The man I am about to introduce to you is one of the most well-known and well-respected American politicians of his generation. Barney Frank is, in short, a force of nature.
First elected to the U.S. Congress in 1980, Barney Frank was re-elected 15 times, and served in Congress for 32 years. He is considered by all who know him and have worked with him to have been one of Congress’ most formidable and influential members.
From his seats on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Financial Services Committee, of which he served as the Chairman for five years, he shaped legislation on some of the most important social and economic issues facing America. Barney Frank’s penchant for reaching across the aisle to broker deals made him indispensable to a nation facing the financial crisis of the early twenty-first century.
His landmark 2010 legislation – the Dodd-Frank Act – introduced sweeping reform of the U.S. financial industry that many see as a key to the U.S. economic recovery. The Dodd-Frank Act bears the hallmark of all successful legislation: it has been both praised and scorned by bankers and activists, conservatives and liberals.
Such a characterization can also be applied to Barney Frank himself, much to his credit.
The fact is that Barney Frank was rarely divisive. He was known in Congress as a coalition builder. His engagement on difficult issues often proved essential to compromise between opposing points of view. It was Mr. Frank’s leadership that helped Congress navigate the subprime mortgage crisis.
He took the same approach to civil rights, of which he was and is a tireless defender. Barney Frank was the powerful force behind legislation that repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; extended benefits to domestic partners of Federal employees; and removed the sexual preference exclusion from immigration law.
He has advocated for the legal prohibition of employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, designed to guarantee equal rights for women.
Barney Frank, through his presence, his determination, and his formidable powers of persuasion has dedicated his life to changing minds, and thereby changing lives.
The last time Barney Frank and I stood on stage together was at the memorial service for Dr. Frank Kameny in 2011. Mr. Frank praised Dr. Kameny – the father of the LGBT civil rights movement – as an inspiration and a role model.
Just a couple years before, I had the honor as head of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to extend to Dr. Kameny a formal apology on behalf of the government for his dismissal from his position with the U.S. Army in 1957.
Dr. Kameny had been fired because he was gay. He never accepted the government’s decision. He challenged his termination all the way up to the Supreme Court. He spent decades as an activist and pioneer for LGBT rights. The Court did not hear his case, but America finally did.
America has come so far in defeating anti-gay prejudice because millions of men and women have come out. Our reality gave lie to the prejudice. Mr. Frank was one of the first. He came out in 1987, by far the most prominent American politician to do so at that time. This was before the formation of the LGBT Equality Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives or the National Stonewall Democrats – both initiatives of Barney Frank. And, before major companies had diversity councils or pride networks.
Today, thanks to Dr. Kameny and Mr. Frank, and to the example set by JPMorgan and PRIDE, the U.S. government has acknowledged that to achieve our best we need to draw on the skills and talents of all people regardless of personal attributes, beliefs, or sexual orientation.
Today, LGBT men and women in the United States openly and proudly serve the nation they love, as I do. And, as the esteemed Barney Frank did for more than 30 years.
Few politicians can match his dedication, his intelligence, and his ability to get things done. His record of accomplishments, from banking reform to civil rights, speaks for itself.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Barney Frank!