Frank Kameny attending Pride on 12 June 2010
|Born||Franklin Edward Kameny
May 21, 1925
New York City, New York, US
|Died||October 11, 2011
Washington, D.C., US
|Alma mater||Queens College, Harvard University|
|Known for||Fired by US government in 1957 for being gay
Co-founder of Mattachine Society, Washington D.C.
Franklin Edward "Frank" Kameny (May 21, 1925 – October 11, 2011) was "one of the most significant figures" in the American gay rights movement. In 1957, Kameny was dismissed from his position as an astronomer in the U.S. Army's Army Map Service in Washington, D.C. because of his homosexuality, leading him to begin "a Herculean struggle with the American establishment" that would "spearhead a new period of militancy in the homosexual rights movement of the early 1960s".
Kameny protested his firing by the U.S. Civil Service Commission due to his homosexuality, and argued this case to the United States Supreme Court in 1961. Although the court denied his petition, it is notable as the first civil rights claim based on sexual orientation.
Early life and firing
Kameny was born to Ashkenazi Jewish parentage in New York City. He attended Richmond Hill High School and graduated in 1941. In 1941, at age 16, Kameny went to Queens College to learn physics and at age 17 he told his parents that he was an atheist. He was drafted into the United States Army before completion. He served in the Army throughout World War II in Europe and served 20 years on the Selective Service board. After leaving the Army, he returned to Queens College and graduated with a baccalaureate in physics in 1948. Kameny then enrolled at Harvard University; while a teaching fellow at Harvard, he refused to sign a loyalty oath without attaching qualifiers, and exhibited a skepticism against accepted orthodoxies. He graduated with both a masters' degree (1949) and doctorate (1956) in astronomy. His doctoral thesis was entitled A Photoelectric Study of Some RV Tauri and Yellow Semiregular Variables and was written under the supervision of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.
While on a cross-country return trip from Tucson, where he had just completed his research for his Ph.D. thesis, he was arrested in San Francisco by plainclothes police officers after a stranger had approached and groped him at the bus terminal. He was promised that his criminal record would be expunged after serving three years' probation, relieving him from worrying about his employment prospects and any attempt at fighting the charges.
Relocating to Washington, D.C., Kameny taught for a year in the Astronomy Department of Georgetown University and was hired in July 1957 by the United States Army Map Service. However, by the fall, he was in trouble with the Civil Service Commission following a late night run-in with police in Lafayette Park, a traditional cruising area along Pennsylvania Avenue across from the White House. He was arrested. Kameny was questioned by his superiors but he refused to give them information regarding his sexual orientation. Kameny was fired by the commission soon afterward. In January 1958, he was barred from future employment by the federal government. As author Douglass Shand-Tucci later wrote,
"Kameny was the most conventional of men, focused utterly on his work, at Harvard and at Georgetown... He was thus all the more rudely shocked when the same fate befell him as we've seen befall Prescott Townsend, class of 1918, decades before... He was arrested. Later he would be fired. And, like Townsend, Kameny was radicalized."
Kameny appealed against his firing through the judicial system, losing twice before heading to the United States Supreme Court, which turned down his petition for certiorari. After devoting himself to activism, Kameny never held a paid job again and was supported by friends and family for the rest of his life. Despite his outspoken activism, he rarely discussed his personal life and never had any long-term relationships with other men, stating merely that he had no time for them.
Kameny eschewed conventional racial designations; throughout his life, he consistently cited his race as "human."
In 1961 Kameny and Jack Nichols, fellow co-founder of the Washington, D.C., branch of the Mattachine Society, launched some of the earliest public protests by gays and lesbians with a picket line at the White House on April 17, 1965. In coalition with New York's Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, the picketing expanded to target the United Nations, the Pentagon, the United States Civil Service Commission, and to Philadelphia's Independence Hall for what became known as the Annual Reminder for gay rights.
In 1963, Kameny and Mattachine launched a campaign to overturn D.C. sodomy laws; he personally drafted a bill that finally passed in 1993. He also worked to remove the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
In 1971, Kameny became the first openly gay candidate for the United States Congress when he ran in the District of Columbia's first election for a non-voting Congressional delegate. Following that election, Kameny and his campaign organization created the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Washington, D.C., an organization which continues to lobby government and press the case for equal rights. He described the day - December 15, 1973, when the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from its manual of mental disorders - as the day "we were cured en masse by the psychiatrists."
Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the US Military from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf author Randy Shilts documented Kameny's work in advising several service members in their attempts to receive honorable discharges after being discovered to be gay. For 18-year-old Marine Jeffrey Dunbar, "Kameny lined up gay ex-Marines to testify at the young man’s hearing. The Washington Post ran an editorial supporting an upgraded discharge, noting that Dunbar 'was involved in no scandal and had brought no shame on the Marine Corps', and called the undesirable discharge 'strange and, we think, pointless way of pursuing military "justice".’" In 1975, his long search for a gay service member with an impeccable record to initiate a challenge to the military's ban on homosexuals culminated in protege Leonard Matlovich, a Technical Sergeant in the United States Air Force with 11 years of unblemished service and a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, purposely outing himself to his commanding officer on March 6, 1975. Matlovich had first read about Kameny's goal in an interview in the Air Force Times. Talking first by telephone, they eventually met and, along with ACLU attorney David Addlestone, planned the legal challenge. Discharged in October 1975, Matlovich was ordered reinstated by a federal district court in 1980 in a ruling that, technically, would only have applied to him. Convinced the Air Force would create another excuse to discharge him again, Matlovich accepted a financial settlement instead, and continued his gay activism work until his death from AIDS complications in June 1988. Kameny was an honorary pallbearer at his funeral and spoke at graveside services in Washington DC's Congressional Cemetery.
On March 26, 1977, Kameny and a dozen other homosexuals, under the leadership of the then-National Gay Rights Task Force, briefed then-Public Liaison Midge Costanza on much-needed changes in federal laws and policies. This was the first time that gay rights were officially discussed at the White House
In 2007, Kameny's death was mistakenly reported by The Advocate in its May 22 "Pride issue", alongside a mistaken report of his infection by AIDS/HIV, which never occurred. The report was retracted with an apology, and Kameny asked The Advocate, "Did you give a date of death?"
In 2007, Kameny wrote a letter to the conservative, anti-gay publication WorldNetDaily in defense of Larry Craig regarding Craig's arrest for solicitation of sex in a Minneapolis airport bathroom; he ended it with the following: "I am no admirer of Larry Craig and hold out no brief for him. He is a self-deluding hypocritical homophobic bigot. But fair is fair. He committed no crime in Minneapolis and should not suffer as if he did." The New York Times' Frank Rich joined Kameny in calling for Craig's pardon.
In November 2007, Kameny wrote an open letter of protest to NBC journalist Tom Brokaw (and his publisher Random House), who wrote Boom!: Voices of the Sixties Personal Reflections on the '60s and Today, over the total lack of mention of gay and lesbian rights activism during the 1960s and upbraiding Brokaw for having "'de-gayed' an entire generation". The letter was co-signed by former Washington Post editor Howard Kurtz, Harry Rubinstein (curator, National Museum of American History), John Earl Haynes, Dudley Clendinen and Stephen Bottum. Brokaw appeared on Kurtz's CNN show Reliable Sources to defend the exclusion, saying that "the gay rights movement came slightly later. It lifted off during that time and I had to make some choices about what I was going to concentrate on. The big issues were the anti-war movement, the counterculture."
Kameny suffered from heart disease in his last years, but maintained a full schedule of public appearances, his last being a speech to a LGBT group in Washington DC on September 30, 2011.
Frank Kameny was found dead in his Washington DC home on October 11, 2011. The medical examiner determined the cause of death to be natural causes due to arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
Awards and honors
In 2007, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History included Kameny's picket signs carried in front of the White House in 1965 in the Smithsonian exhibit "Treasures of American History". The Smithsonian now has 12 of the original picket signs carried by gay and lesbian Americans at this, the first ever White House demonstration. The Library of Congress acquired Kameny's papers in 2006, documenting his life and leadership.
On June 29, 2009, John Berry (Director of the Office of Personnel Management) formally apologized to Kameny on behalf of the United States government. Berry, who is openly gay, presented Kameny with the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the department’s most prestigious award.
On June 10, 2010, following a unanimous vote by the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, Washington, D. C. mayor Adrian Fenty unveiled new street signs designating 17th Street between P and R streets, N.W., as "Frank Kameny Way" in Kameny's honor. At a luncheon on December 10, 2010 in the Caucus room of the Cannon House Office Building, Kameny was honored with the 2010 Cornelius R. “Neil” Alexander Humanitarian Award.
Kameny was seated at the front row of the gathering where President Barack Obama signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. Kameny was a member of Triangle Foundation's Board of Advisors.
Following Kameny's death, the giant rainbow flag on the tall flagpole at the corner of Market Street and Castro Street in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco was flown at half-staff for 24 hours beginning on the afternoon of October 12, 2011 at the request of the creator of the rainbow flag, Gilbert Baker.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Frank Kameny.|
- Frank Kameny GLBTQ, an Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Culture
- Kameny Papers collection Smithsonian Institution
- The Kameny Pages
- Biography of Kameny
- Kameny on Race Questionnaires The Straight Dope, November 22, 1991
- Interview by Jack Nichols April 28, 1997
- Frank Kameny on The 7th Avenue Project Radio show, July 4, 2010
- "Signs of Progress" Washington Post, July 23, 2005
- "Gay Is Good: How Frank Kameny Changed the Face of America" Metro Weekly, October 5, 2006
- "A Pariah's Triumph—and America's" Jonathan Rauch, December 7, 2006
- "The Man Who Invented Gay Rights" CNN, December 24, 2010
- "Frank Kameny Debates Same-Sex Marriage in 1974 on 'The Advocates' (VIDEO) Huffington Post, October 11, 2012