Barney Frank: Escort scandal no threat to a decent politician

We live in a time when marijuana remains illegal, Planned Parenthood and NPR are denied federal funding and homosexual couples cannot marry. Luckily for social liberals and those who staunchly support the Constitution of the United States, we have Barney Frank, who represents the 4th district of Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Frank is something of an anomaly. He’s kept his house seat without much challenge since 1981, and has a huge amount of support in his Boston community, which includes both liberal university areas and urban blue color neighborhoods. In 1987 he came out publicly as being a homosexual, the first member of congress to do so by his own will. And he survived a scandal that started in 1985, when he paid a male escort $80.

Despite the fodder this situation offered the press, very little lascivious details actually made it onto the front page. Rather, the facts remain clear and simple: Frank paid Steve Gobie, a young man with a criminal record, $80 for sex. He then tried to help Gobie out by taking him on as a partner and employee, paying him a $20,000 yearly salary to run errands and be his driver. (Oh, and he did it with his own money, not the government’s.) He also paid Gobie’s court-appointed psychiatric bills and wrote letters to Gobie’s probation officers supporting his rehabilitation. But 18 months into the relationship, Frank discovered that Gobie was bringing his escort clients into his Capitol Hill apartment, and he kicked Gobie out.

That’s it.

No further juicy tidbits about a duel life, with Frank spending government money on male escort services. No secret children or dramatically violent romantic break-ups. And after the dust settled, his term in office was confirmed with 80% of the vote, though his republican opponents were hoping for a political hanging.

So how did he do it?

Fortunately for Frank, the road he had been traveling was a respected one where he was at the forefront of issues that meant much to his constituents such as housing, social security, immigration and liberal social positions. And his romantic past, despite the hiccup, was a rather simple one.

Frank’s last relationship with a woman ended in 1976. She was Kathleen Sullivan, the Irish-American Catholic daughter of the New England Patriots owner Billy Sullivan, and an unlikely match for Jewish liberal Barney Frank. When they amicably split after two years of dating, Frank came out about his homosexuality privately while still remaining in the closet publicly. He has remained legally single to this day, despite several long-term male relationships including one with Herb Moses, an economist and LGBT activist whom Frank dated for 11 years before another amicable split in 1998. To date, Frank’s partner is Jim Ready, who resides in Maine. It was not until the situation with Gobie was revealed in 1987 that he came out publicly so that a scandal might not distract voters from elections and his government work.

Politically, Frank was and continues to be known for consistently voting on the side of those who’ve kept him in office. Here are a few highlights of his voting record:

  • Pro-civil rights record of 93% by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2002.
  • Pro-affirmative action record of 100% by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people in 2006.
  • Pro-environment record of 95% by the League of Conservation Voters in 2003.
  • Pro-gay-rights record by the Human Rights Campaign in 206.
  • Pro-choice voting record of 100% from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
  • Pro-peace record of 89% by Peace Action in 2003.

What do these numbers mean? That Frank has voted on social issues time and again that uphold many tenets of the Constitution—that freedom should be accessible to all Americans despite race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. He voted consistently for women’s rights in regards to abortion, opposing the recent bills that limited government funding and the illegalization of partial birth abortions. He was one of the strongest supporters for giving reparations to Japanese-Americans who were retained in internment camps during World War II. He’s supported government-funded healthcare programs and defended gun rights. In regards to federally legalizing small amounts of marijuana, Frank said, “In a free society a large degree of human activity is none of the government’s business. We should make criminal what’s going to hurt other people and other than that we should leave it to people to make their own choices.”

And while considered a very liberal voter, Frank is known more than anything to uphold the Constitution, even if he may disagree with the action it defends. In 2006, the Respect for Americas Fallen Heroes Act would make protesting at funerals of fallen soldiers illegal. Many of the picketers who are protected under the law (especially by the Westboro Baptist Church) target soldiers who were gay or those who died in homosexual hate crimes. So while Frank disagreed with the action he voted against the bill, stating, “It’s true that when you defend civil liberties you are typically defending people who do obnoxious things… You play into their hand when you let them provoke you into overdoing it. I don’t want these thugs to [make the] claim [that] America is hypocritical.”

In regards to the escort business, Frank took an extremely progressive stance in his city of Boston. Back in the 1970s, he made a name for himself by presenting a bill that would legalize escorting and prostitution in his city’s red light district, known as the “Combat Zone”. This area bordered many of the neighborhoods that were in Frank’s district while he was in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Frank worked with the Boston Police Commissioner on a proposal to legalize prostitution in this area, notorious for violence, police corruption and organized crime, and move it downtown. Extremely unpopular with fellow politicians, the bill never came up for a vote.

But it was this advocacy—to cut through the political malarkey and produce positive change in his community—that won Frank over with his voters, who ranged from blue-collar families to the educated elite. Many thought after his relationship with Gobie hit the light that the working class specifically would withdraw their support. As a Time Magazine article perfectly put it, “Maybe those who catch the early bus know better than anyone that an honest day’s work can sometimes be done no matter how messy life is at night.”

Gobie tried to get as much as he could from Frank’s outing, shopping his story to several news publications, trying at a television series and doing interviews with daytime talk show hosts. But after a 10-month government investigation, the law ruled primarily on Frank’s side. It did conclude that he used his power in the House to clear up 33 parking tickets Gobie had acquired that had nothing to do with government work and that he was misleading about Gobie’s past in an official memo. But it also confirmed that he was unaware of Gobie’s bringing escorting clients back to the apartment, that he had nothing to do with the escort service and that he had not engaged in any improper sexual relations with Gobie in government offices.

Even amongst the Supreme Court Judges Frank’s actions were defended. When the Honorable William Dannemeyer (Republican-California) lambasted Frank for his homosexual activities, the Honorable Thomas Foglietta (Democrat-Pennsylvania) shot back, “Barney Frank does not stand accused of stealing money, taking bribes or selling his office. Barney Frank is accused of being stupid and, my friend, if being stupid were grounds for expulsion, there’d be very few of us left here.”

Not that Frank took the reprimand lightly. When the news broke, he slipped into a state of depression and anxiety, and saw a psychiatrist and the aid of medication to get him through the day so that he could still be present and push his political agendas forward.

So despite a sexual scandal and push from republicans to get him censured, Frank continued to serve the public with much success and is still considered one of the most eloquent and powerful politicians today. While fellow politicians were suffering from marriage affair scandals or solicitations to underage prostitutes, Frank came clean about his affair, his sexual orientation, his state of innocence and his feelings of guilt so that he could continue to serve.

And as a congressman noted of Frank, “We have all been stupid when we have fallen for the wrong person. Most of us were lucky enough to do it when we were younger.”


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