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Mike Spradley

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Congressman Barney Frank on LGBT Youth and Being Openly Gay in Congress

Posted: 06/21/2012 6:37 pm

On June 7, 2012, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil-rights organization, published the first national corollary study of straight teens and their LGBT counterparts in America. The survey polled more than 10,000 respondents between the ages of 13 and 17. The study was shocking and depressing, with only 37 percent of LGBT youth describing themselves as happy. The percentage of heterosexual youth who described themselves as happy was 30-percent higher. Over 54 percent of LGBT youth said they personally had been victims of anti-gay slurs, and nearly half said they do not fit in their community. Ninety-two percent said they hear negative messages about being LGBT, with 60 percent saying those negative messages come from elected officials. The biggest concern for LGBT youth was their identity, the possibility of non-accepting families, and bullying.

Today, the LGBT community has become mainstream on television and in movies and culture, but as many of us know, it was not always so. My nieces and nephews, who are in middle school and their first year of high school, honestly don't care if someone is gay. They have grown up on Will & Grace, Glee, and other shows that have slowly introduced and acclimated them to LGBT culture. To them, being LGBT is just part of life.

As I reflect on my search for LGBT role models in the '70s and '80s, I realize that they were few and far between. That's why Congressman Barney Frank's coming out in 1987 set the federal stage for future lawmakers, and why he is a historic figure in American LGBT history.

On Thursday, June 14, 2012, at 6:20 p.m. PST my phone rang. On the line was Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the most prominent openly gay politician in the United States. Not only did Congressman Frank share his thoughts on LGBT youth in America, but we had a chance to talk about his experience of coming out as a member of the House of Representatives.

What are your thoughts on the HRC survey of LGBT youth that was published June 7, 2012?

HRC does a very good job. This survey confirms what we know and have tried to dismiss.

In your opinion, what are the most productive actions people can take to achieve equality in the United States?

To be out, and be the person you were born to be. This will help defeat the prejudice all LGBT people experience. The second is to vote and know the people are you are voting for. Use your rights as a citizen of the United States, and know what that means. Be an active Democrat.

What is your advice for LGBT youth in America?

You should be honest with yourself about who you are. Hiding who you are takes a great deal of energy. Coming out will make you a much more productive member of society, because you won't have to worry or create a person that you're not. Seek family members and friends that will support you being gay or lesbian. I also want to let young LGBT youth know that you will find a family that will support your life whether they are your traditional or an alternative family that you create.

In the HRC study, bullying was a major concern for LGBT youth. Is there any federal legislation on the table or that has recently passed Congress that will address bullying in K-12 and higher-education institutions that receive federal dollars?

This is a complicated question. School policy is determined by each state and also at the local school-board level. We need to start there. Society allows teens to mistreat each other while we would not tolerate this behavior in adults. We must look for bullying at younger ages and try to curb it before it gets out of control.

You were the first member of the House of Representatives to come out on your own terms. Why did you decide to come out of the closet?

To me, my life was unacceptable; I wanted to live my life on my own terms, and that meant being the person I am. I felt I was hiding.

When you announced you were gay, how were you treated by the other members of Congress?

I was pleasantly surprised and welcomed with open arms by members of both parties, with the exception of Dan Burton (R-Ind.), who refused to use the House gym after I announced I was gay. He thought he would catch HIV or something from me. The funny thing about the whole situation is that we had worked out in the same gym for five years before I announced I was gay.

Do you have a story from the campaign trail that you wish to share?

Yes, John Soto [a Republican] was running against me. During the campaign he demanded that I take an HIV test; I told him I would be happy to, as soon as he took an IQ test.

You announced after serving 16 terms that you were not going to seek reelection. What do you hope your legacy will be? What was your greatest accomplishment?

I am most proud of the Financial Reform Bill. I hope I leave a legacy that makes life fairer for all Americans. I hope that I helped all Americans gain equality, not just the LGBT community.

What are your plans for retirement?

I plan to write, lecture, to marry my partner Jim Ready, and continue to work on equality issues as a private citizen.

* * * * *

Barney Frank has been the U.S. Representative for Massachusetts' fourth congressional district since January 1981. He is the former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee (2007 to 2011) and is currently the highest-ranking Democratic on the committee. He has also been a longtime advocate of women's rights. In 2009 he signed bills recognizing the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and the 100th anniversary of the NAACP. Frank will retire in 2013.

On a personal note I wish Rep. Frank and his partner Jim Ready many years of continued happiness.

To find out more about the Human Rights Campaign or the LGBT youth survey, go to hrc.org. For more information on Congressman Barney Frank, visit frank.house.gov.

 
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