Barney Frank has always been a lightening rod, not only for the right-wing but also within the LGBT community itself. He's spoken out forcefully for gay rights, taking on homophobia in Congress, and has often been the target of nasty antigay attacks. (Who can forget when former House Majority Leader Dick Armey called him "Barney Fag" in 1995 in what the leader claimed was an innocent slip?)
But Frank incurred a torrent of criticism from many LGBT activists in 2007 when he and the Democratic leadership stripped protections for transgender people from Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) before it was passed. (It died in the Senate; Frank introduced a transgender-inclusive ENDA in 2009, and reintroduced it in 2011, but it never got a vote.) He excoriated the National Equality March -- organized in the fall of 2009 to put pressure on President Obama regarding his promises to the LGBT community -- telling me in an interview that it was "useless," and that the only pressure marchers would be putting is "on the grass" on the mall.
Several prominent LGBT voices weighed in on Barney Frank and his announcement that he would not be seeking re-election.
Playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer:
"Barney Frank's retiring is a great loss to the gay world. It's also a great loss to the economy of the country because he stood firm against all the highway robberies that are constantly being perpetrated against us, both gay and straight. But as a gay presence in Congress, he was not afraid to defend us, and I fear there aren't so many left in that cesspool of hate that will carry on doing what he did."
Robin McGehee, Get Equal, direct action group which organized protests of President Obama:
"Every time I have been to Washington, DC, it has been to organize -- whether for the National Equality March, passage of ENDA, or repeal of ["don't ask, don’t tell"]. And every time, Rep. Barney Frank has actively stood in the way of that work, denouncing and dismissing grassroots organizing while keeping pro-equality legislative processes in a shroud of mystery -- so much so that we weren't able to get a floor vote on ENDA even with a Democratic majority. Amidst all the laudatory statements about Rep. Frank's long career in public service -- and he has certainly had a long and distinguished career -- I think it's important to remember that we should hold all of our elected officials accountable to get us there."
Pam Spaulding, PamsHouseBlend.com
"Barney Frank's brilliant, acerbic wit -- it has withered many a person during town halls as well as colleagues when he spoke from this House floor -- will be missed.
Frank is a good example of the evolution of LGBT politicians at the federal level. Frank never ran as openly gay -- he was outed in a scandal that resulted in a formal House reprimand. He subsequently ran and was re-elected, and his LGBT advocacy grew out of that de-closeting experience. His junior colleagues -- Rep. Jared Polis and Rep. Tammy Baldwin -- ran initial campaigns out of the closet, a phenomenon that we now see much more frequently in this generation of LGBT politicians.
Frank has had significant bumps in the road dealing with the transgender community, most notably in his position on an inclusive-ENDA in the past. It proved to be a very public and raucous learning experience for the congressman. It exposed the serious political and strategic gulfs that exist within the LGBT community. It also showed that it's difficult to serve as an out elected member of Congress (and therefore 'represent') and not step on land mines affecting our community."
David Mixner, political strategist, activist author, At Home with Myself:
"Congress will seem empty and quiet without Barney Frank. Most importantly, another moral compass is leaving the institution. He will be missed by even those who haven't always shared the same opinions or strategies. A real giant in every sense."
John Aravosis, Americablog.com:
"I think he's presented an important image for the community, having openly gay members of congress. But it's not entirely clear what the openly gay delegation has done over the past several years. Our heroes on 'don't ask, don't tell' were all straight members of Congress, and a straight president."
Mara Keisling, National Center for Transgender Equality:
"While the relationship between Congressman Frank and transgender people has not always been smooth, the truth is that he has pushed very hard for trans rights in Congress and the administration over the last few years. Social justice work is largely about winning people to our side. As they become stronger allies, we have a moral and common sense obligation to embrace them and acknowledge their good work.
The effort and influence he has exerted for trans people has mattered and has moved us down the field. It will be somewhat harder to advance our cause in Congress with the Congressman gone, but justice will be won for trans, gay and bi people and Congressman Frank will have been a very important part of that."