Gay Activist and Civil Lobbyist, Larry Frankel, dies at 54
Matthew Spolar, Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug 31, 2009
Philadelphia, PA - Larry Frankel, who worked the halls of Harrisburg for 16 years as a civil liberties lobbyist, died Friday in Rock Creek Park in Washington. He was 54. Relatives said he died of natural causes.
Mr. Frankel was legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania from 1992 to 2008. He was also the organization's executive director from 1996 to 2001. In March 2008, he took a job in Washington as state legislative counsel for the ACLU, but he kept his apartment in Philadelphia.
Mr. Frankel was well known at the state Capitol, where he worked to reform the state's Right to Know Law, defeat proposed state constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage, defend voting rights, and stop plans for school vouchers.
A native of Burbank, Calif., Mr. Frankel studied comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley. He also attended the university's law school, where he met Andy Chirls, his longtime partner before their separation five months ago.
The two met in September 1978 at a seminar for law students organizing against a proposition to allow school boards to fire gay teachers. They moved to Philadelphia upon graduating in 1981; Frankel first worked in the law office of Harold Diamond before starting a solo practice.
In Harrisburg, Mr. Frankel's conviction and talent for persuasion thrived. "He viewed his client as the Constitution of the United States," Chirls said.
In a statement, Gov. Rendell said Mr. Frankel served the people of Pennsylvania "as much as any elected official in the Commonwealth." "I could count on Larry for his strategic insight and clever approach to advocacy, making him a pleasure to work with and a gentleman that I always wanted on my side," Rendell said.
Rep. Dennis O'Brien (R., Phila.) also expressed admiration for Mr. Frankel's ability to form bonds on both sides of the aisle. "Everyone had the highest respect for Larry. He was tenacious, the consummate advocate," O'Brien said. "We rarely agreed, but he brought a sense of fairness."
Stacey Sobel, former executive director of Equality Advocates of Pennsylvania, worked closely with Mr. Frankel to defeat a proposed state constitutional amendment in 2006 that would have banned gay marriage. "People who cared about individual rights and liberties lost an incredible advocate," she said. Sobel said Mr. Frankel always had his finger on the pulse of important constitutional issues circling the Statehouse. "Reporters would just come over when he was standing in the hallways and say, 'Hey Larry, have you heard anything interesting lately?' " she said.
Yesterday, Sobel, who teaches law at Western State University in Fullerton, Calif., was headed to the beach in memory of Mr. Frankel, who loved beaches.
When State Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) was elected in 2002, he said he "knew very little about how the place actually worked." "Larry took the time to work with me and educate me. In time, he came to inspire me. He was the smartest, hardest-working and most knowledgeable lobbyist I knew," Leach said.
Mr. Frankel is survived by his brothers, Norman and Kenneth; his sister, Leslie; and his father, Richard.
Donations in Mr. Frankel's memory can be sent to the American Civil Liberties Foundation, Box 40008, Philadelphia 19106, or to the Fairmount Park Conservancy, 1617 JFK Blvd., Suite 1670, Philadelphia 19103.
Relatives plan to hold a funeral in California and a memorial service in Philadelphia but no dates have been set.
NOTE: Larry Frankel went jogging along Rock Creek in Rock Creek Park. Another jogger found his body floating in Rock Creek.