Barney Frank, often called the US’ most prominent gay politician, announced today he does not plan to stand for re-election in 2012, ending a thirty year run as the Democrats’ US Representative for Massachusetts’ 4th congressional district.

Frank, 71, first stood for national office in 1980 after the incumbent priest resigned following Pope John Paul II’s instruction that priests should not hold political office. His campaign slogan was “Neatness Isn’t Everything”.

He previously worked as an aide to Boston’s mayor and, at the state level, as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

He came out in 1987. Frank told the Washington Post the decision to make his sexuality public had been prompted by the death of Stewart McKinney, a bisexual Republican representative.

He said there had been “an unfortunate debate about ‘Was he or wasn’t he? Didn’t he or did he?’ I said to myself, I don’t want that to happen to me.”

Gerry Studds was the first Congressman to be publicly known to be gay; he had been forced to come out as part of a 1983 investigation into a relationship with a 17 year old congressional page. Frank was the first US Congressman to come out voluntarily.

He admitted using private income to pay a male prostitute, Steve Gobie, who went on to live in his Capitol Hill home in the 1980s.

When the relationship was made public by Gobie in 1989, Frank asked to be investigated by the House Ethic Committee and was reprimanded for fixing Gobie’s parking tickets.

He has consistently retained his seat with a high proportion of the public vote.

Frank was a vocal critic of Sarah Palin when her daughter Bristol became pregnant, and of gay supporters of John McCain.

Recently, he chaired the House Financial Services Committee from 2007 until 2011, and co-introduced the “Dodd-Frank” bill, designed to increase regulation on the financial sector and mitigate against further mortgage crises.

Frank announced today he would not seek a 17th term in Congress.