October 13, 2011 | by Phil Reese
Remembering Frank Kameny

Sometimes words fail. I just spoke to Frank last week. He called frequently on Fridays with comments (and polite criticisms) of the week’s paper. He was upset last week because his closest Blade newspaper box had the previous week’s issue inside. I asked him to finally let us comp him a subscription. He reluctantly agreed and we only got one issue out to him before this awful news. Frank helped to found the Blade and never missed an issue. Those of us who now write for the gay press without pseudonyms, or who serve openly in the U.S. military, or who legally marry a same-sex partner in D.C., do so in large part because of Frank’s pioneering and fearless work. Gay is, indeed, good. —Kevin Naff, editor, Washington Blade


I only hope that Frank passed with the same smile on his face that he had at the recent HRC dinner when being wheeled around by a beautiful young man. Frank Kameny will go down in the history books as a fighter for the civil and human rights of the LGBT community. He will be remembered for his courageous stands for justice and his fight for his own rights. I assume that on his tombstone will be the words ‘Gay is Good,’ an expression that he always wanted to be remembered for.

Not many people get the honors that they deserve while still able to enjoy them. But Frank was fortunate to see his life’s work honored in many ways. He saw one of his greatest fights, the right of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, come to fruition. He was honored by President Obama and a new generation that benefitted from his struggle to live openly the life that he was born to live.

We have lost an icon and a hero. May he rest in peace knowing he lived a life that made a difference.  —Peter Rosenstein, columnist and longtime LGBT rights advocate


Frank was a force of nature. He was a man of high intelligence, endless nerve, and a steel spine. When his own government fired him for being gay in the late 1950s, he was filled with patriotic indignation, outraged that a country that he had defended in front-line combat in World War II would treat him so unjustly. He treated his firing as an act of war, and (as he has said countless times since) he was not in the habit of losing his wars. Unlike most other “homophile” activists at the time, Frank used his own name and refused to cower in fear. He did not think there was the slightest thing wrong with him. He appealed his case to the Supreme Court and wrote his own brief. His entire strategy was based on seizing the moral and intellectual high ground, specifically invoking America’s founding principles and demanding for gay people the birthright of any other American citizen. He did this at a time when he had no backup, no army of activists and fundraisers behind him. He took on the U.S. Civil Service Commission and the Department of Defense by himself, on his own wits and native courage. —Rick Rosendall, vice president, Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance

 

Words like “champion” and “pioneer” are too frequently bandied about. But both apply to Dr. Frank Kameny. At a time when gays were shunned and vilified, Frank had the vision, and the chutzpah, to press for gay rights as civil rights. He took a courageous stand for equality by directly engaging with the legal system and fighting his way up to the Supreme Court. As importantly, he played a vital part in steadily building a social movement for gay pride that would first help to change the way we think about ourselves and then change the way others think about us. We, all of us, gay and straight, are thus in his debt. —Leslie Calman, executive director, Mautner Project


“Dr. Frank Kameny was more than a pioneer. He was definitely that. But he was also a trailblazer, a mentor, an inspiration — a hero. The list of platitudes to describe the father of the modern gay rights movement is endless. In 1957, Frank was fired as a federal government worker because he was gay. That was then. We, as gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people all owe a debt of gratitude to the lifetime of work Frank has done on our behalf. May we now stand on his shoulders and continue the fight for equality.  Let’s make Frank proud!” —Robert Turner, president, D.C. Log Cabin Republicans


“Frank Kameny was a champion of equal rights, a founding father of the Pride movement, and a hero to so many of us in the LGBT community. Dr. Kameny never ran from who he was and in so doing empowered millions to be open with the world about who they are. While I am deeply saddened by his passing, I am grateful for the fearless and brave life that he led. Frank Kameny changed minds and opened hearts to acceptance and tolerance in Washington, D.C. and all over the world.” —D.C. Council member David Catania


The day before Frank passed away I stumbled on a picture of him in a Christopher Street Magazine from 1976. He is quoted as saying: “We all know that Gay is Good. It’s up to us to get out there and make it better — much better.” Frank did make the world better for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. I am so pleased we had the opportunity to honor him at the DC Fall Reception last month. He inspired us then, and inspires me still, to get out there and make it better for our community. —David Mariner, director, DC Center for the LGBT Community


Dr. Frank Kameny was an American hero who transformed our nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT). … 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. —John Berry, director, U.S. Office of Personnel Management


In memory of a giant. All we have achieved grows from your accomplishments. Thank you Frank. —DC Allen, The Crew Club


 

 

I am spoiled that I had the great honor of knowing one of my heroes Dr. Frank Kameny. I first met him at a Pride meeting where he raised the roof by saying that we would win our fight for human rights because we are right and they (our enemies) are wrong.

One of my favorite memories of Frank was running into him in line outside Velvet Nation one Saturday. He was attending an after party and was standing outside in suit and tie surrounded by hundreds of club goers who probably had no idea that they were in line with a living legend. Frank appeared to have an excellent time.

Another great memory was being at the White House when President Obama name-checked him in a speech welcoming the first-ever GLBT Pride event. I asked him later if while organizing the first-ever LGBT protest in front of the White House in the early ‘60s he ever thought that he would be singled out by the president at an LGBT event, Frank paused and said “honestly, no.” Frank inspired so many and lived a life that proved that Gay is Good. —Chris Dyer, former D.C. Office of GLBT Affairs liaison

 

3 Comments
  • Dr. Kameny was a giant for gay rights in this country and will be remembered. But he also attempted to embezzle $10000 from a very wealthy friend of mine in the 1980s for his “gay archive”. He had a substanial trust fund from his mother’s estate that he accidently failed to mention. It was a huge scandal at the time, rightfully so. But God bless him, he will be remembered!!

  • If that’s the case, William, why should anyone contribute to offset the costs of his funeral (see other article in The Blade)?

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