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Former Congressman Chats with Students

Former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, who spent many years of his life afraid to reveal his sexuality, is nothing but optimistic about the future of equality.

He recently sat down with four Hunter student moderators at the Roosevelt House to address two main questions: 50 years after Stonewall, what have we accomplished? Where do we go from here?

Frank was elected to Congress in 1980 after serving eight years in the Massachusetts Legislature. Growing up, he believed he had to make a choice to live as an openly gay man or a public official, but could not be both. He explained how at the time – in the 50’s – nothing was more disrespected than to be gay or lesbian.

“It was toxic,” said Frank.

He described how he hid his pain by not telling anyone of his sexuality. When he decided to come out publicly in 1987, then-Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill disappointedly said that with the announcement, Frank lost the opportunity to be the first Jewish Speaker of the House. Despite the discrimination, he went on to become the most prominent openly gay member of the United States Congress for nearly two decades.

While the conversation included many profound topics, the audience couldn’t help but laugh at Frank’s many witty comments. When speaking on the matter of public officials revealing their sexuality, he stated how he believes it leads to greater social acceptance. But, not for everyone.

“A lesbian couldn’t get elected in Mississippi,” said Frank. “But neither could a sensible white person,” laughed Frank.

Barney Frank with Students

Shkreli, a junior and the co-president of Hunter’s Queer Student Union, asked how students could implement changes at Hunter, specifically about the lack of gender-neutral bathrooms at school. Frank recommended finding facts and data to back up your argument. He said to ask what the negative examples of implementing the bathrooms around campus are and to show people that gender-neutral bathrooms have not caused any incidents.

Frank believes people are against gender-neutral bathrooms because it makes them feel “icky.” He suggests asking those people how many times they use a bathroom in their house that is used by both boys and girls.

Frank acknowledged how Congress still makes minorities and transgenders vulnerable, but his advice is to be honest. People will convince themselves of why something is bad, Frank said, but when he came out some of his peers had no idea.

“How bad could we be if you couldn’t even tell,” said Frank.

After the program, Frank went out to dinner with the four students and Charles Kaiser, acting director of the LGBTQ policy center. Shkreli, Cat Watson, Jackie Fennell and Sergio Mota, spent the night both learning and laughing with Frank, said Shkreli.

Kaiser ended the Roosevelt House talk by commending Frank, but also incorporating his wit.

“Please give this great, gay Jew a round of applause,” said Kaiser.

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