Former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank revealed details of life in-and-out of the closet during a visit to Orlando last weekend.
Frank, co-chairman of the Democratic National Convention rules committee, served 23 years in Congress representing Massachusetts. “No job takes the place of physical and emotional needs we all have,” said Frank, who described the isolated feeling of his early days and nights in Washington, D.C. Frank said he would often attend parties and events, only to go home alone at night -- masking who he was.
When he finally decided to tell the world he was gay, Tip O’Neill, then Speaker of the House, thought Frank had committed career suicide. O’Neill, Frank said, told Boston Globe reporter Mike Barnicle, “our pal Barney Frank is all washed up in politics.”
That was 1986.
“He said I was going to come out of the room,” Frank told an audience Saturday evening at the Doubletree by Hilton Orlando SeaWorld. “The room” was O’Neill’s own special way of putting it.
Around 300, mostly older gay white men, attended Frank’s questions and answers session. Many of the men have been attending celebrations for years and are still not comfortable disclosing their sexuality to the public.
Tom Pence, a former U.S. Marine, started the organization to give guys an outlet to be themselves in a non-judgmental climate. Bringing in Frank as a special guest was a way to engage intellectually with members, Pence said. And the architect of one of America’s most important pieces of financial legislation was a hit with the crowd.
“I think it went superb,” Pence said. “Barney was the big draw. Even my Republican friends enjoyed it.”
Introduced by Pompano Beach Commissioner Barry Moss, Frank explained to the audience his coming out process and quickly pivoted to the current Presidential campaign, calling Republican nominee Donald J. Trump unstable.
“Serious people are not going to put him in charge,” Frank said.
When one audience member stated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is allowing 600,000 “Muslims” into the country, Frank scoffed:
“Barney held their feet to the fire,” Pence said afterwards.
Elsewhere, seminars, pool parties, music and dancing were part of the weekend’s itinerary. A seminar geared towards stress and trauma offered by nationally certified psychologists was particularly helpful said Jerry Williams of Fort Lauderdale.
Williams, like many ACOF attendees, made the pilgrimage downtown to visit the Pulse site where flowers, memorials and shrines remain – dedicated to the 49 victims of the worst mass shooting in American history.
“It is so sad,” Williams said.
To cheer things up, the Orlando Gay Chorus was brought in for a Sunday evening performance which included the jingle from the television hit “Friends” and Kool & The Gang’s classic anthem, “Celebration.”
Pence hailed the weekend, the group’s 15th annual, a success.
“I got a lot of originals come back and a lot of new members,” said Pence, also known as “TomCat.”
Meanwhile, Tom Ash, crowned Mr. A Celebration of Friends for the weekend, said he likes the group for its core mission. A Celebration of Friends, board members tell SFGN, serves to provide warm, comfortable, safe and engaging gatherings recognizing and promoting self-worth, dignity, kindness and friendships of and within the senior population.
“Being around other mature men, like-minded men,” Ash said when asked why he attended this weekend’s festivities. “And, also, you see friends you haven’t seen in a year and meet new guys.” Ash wore a sash displaying his Mr. ACOF credentials during Sunday evening’s performance by the Orlando Gay Chorus. He attended this year’s annual weekend getaway with his partner of 12 years, Roger Neal. The couple lives in Missouri.
Pence, founder of the group, moved the weekend event to Orlando three years ago. Last year’s weekend was headlined by screen acting legend Ed Asner. “This is the home of gay days and the Doubletree is one of the finest hotels for gay men,” Pence said. “That’s why we left Fort Lauderdale. The hotels in Fort Lauderdale need to work on their gay friendliness.”
And they’ll get their chance. Following Sunday evening’s performance by the Orlando Gay Chorus – a group of men and women – Pence announced the celebration would return to Fort Lauderdale next year with a site to be determined. The next celebration, Pence said, would be focused on charity and giving back to the community after two years of celebrity headliners.
Moving forward, love is the essential message. “We don’t tell people we love each other enough,” Pence said. “All we hear is complaints. Right now I got a pool full of experts telling me how I should run the next event. Half the people hate me, half the people love me and I still can’t get laid.”