Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a two-part report. Next week: More on Timothy Clark and his long association with Frank Kameny.
While nationally acclaimed gay rights pioneer Franklin E. Kameny collaborated in his later years with fellow activists and national politicians and attended events at the White House, Timothy Lamont Clark says he prepared Kameny’s breakfast and dinner in the privacy of Kameny’s home.
Virtually unknown to Kameny’s circle of friends and political associates in the LGBT rights movement, Kameny named Clark, 35, in his will as the sole beneficiary of his estate except for his papers, which he bequeathed to the Library of Congress.
He also named Clark in the will, filed in 2007, as the personal representative of his estate, a position similar to an executor that has full authority to decide how the estate’s assets and possessions should be managed.
Kameny died in October 2011, leaving behind what LGBT activists and civil rights leaders who knew him called a 50-year legacy as one of the nation’s preeminent architects and advocates for LGBT equality.
Clark says he began a 19-year friendship with Kameny when he was 15 years old, after calling the Gay Information hotline that Kameny operated out of his home in 1991.
Clark says he was living with his grandmother in Southeast D.C. at the time and was struggling to come out as gay in a deeply religious extended family. Through an odd turn of events, his grandmother learned that Clark had been speaking to Kameny by phone on a regular basis a few months after Clark first called the hotline, which he had discovered in the Yellow Pages.
“That’s when my grandmother called Frank,” he said in an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “At first it was a heated conversation. But then once they got past that, my grandmother said on no uncertain terms you will not be able to see my grandson until his 16th birthday.”
He continued to speak with Kameny by phone in what he describes as a counselor and mentor type relationship. Shortly after his 16th birthday Clark says he met Kameny in person for the first time in a public library while accompanied by his grandmother.
“After that, my grandmother allowed me to talk to Frank,” Clark said. “It was nothing that was hidden anymore… And Frank has been part of my life ever since then.”
Clark added, “And that’s when my grandmother started asking him, do you think that him being this way, is it safe for him to go to Anacostia High School? And Frank said yes. It was like everything had collided in a good way between all parties involved.”
Among the things Clark talked to Kameny about in the ensuing years was his relationship with his boyfriend, who moved in with him at his grandmother’s house around 1997 after the boyfriend encountered problems with his parents, who were members of the Jehovah’s Witness faith.
Although his grandmother was gradually becoming more accepting of him being gay, Clark said she wasn’t quite ready for him to cohabitate with a boyfriend in her house. With his grandmother’s consent, Clark accepted an offer by Kameny to move into Kameny’s basement apartment at Kameny’s house on Cathedral Avenue, N.W.
In addition to being a good friend, Clark knew that, unlike his grandmother, Kameny would have no problem accepting Clark’s boyfriend.
“So I moved over there in his basement until 1999 and then me and my boyfriend moved out to Centerville, Va., Clark said. “So I was there from ’97 to ’99 before I moved out.”
Clark said he moved back into Kameny’s house between 2002 and 2003 after having moved from Centerville to an apartment in D.C. By then his friendship with Kameny deepened and evolved into a family type relationship, with Kameny spending time at his grandmother’s and relatives’ homes on holidays, including Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, Clark said.
“Frank was a part of my family,” he said. “Frank was like a grandfather to me. My grandfather passed away when I was little, but Frank was literally like a grandfather to me. We had our ups and downs, but that’s what families do.”
Clark said his return to Kameny’s house came at Kameny’s request and caused a strain on his relationship with his boyfriend.
“He just called me and said that he was getting older and he missed me living there and he would like for me to come back,” Clark said. “So that’s when my aunt, who knew Frank, that’s when she got someone to redo the basement because the basement by then was in horrible condition and I couldn’t come back there like that.”
As the basement was being fixed up through contractors hired and paid for by his aunt, Clark said Kameny sat him down to discuss the situation.
“He said Timothy, you know I’ve always been self-sufficient and I never needed anybody around, but when you were here I found comfort and I would like to have you back if you’re willing to come back.”
While mulling over Kameny’s invitation to return, Clark said he and his boyfriend had a separate conversation. “That’s when my partner said, well, it’s me or the old man. I chose Frank because Frank was very important to me,” said Clark. “He helped me get over things in my personal life, you know, a lot of things. He helped me get through the anger I had towards a lot of the women in my family,” whose religious beliefs often were at odds with his sexual orientation, Clark said.
“Frank really helped me get past all of that.” Pausing and appearing to hold back tears, Clark said, “Frank is — oh — he was just awesome.”
Clark lived in the basement apartment until after Kameny’s death.
Collard greens and chitlins
Describing himself as a “very private” person, Clark said he shunned the political and LGBT activist world that Kameny relished, despite Kameny’s frequent requests that he attend various events and celebrations. It was only in the last few years of Kameny’s life that Clark said he began attending the city’s LGBT Pride parade as it passed around Dupont Circle.
Instead, he says he has fond memories of Kameny’s participation in his family events, including holiday dinners.
“When my grandmother’s sister from North Carolina came up he went over there to meet her with me at my cousin’s house,” Clark recalls. “It was just so funny because he knew my grandmother but when he first came to one of the dinners and my grandmother had collard greens and chitlins, I said Frank I want you to finish your plate for everything,” Clark said.
“My grandmother asked him to call her by her first name, Lena,” he said. “And Frank said, Lena, what is this? And she said chitlins [pig intestines prepared in a traditional Southern recipe]. And Frank sat back and said Lena what does an old Jew from New York know about this? We all just laughed, and he ate the chitlins. And ever since then he would always ask if my grandmother was making chitlins for the holidays.”
Clark said his fond memories of Kameny’s role as a welcomed member of his family became marred to some degree following Kameny’s death when rumors began circulating among some of Kameny’s political friends and acquaintances over the nature of his relationship with the famed gay rights leader. Some wondered why he would be named as the main beneficiary in Kameny’s will, giving him Kameny’s house, which the city’s tax office says has an assessed value of $730,880.
Clark said earlier rumors that surfaced in the year prior to Kameny’s death were even more unsettling. Clark said he was stunned last year when two D.C. police officers, a staff member from gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), and a D.C. government official specializing in senior citizen services came to Kameny’s house to talk to him and Kameny separately over concerns by people who knew Kameny that Clark was “abusing” him and may have been arrested in the past for allegedly assaulting Kameny.
Glen Ackerman, who is serving as Clark’s attorney on matters related to Kameny’s estate, said he conducted a search of D.C. court records and confirmed “there is absolutely no truth whatsoever to these ugly rumors.”
The Blade also checked court records and determined Clark had never been charged with an offense in connection with his relationship with Kameny.
Ackerman said that as hurtful as the rumors are to Clark, he believes they were spawned, in part, over the fact that Clark was an unknown figure to virtually all of Kameny’s activist friends and acquaintances. He said he advised Clark to speak to the Blade, among other things, to dispel the mystery surrounding him.
“The only story that’s relevant here is that out of everyone that Dr. Kameny knew in his life, he only trusted one person in terms of his estate and that’s Timothy Clark,” Ackerman said. “With everyone in his life, he trusted this one man to be his personal representative at his death and to leave him basically all of his earthly possessions, including but not limited to his home, his automobile and all of his possessions with the exclusion of his papers that would go to the Library of Congress.”
Ackerman said that officials with the Kameny Papers Project, who had helped arrange for the donation of Kameny’s life’s work writings on behalf of LGBT rights to go to the Library of Congress, initially had not consulted Clark about plans to have Kameny’s ashes buried on March 3 in D.C. Congressional Cemetery.
“He has the sole authority to decide the destiny of all of Dr. Kameny’s possessions, including his ashes,” Ackerman said.
Clark, who initially planned to take possession of Kameny’s ashes, said he has agreed to allow half of the ashes to be buried in the planned March 3 memorial ceremony at Congressional Cemetery while keeping the remaining half “to cherish for the rest of my life.”
Clark said his grief over Kameny’s death brought back memories of the death of his grandmother in 2008, who Kameny knew and loved. When he received a phone call while at home with Kameny that his grandmother had died, Clark said he walked outside on the front lawn to collect his thoughts.
“Frank came downstairs and outside,” he said. “I was standing on the grass. He came out and hugged me and said I’m still here for you, I’m still here. I’ll never forget that day.”
He said he and several of his relatives plan to attend the March 3 burial ceremony for Kameny’s ashes.