Frank Kameny, the pioneering gay activist and elder statesman of the LGBT movement, passed away of natural causes at age 86 in his home yesterday, October 11. While this date already marks an important day for the LGBTQ community—October 11 is National Coming Out Day—that Kameny spent his life fighting for, it now holds more weight than ever. The relentless pioneer for LGBTQ equality will be greatly missed and forever remembered. “Frank Kameny wasn’t only a keeper of our history; Frank created our history. His life and legacy carry us into our future,” states Sue Hyde, Director of the Nation Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s National Conference of LGBT Equality: Creating Change.
Frank Kameny, a WWII vet, Harvard graduate and astronomer for the United States Army Map Service was a dedicated employee of the U.S. government until his own country turned against him in 1957. After being caught in a popular gay cruising area in D.C. and subsequently arrested on a morals charge, he was questioned by his employers about his affiliation with homosexuals and eventually lost his government job. During this McCarthy-era paranoia, homosexuals were considered a security threat due to the belief they were easy targets for blackmail. Kameny saw his loss of employment as a declaration of war against him by his government. And it was a war he did not intend to lose.
His first course of action was to sue the government to regain his position. When this was denied to him by the Supreme Court in 1961, his individual complaints expanded in to a national movement. From this point forward Kameny spent his life fighting for the equality of his community.
With the help of his friend, activist Jack Nichols, Kameny founded the Mattachine Society of Washington (inspired by but not affiliated with the original Mattachine Society in Los Angeles). He co-founded the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay Rights National Lobby. He challenged the negative portrayals of homosexual culture by coining the phrase, “Gay is Good.” In 1971 Kameny became the first openly gay person to run for Congress, and in 1975 was appointed Commissioner of the DC Commission on Human Rights.
It wasn’t until his later years that Frank Kameny began to receive the mainstream recognition he deserved. In 2006 the Library of Congress acquired his papers as historical artifacts, and the Smithsonian Institution displayed his picket signs in a “Treasures of American History” exhibit. His Washington home was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2009, the same year that the John Berry, the openly gay Director of the Office Personnel Management in the Obama Administration, issued an official government apology for firing Kameny 54 years prior earlier. Berry also bestowed Kameny with the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the OPM’s highest honor.
“America has lost a hero today. Out and proud, Frank Kameny was fighting for equality long before the rest of us knew we could. Because there was one Frank Kameny, trailblazing and honest enough to speak out 50 years ago, there are now millions of Americans, coming out, speaking out and fighting for their basic civil rights. His is a legacy of bravery and tremendous impact and will live on in the hearts and minds of every American who values equality and justice,” Chad Griffin, President of AFER’s board of directors, said regarding the death of the icon.
Frank Kamey is a national treasure, and in his lifetime he was fortunate enough to see the changes he fought for come to pass. We thank him for his unmatchable contribution to equal rights.