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Frank Kameny
(May 21, 1925 - October 11, 2011) U.S.A.

Frank Kameny

Pioneering activist, astronomer


Born in New York City, Kameny served in WWII, returning to complete his studies and receiving a PhD from Harvard University in 1956. A hyper-intelligent, Harvard-educated astronomer, Kameny never intended to be an activist. In 1953 he was arrested for simply stopping to watch the arrest of another gay man, and he took the matter to court.

Under President Dwight Eisenhower's Executive Order 10450, issued in April 1953, the U.S. government's policy officially stated that individuals disqualified themselves from federal employment by undertaking "any behavior which suggests the individual is not reliable or trustworthy," including "sexual perversion" (i.e., homosexuality). It was, as Michael Long explained, "the first time that the federal government officially sanctioned the identification of homosexuality as a behavior threatening to national security," and "federal agency heads increased efforts to purge their agencies of homosexuals."

Frank Kameny
Frank Kameny, ca. 1955

In 1957 he was sacked from his job at the US Army Map Service for alleged homosexuality. He fought his dismissal for four years. Frank took the case to the Supreme Court, he lost the case. But this got him into the fight for gay rights. From there, Kameny began a decades-long battle against any institution that would deprive any homosexual of the liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

In 1961, Kameny co-founded Mattachine Society Washington, which, under his leadership, played a lead role in shifting the tactics of the homophile movement from quiet lobbying to direct action. In November 15, 1961 there was the first official meeting; their newsletter was called the Gazette. They put the president, the Supreme Court, and J. Edgar Hoovver, the director of the FBI, on the Gazette mailing list.

In 1965, he helped organize the first gay-rights pickets at, among other places, the White House and the State Department, and he organized (with his friend and colleague Barbara Gittings) the Annual Reminders at Philadelphia's Independence Hall, held each July 4 from 1965 to 1969. In 1968, noting the impact of the slogan "Black is Beautiful" on the African American civil rights movement, Kameny coined the phrase "Gay Is Good".

Frank Kameny
Frank Kameny (center) and other members of Mattachine Society Washington, Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, New York City, June 28, 1970. Photo by Kay Tobin

"In that march up Sixth Avenue," Kameny later wrote,"I was moved to a feeling of pride, exhilaration, and accomplishment, a feeling that this crowd of five thousand was a direct lineal descendant of our ten frightened people in front of the White House five years ago!!!" He continued, "It was a great day!!!... the culmination of Gay Pride Week, and that - gay pride - was the theme of the march - be proud of your homosexuality; come out into the open; hold up your head in pride... The mood was proud and happy from start to finish... The day was glorious... Plans are already under way for next year's demonstration... The movement here is burgeoning at a rate beyond any expectations a year ago. There's still a long way to go, but the push is really on, in all areas - the political, the legal, the civil rights, the religious, and many others..."

After Stonewall, as the homophile movement made way for the gay liberation movement, Kameny and Gittings focused their efforts on having homosexuality removed from the American Psychological Association's list of mental disorders, a victory secured in December 1973. Thereafter, Kameny worked with his protege, Leonard Matlovich, to mount the first sustained effort to end the United States military's discrimination against gay and lesbian servicemembers.

Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny, often called the parents of the modern LGBT movement, worked together to organize the United States' first LGBT rights demonstrations (including the five Annual Reminders at Independence Hall in Philadelphia) and to end the classification of homosexuality as a mental disease. Kameny also helped launch the first attack on the U.S. military's ban on openly LGBT servicemembers.

Frank Kameny
Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny, The Pentagon, Washington, D.C., March 30, 1970, photo by Kay Tobin- and 20 years later

In 1971 he became the first openly gay person to run for Congress. He was a founder and board member of the National Gay Task Force and the Gay Rights National Lobby. He also led the effort to have homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of psychiatric disorders (achieved in 1973).

In a 1972 letter to his mother, Kameny summed up his approach to activism and provided a perfect description of his legacy: "...if society and I disagree on anything, I will give society a second chance to convince me. If it fails, then I am right and society is wrong, and if society gets in my way, it will be society which will change, not I... Society was wrong. I am making society change."

In 1975, the Civil Service Commission announced new rules dictating that homosexuals could not be barred or fired from federal employment because of their sexuality.

In the 1990s he was called a living legend and the great-grandfather of the gay movement.

Frank Kameny
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, August 2005, photo c/o Equality Forum

In 2009, Kameny received an apology from the federal government for his dismissal of 1957. "Apology accepted," he responded.

Frank Kameny died in the "National Coming Out Day"; he was eighty-six.


Sources: http://lgbt-history-archive.tumblr.com/ and alii

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