October 11, 2011 | by WBadmin
LGBT leaders mourn death of Frank Kameny
Frank Kameny

Frank Kameny, May 21, 1925 – October 11, 2011. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Several LGBT rights organizations have released statements following the announcement of Frank Kameny’s passing. Many of these groups continue the work that Frank began when he fought back against his termination in 1957 from the Army Map Service. Frank will always be remembered for coining the term “Gay is good” in the 1960s through his work with the Mattachine Society.

Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund:

Frank Kameny, one of the most significant figures in the modern LGBT civil rights movement, has died, according to a report in the Washington Blade tonight.

In 1961 Kameny founded the Mattachine Society of Washington – one of the earliest LGBT rights organizations in the U.S. – pre-dating the Stonewall riots by nearly a decade. Kameny’s activism sprang from his termination from a federal government position because of his sexual orientation. He received an official apology from the federal government after President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund President and CEO Chuck Wolfe issued the following statement tonight:

“We mourn the loss of a hero and a founding father of the fight to end discrimination against LGBT people. Dr. Kameny stood up for this community when doing so was considered unthinkable and even shocking, and he continued to do so throughout his life. He spoke with a clear voice and firm conviction about the humanity and dignity of people who were gay, long before it was safe for him to do so. All of us who today endeavor to complete the work he began a half century ago are indebted to Dr. Kameny and his remarkable bravery and commitment.”

Human Rights Campaign:

Upon the news that LGBT equality pioneer Frank Kameny has died, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese issued the following statement:

“Frank Kameny led an extraordinary life marked by heroic activism that set a path for the modern LGBT civil rights movement. From his early days fighting institutionalized discrimination in the federal workforce, Dr. Kameny taught us all that ‘Gay is Good.’ As we say goodbye to this trailblazer on National Coming Out Day, we remember the remarkable power we all have to change the world by living our lives like Frank — openly, honestly and authentically.”

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

Diego Sanchez, Senior Legislative Advisor to Rep. Barney Frank:

For Frank Kameny to die on National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11, 2011, feels to me like my Dad dying on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2000 — when a career-long, victorious warrior went to God on a day that best represents his contribution to our country and American lives everywhere; the day will always represent both the symbol and the man, with honor and hope.

Federal GLOBE: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Employees of the Federal Government:

An American Hero has passed away.

Frank Kameny died today at 86. Frank served his country his whole life. In the military, in government service, and in making the country a more perfect union when the government he fought for and toiled for fired him. Frank was fired just for being gay. He had done nothing untoward, not been a threat. Rather he was working on important technology which his removal from government service delayed for decades.

But Frank did not get bitter. He did what American’s have done since our founding—he righted the wrong. It did not come quickly or easily. Frank fought his dismissal all of the way to the Supreme Court. Frank fought the Civil Service Commission. Frank fought for the rights of every American to lead a good life. Frank was a leader for the LGBT movement when leaders were hard to find and paid dearly. Frank paid dearly.

Frank was the reason for Federal GLOBE to get started. Frank was our inspiration and was our father. He was our mother. He was our fairy/angel/mentor/pathblazer/blinding light. Frank was our inspiration. His meticulous research and articulation paved the way for LGBT civil rights advancements over the last 25 years.

Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation:

New York, NY — The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) today issued the following statement following news that LGBT advocacy pioneer Frank Kameny died in his Washington, D.C. home:

“Frank Kameny sparked national change and set the example for gay and lesbian Americans to live their lives openly and proudly,” said Mike Thompson, Acting President of GLAAD. “He taught us the power that our visibility and stories have in changing hearts and minds. Today on National Coming Out Day, we honor Frank’s legacy not only by remembering this pioneer, but by continuing his work to speak out and share our own stories.”

Frank Kameny is recognized as one of the pioneers of the modern LGBT advocacy movement. After being dismissed from the U.S. Civil Service Commission for being gay, he argued the first civil rights claim based on sexual orientation before the United States Supreme Court in 1961. Together with Jack Nichols, he co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington and launched the first public demonstrations by gay and lesbian Americans at the White House in 1965. Kameny was appointed as the first openly gay member of D.C.’s Human Rights Commission and was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II.

In 2007, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History included his picket signs from the White House demonstration. Papers documenting his life were added to the Library of Congress in 2006. In 2009, Kameny received the Theodore Roosevelt Award.

National Center for Lesbian Rights:

San Francisco, CA — One of the most prominent leaders of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality movement—Dr. Frank Kameny—passed away at his Washington D.C.-area home today. He was 86.

In 1957, Kameny was dismissed from his position as an astronomer in the Army Map Service because he was gay, motivating him at the time to become a leading voice in the movement for equality and justice. He protested his firing and appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first known gay person to file a gay-related case before the high court.

Although the court denied his petition, the decision prompted Kameny to devote much of his life to LGBT advocacy.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.:

“Frank Kameny is among a small group of brave and uncompromising men and women without whom the modern civil rights movement for LGBT equality would have faltered. At a time when most lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals lived deeply shadowed and closeted lives, he stepped into the bright glare of public scrutiny and hostility and demanded respect and cultural evolution. It is fitting that his passing would happen on Coming Out Day. Were it not for his coming out, many of us would still be living a lie.”

American Foundation for Equal Rights:

“Out and Proud, Kameny Was Fighting For Equality Long Before the Rest Of Us Knew We Could”

Los Angeles, CA – Today, America lost a legendary civil rights pioneer. The staff and board of directors at the American Foundation for Equal Rights extend heartfelt condolences to the friends and family of LGBT rights pioneer Franklin E. Kameny, who died of natural causes in his home today at the age of 86.

His passing comes less than a month before the planned celebration of the 50th anniversary of Kameny’s founding of the Mattachine Society of Washington, the first gay rights organization in the nation’s capital.

President of AFER’s board of directors, Chad Griffin, released the following statement about Mr. Kameny and the long legacy of hope and optimism he leaves behind, “America has lost a hero today. Out and proud, Frank Kameny was fighting for equality long before the rest of us knew we could.” He added, “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.”

In the landmark ruling striking down Proposition 8, the U.S. District Court referenced the efforts of Frank Kameny and the Mattachine Society to chronicle the long and shameful history of state-enforced discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans. In particular, the Court cited the famous 1966 letter from the chairman of the U.S. Civil Service Commission rejecting the Mattachine Society’s request to rescind the policy banning “active homosexuals” from federal employment.

To read the letter cited by the U.S. District Court, visit: https://ecf.cand.uscourts.gov/cand/09cv2292/evidence/PX2566.pdf

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

WASHINGTON — The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force mourns the death of Frank Kameny, 86, a pioneering and legendary gay activist and founding board member of the Task Force. Kameny — known for coining the phrase “Gay is Good” — received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Task Force in 2006 for his decades of courageous activism on the front lines of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) liberation movement.
Statement by Rea Carey, Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

“The death of Frank Kameny is a profound loss and he will be greatly missed. No Washington LGBT event or White House meeting was complete without Frank. I always appreciated that he gave the 50-plus-year perspective, the long view. While so many have been impatient about the pace of progress, there was Frank, insisting we recognize that, in the last two years, he was regularly invited as a guest of honor by the very government that fired him simply for being gay. Yet, he never slowed down in demanding what should be, showing us what was possible and pushing for the very equality and liberation we are still fighting for. As the history books are written on the LGBT movement, no doubt Frank’s life will serve as an inspiration to those who will never have the honor of meeting him, but who embody the very future he knew would come true one day. Indeed, Frank, Gay is Good.”
Statement by Sue Hyde, Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change

“Frank Kameny’s life spanned the baddest old days of the McCarthy-style witch hunts to the elations of winning marriage equality in the District of Columbia and beyond. In 1957, Frank lost his job, but he never lost his fierce fighting spirit, his blunt and witty command of language, or his commitment to eradicating homophobia. Frank was equally confident and strategic on the streets in front of the White House in 1965 as he was attending a White House meeting in 1977 at which he and a dozen other members of our community briefed then-Public Liaison Midge Costanza on much-needed changes in federal laws and policies. As the LGBT movement began to win in legislatures, courtrooms, and in public opinion, Frank’s papers, artifacts and memories gained value. Frank Kameny wasn’t only a keeper of our history, Frank created our history. His life and legacy carry us into our future.”

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:

(Washington, D.C.) Army Veteran and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis released the following statement regarding the death of legendary LGBT rights advocate, Frank Kameny:

“Our nation and our movement have lost a tireless advocate for LGBT rights. Frank Kameny’s long and hard work laid the foundation for much of the progress we see today, and certainly none more so than the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ It was his great wish to see that law relegated to the history books, and we are so proud that he was able to see that day and be a key part of that shared victory. At SLDN, we mourn the loss of our friend and ally, and we rejoice that Frank could join SLDN for special events and provide us with encouragement and wise counsel at critical stages as we followed in his footsteps and lifted posters to lobby Congress, the White House and the Pentagon for recognition and our equality.”

Official Statement of the LGBT Congressional Staff Association:

Washington, DC – Frank Kameny, one of the LGBT community’s most prominent leaders has died at age 86. While saddened by his death, the LGBT Congressional Staff Association remains inspired by his life. The passing of Frank Kameny today, October 11th, 2011, National Coming Out Day is a tribute to his legacy and epitomizes the trailblazing spirit of a man brave enough to speak out for civil rights before many knew they could. Frank Kameny’s legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of all he touched personally and in the achievement of progress years down the road – for a fight inspired by a profound appreciation for heroes who were and how even in death are able to advance the fight for equality by inspiring the heroes to be.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi released the following statement today on the passing of Frank Kameny, one of the nation’s most prominent leaders in the fight for LGBT equality and equal rights:

“Frank Kameny’s life is the story of service to his country, to the cause of equality, to the fundamental American ideals of fairness and civil rights. He turned his personal story of discrimination into action, his encounter with prejudice into determination. Through his work, he became a revered figure in the national LGBT movement; through his achievements, America became a more equal, more compassionate nation.

“Today, we see the products of Frank Kameny’s activism, advocacy, and accomplishment in greater progress for millions of LGBT Americans. He was the father of our efforts for equality in Washington, DC, and he lived to see the day when LGBT residents of our nation’s capital could marry and start families with those they love.

“More than half-a-century after losing his job with the U.S. Army map service because he was gay, Kameny – a World War II veteran – was there to watch ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ take its place in the dustbin of history, a moment, he said, ‘I didn’t think I’d live to see.’

“Frank Kameny’s lifelong struggle for equality is a tribute to the best of American values. We are all better off for his work and his service. And we hope it is a comfort to his family, his friends, and all who loved and admired him that so many mourn his loss today.”

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry:

Dr. Frank Kameny was an American hero who transformed our nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT). His courage, his brilliance, his force of will led to victory in a decades-long fight for equality. He helped make it possible for countless of patriotic Americans to hold security clearances and high government positions, including me. And in so doing, he showed everyone what was possible for every employer in our country.

He was known for being feisty and combative, but he was also big-hearted. He honored me personally by attending my swearing-in, and showed his ability to forgive by accepting my official apology on behalf of the government for the sad and discredited termination of his federal employment by the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the predecessor of the agency I now head. We presented and he accepted OPM’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Award, given to those who are courageous in defense of our nation’s Merit Principles.

I am grateful for his life, his service to his nation in WWII, and his passion and persistence in helping build a more perfect union. He was a great man, and I will sorely miss him.

Equality Forum:

“The LGBT civil rights movement stands on the shoulders of Frank Kameny,” stated Malcolm Lazin, Executive Director, Equality Forum and Executive Producer of Gay Pioneers. “Frank Kameny is the father of the LGBT civil rights movement.”

Kameny spearheaded the first organized gay and lesbian demonstrations of activists at Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell each July 4th from 1965 to 1969. The first of the “Annual Reminders” was attended by 40 activists from Washington, New York and Philadelphia. At that time it was the largest gathering for gay rights. It was the first time that demonstrators self-identified as gay and lesbian and openly and proudly demanded equality. The Annual Reminders laid the groundwork for the Stonewall Riots.

Gay Pioneers is a documentary produced by WHYY/PBS and Equality Forum about the Annual Reminders and the start of the LGBT civil rights movement. There is a Historic Marker directly across from Independence Hall and Liberty Bell recognizing the site where the gay and lesbian civil rights movement was launched with Annual Reminders organized by Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings and other Gay Pioneers.

“When the Annual Reminders took place, gays and lesbians were denied employment by the federal government. Frank Kameny was single-handedly responsible through remarkable intensity and perseverance in having the United States Civil Service Commission end the prohibition of gays and lesbians from government service,” Lazin stated.

“The American Psychiatric Association included homosexuality as a mental disorder. Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings successfully demonstrated at the 1971 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. At the 1972 annual meeting, Kameny and Gittings presented a program with Dr. No, a gay psychiatrist, who was disguised to avoid recognition. With Dr. No, they explained why pervasive homophobia was the cause of emotional problems, not being gay. A committee was formed to study the issue. On December 15, 1973, homosexuality was removed as a mental illness,” said Lazin.

“I traveled across the nation with Frank Kameny at screenings of Gay Pioneers and at other events,” said Lazin. “Frank had a Ph.D. from Harvard, a computer-like mind and even into his 80’s was a feisty, lovable and committed activist for human rights. American history will remember Frank Kameny as an iconic civil rights leader.”

National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director, Michael Mitchel:

Last night, we lost a hero and a champion for LGBT rights. Dr. Frank Kameny was a courageous and undeniable force in our movement. In 1957, he was fired from his US Government job for being gay. The peaceful demonstrations he spearheaded predated the Stonewall Riots by several years, and no doubt opened a door to wider acceptance that allowed the fateful nights of 1969 to grab hold. He lived his life as an example of what it is to be tenacious and fearless.

In 2009, John Berry, on behalf of the US Government, apologized to Dr. Kameny for his firing and awarded him the Office of Personell Management’s highest honor for his service. National Stonewall Democrats honored him as one of our Capital Champions as well — In 2010 — on the day before his 85th birthday. His body was frail, but his voice was powerful as he contextualized how far we’ve come as a movement in his lifetime.

I am saddened beyond words at the loss of this courageous pioneer. He holds a very special place in our hearts not only as a long-time activist, but also as a co-founder of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which is a member of the Stonewall Democrats family. Frank Kameny’s legacy lives on in the hearts of the many and diverse activists who continue in our collective fight for equality every day. He is already missed, but I am grateful for the time he spent with us.

Blade Features Editor, Joey DiGuglielmo remembers his time in Washington with Kameny.

3 Comments
  • As I recall, I first discovered Frank Kameny at a GLAA meeting. His aggressive style could initially be offputting, but over time I came to appreciate the enormous positive impact he had on my life and the lives of every LGBT person, not just here in DC or the USA, but in the entire world. Think about it — he truly had an impact in much of the world. Yes, there are still countries like Uganda, and Iran, which just executed some gay people, but how many other countries and tens of millions of people have progressed in their attitudes and treatment GLBT people as a result of Frank’s efforts right here in Washington, DC? And he never stopped; he never retired. Those who did not know Frank, especially many young people today, may not fully understand why they should be forever grateful for the life and work of Frank Kameny. May he now rest in peace.

  • Thomas B. DePriest

    Whenever a gay man or lesbian marches in a gay pride parade, it is because of the work of Frank Kameny.

    Whenever we enter a gay or lesbian bar, it is because of the work of Frank Kameny.

    Whenever we get jobs in the federal civil service or presidential appointments, it is because of the work of Frank Kameny.

    Whenever we watch a drag show or a go-go dancer, it is because of the work of Frank Kameny.

    Whenever we have a marriage ceremony, it is because of the work of Frank Kameny.

    Whenever we attend an HRC banquet, a fundraiser for NGLTF, and write a check to Lambda Legal, it is because of the work of Frank Kameny.

    Sixty years ago, as a young man, he looked at the homophobia and anti-gay descrimination in the world and thought, this is wrong and I will change it. And he did.

    We live in his shadow. We are all his children. His life changed all of our lives forever.

    • A little dramatic are we, Thomas?

      I think you’ve confused Frank with Jesus Christ. I bow to the alter of the Lord; he provides me everything I need, not Frank Kameny.

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