November 3, 2011 at 2:24 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Kameny’s connection to ‘J. Edgar’

Leonardo DiCaprio plays J. Edgar Hoover in the new film ‘J. Edgar.’ DiCaprio visited D.C. activist Frank Kameny back in January while researching his role. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.)

The film “J. Edgar,” a dramatized biography of founding FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, opens this weekend, just a month after the death of gay activist Frank Kameny, who consulted on the film.

“J. Edgar” stars Leonardo DiCaprio and was written by Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black, who’s gay. The two visited Kameny in Washington back in January in a meeting arranged by Richard Socarides, the gay former Clinton administration official who later worked for a Hollywood film studio.

DiCaprio and Black sought Kameny’s insight on the chilling atmosphere of the 1950s and 1960s in Washington for gays and others who often were targets of Hoover’s FBI, Kameny told the Blade in January. He said the two arrived in a limousine and were not accompanied by anyone else other than the driver.

“They had been over at the Justice Department prior to coming to my place,” Kameny said.

DiCaprio and Black talked with Kameny about an incident in which Hoover appeared to have the tables turned on him in 1963 by Kameny.

In interviews with the Washington Blade in the 1980s and in 2006, Kameny told of how he and fellow members of the Mattachine Society of Washington, which Kameny co-founded, were contacted by an FBI agent in the summer of 1963 and invited to a meeting with the agent at FBI headquarters.

Kameny recounted that he and Mattachine Society Member Bob Bellanger had no idea why they had been summoned to a meeting with the FBI, and the two wondered whether a crackdown against Mattachine was in the works.

To their amazement, Kameny said, FBI Special Agent John A. O’Birne politely asked him and Bellanger to remove Hoover’s name from the Mattachine Society’s mailing list, saying Hoover did not wish to have his name on such a list.

Since shortly after its founding in 1961, the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., the city’s first gay rights organization, produced a newsletter that it sent to numerous public officials, including President John F. Kennedy at the White House and all of Kennedy’s cabinet members, including then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

At Kameny’s direction, the group also added Hoover’s name to the list of officials to receive the newsletter. Although most government officials didn’t appear to pay much attention to the newsletter, Kameny said he was astonished that Hoover would dispatch an agent to seek out the Mattachine Society’s leaders to request that Hoover’s name be removed from the newsletter distribution list.

Kameny said he told O’Birne at the meeting that he would have to consult other members of the group about this request and would get back to the FBI with the organization’s response.

“I sent them a letter setting conditions for our removal of Hoover from our list,” Kameny told the Blade.

The conditions included a requirement that the FBI provide the group with the name of another FBI official to be placed on the newsletter list in place of Hoover and that the group would reserve the right to send Hoover a one-time mailing if an important issue arose.

The FBI never responded to Kameny’s letter. “Hoover stayed on our mailing list until the day he died,” said Kameny.

Kameny’s story was confirmed in the late 1980s when gay rights advocate and political science professor Dan Siminoski of California obtained a massive collection of FBI papers documenting the Bureau’s surveillance of gays and lesbians and gay advocacy groups between 1950 and 1982. Siminoski acquired the documents through a 1982 Freedom of Information Act request and a 1983 lawsuit seeking to force the FBI to comply with the request.

Among the documents Siminoski obtained were Kameny’s letter setting conditions for removing Hoover from the Mattachine Society of Washington mailing list and at least one internal FBI document saying the FBI would never acquiesce to such conditions from a homosexual organization.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

1 Comment
  • Michael Petrelis recently got a response from his FOIA request to the FBI for any files on Frank. They claimed they couldn’t find any, but tellingly wrote, among their “main” files, meaning, of course, they’re not denying there aren’t other files. As Lou notes, Dan Siminoski uncovered FBI documents in the 80s about their surveillance of several gay groups over many years; “approximately 2,200 documents (7,000 pages) from FBI Headquarters and various regional offices, relating primarily to the Daughters of Bilitis, Gay Activists Alliance, Gay Liberation Front, and the Mattachine Society,” and now housed at the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles. In 1984, there was even reason to believe that some of them were stolen by the FBI from Siminoski’s briefcase in a car that was broken into. The briefcase was found with expensive [pre-9/11 security requirements] plane tix and travelers checks still in it. The only thing missing—the papers relating to his own FOIA search and related ACLU-assisted lawsuit about it. Today’s FBI trying to convince Petrelis that they have nothing on Frank [even a record of their demands that he stop sending Hoover Mattachine DC mailings] is as ridiculous as, apparently, the new Eastwood film on Hoover.

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