Frank KamenyFrank Kameny —
Astronomer, Activist,
and Organizer

Frank Kameny didn’t start out wanting to be a gay activist. In 1940, at the age of 15, he entered college in order to study physics. But before he completed his studies, he left to serve in World War II. It was not until long after that war that he achieved his goal, a doctorate in astronomy from Harvard University.

Although military service was only a small detour in the path of what Frank hoped would be a fulfilling scientific career, the next events in his life were to change its direction forever. Dr. Kameny was to become a fulfillment of Margaret Mead’s declaration that "injustice, experienced in the flesh, is the thing out of which change explodes."

After a year teaching at Georgetown University, he obtained a civil service job with the U.S. Army Map Service in July 1957. It wasn’t long afterward that an investigator from the Civil Service Commission came to question him about reports that he was a homosexual. That fall he was fired. Then, in January 1958, he was barred forever from federal government employment.

For many of that era, when homosexuality was seen as sick, sinful, and criminal, (and most homosexuals thought so too), that would have been the end of it. But a scientist is trained to be skeptical of received wisdom and to see through prejudice and bias masquerading as pseudo-scientific psychiatric theory. Instead of just giving up, Frank Kameny decided to sue. He lost. So he appealed. Again he lost. Even his lawyer deserted him, but Frank continued on, asking the Supreme Court of the United States to direct that the case be reconsidered. In March 1961, the Supreme Court denied his petition.

Having failed to achieve his goal as an individual, Frank decided it was time to organize.

The Man who Wouldn’t Wait for Stonewall

Since there weren’t any gay rights organizations in Washington, D.C., for Frank Kameny to turn to, he decided to start one of his own. Although Stonewall was still eight years away, "homosexual rights organizations" were not unknown. In 1948, Henry Hay had founded the "Bachelors for Henry Wallace" (a liberal Democrat running for the Presidential nomination), and two years later Hay founded the Mattachine Society of Los Angeles.

The goals of the Mattachine Society were "to unify, to educate, and to lead." In 1961, Frank Kameny and his friend Jack Nichols founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. They held their formative meeting in the Hay-Adams Hotel. The Metropolitan Police sent an undercover agent to infiltrate the meeting, but he was immediately spotted and asked to leave.

Thus began the battle to stop the arbitrary firing of federal employees because of their sexual orientation. In April 1965, they organized the first gay demonstration at the White House. Always dignified, they all wore business attire as they circled, carrying their placards.

The group started publishing a newsletter, The Gazette, which they not only mailed to their members but to many politicians and officials throughout Washington, including J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI. They kept up a relentless campaign directed toward removing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation from civil service employment, in the granting of security clearances, and in qualifying for service in the military.

Slowly, decisions in the U.S. Federal Courts began to change. In 1975, after 18 years, the U.S. Civil Service Commission changed its policies so that homosexuals were no longer automatically excluded from government employment.

 

Frank KamenyKameny realized that the battle had to be fought on more than one front; that the negative images of homosexuals, which had even permeated the self-identity of gay and lesbian people themselves, also had to be challenged. In 1966, he coined the slogan, "Gay is Good." Then in 1971, he demanded microphone time at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association where he challenged their speculative theories as being entirely unscientific and harmful to the psychological well-being of millions.

In 1971, Kameny founded the Gay Activists Alliance (now the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance) in which he is still very much active at the young age of 76.

He is also a cofounder of the National Gay Task Force and the National Gay Rights Lobby (the first national political lobbying organization for the gay and lesbian community).

In 1975, he was appointed a Commissioner of the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, thereby becoming the first gay municipal appointee.

On April 27, 2000, a 75th Birthday Tribute was held in honor of Franklin E. Kameny at the 29th Anniversary reception of the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance.

 

[Adapted from: Who is Frank Kameny? by David Bianco

http://www.planetout.com/pno/news/history/archive/19991220.html.

 

Additional Reference

"Frank Kameny," Lesbian and Gay Staff Association of South Bank University, London,

http://www.southbank-university.ac.uk/stafflag/frankkameny.html