDA without the Trans language. But the community said, 'We want the Trans language,' so there you go.

'Look, Maryland - it's a pretty liberal state - they refused to pass a Trans rights bill. If you can't pass it in Maryland, or New York, or Massachusetts&.' his voice trailed off.

Nevertheless, Frank predicted, 'It will pass the next time we have a Democratic Congress.'

And that, Frank believes, is not far away.

'Their extremism is so bad - their incompetence is so bad,' he said of House Republicans, 'we have a very good chance to get it back.'

One of Frank's favorite stories, one that he has told many times in TV interviews, is about the time he came out to then-Speaker Tip O'Neill.

'Oh, Bah-ney,' he quoted in O'Neill's distinctive Boston Irish accent. 'I'm so sad. I always thought you could be the first Jewish speak-uh!'

Asked if he still had the ambition to be the first Jewish - and first Gay - House speaker, Frank shot back, 'No, no. I'm 71 years old. My advancements are mostly behind me, not ahead of me.

'Look,' Frank added, 'I was the chair of a major committee at a critical time in our country's history. Being Gay didn't slow me down a bit.'

'Ten years from now, it will happen,' he predicted. 'But it won't be me.'

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