An interment ceremony in honor of gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny that was scheduled to take place Saturday, March 3, was abruptly postponed Friday due to a dispute between Kameny’s estate and a local group that purchased the gravesite, according to a cemetery official.
News of the postponement came early Friday morning in an e-mail sent to the Blade by Bob Witeck, a longtime friend of Kameny’s who helped organize two earlier memorial services for the gay rights leader.
“The original plans on Saturday, March 3, 2012 for the gravesite services for Dr. Franklin Kameny are on hold, in deference to the estate of Dr. Kameny,” said Witeck, owner of the D.C. firm Witeck Communications. “There will be no services or ceremony at Congressional Cemetery held this weekend.”
Reached Friday morning, Witeck declined to provide further details at this time. An attorney representing the estate said he was unaware of the cancellation until contacted by the Blade.
Patrick Crowley, interim senior manager for Congressional Cemetery, told the Blade on Friday that the attorney representing Kameny’s estate contacted the cemetery on Monday to request that the interment of Kameny’s ashes be postponed.
“It’s my understanding that it has been postponed because of the wishes of the estate,” Crowley said. “All I can say is there is a disagreement between the parties that own the plot and the estate of Mr. Kameny.”
Crowley said the gay D.C. charitable group Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS), which had provided Kameny with financial assistance during the last years of his life, purchased the gravesite earlier this year.
Marvin Carter, an official with HOBS, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
D.C. attorney Glen Ackerman, whose law firm represents Timothy Clark, whom Kameny named in his will as the sole representative and heir to the estate, issued a statement to the Blade.
“The Estate of Dr. Franklin E. Kameny was surprised to learn from a member of the local media that Bob Witeck, of Witeck Communications, Inc., disseminated a press release announcing the gravesite service planned for Saturday, March 3, 2012 at Congressional Cemetery is on hold in deference to the Estate,” Ackerman said in the statement. “My colleague, J. Max Barger, is working with Timothy Lamont Clark, the Personal Representative of the Estate, for the purpose of administering the Estate according to Dr. Kameny’s Last Will and Testament.”
“Our instructions originally were to bury the ashes before the service,” said Crowley of Congressional Cemetery. “And then we received notice from the estate that they did not want that to happen until some things got resolved. So that’s where it stands.”
He said he understood that part of the disagreement was over a request by the estate that HOBS sign over to the estate the ownership rights of the gravesite.
Crowley said Kameny’s burial situation was unusual in that the estate does not own the burial site.
“Usually the estate or some family member owns the burial site and there’s no question,” he said. “But in this case the estate and site owners are different parties. It’s an unusual situation for us. As long as the estate has different instructions, we have to go with what they want with the ashes.”
Clark told the Blade in an interview last week that he planned to attend the interment ceremony. He said that he planned to keep half of the ashes and donate the remaining half to be buried at the cemetery, where the LGBT community and the public could visit what is to be an historic gravesite to remember Kameny’s legacy.
The Kameny gravesite is located next to the gravesite of Leonard Matlovich, the Air Force sergeant who became the first service member to publicly declare he was gay in 1975 and challenge the U.S. military policy of barring gays from serving in the military.
Kameny served as an adviser to Matlovich and later became friends with the gay Air Force sergeant, who was discharged a short time later under the military’s gay ban.
Crowley said the cemetery is holding two urns containing each of the divided half amounts of Kameny’s ashes until it receives notice that the dispute is resolved and the interment can take place.
He said Kameny’s headstone and grave marker are now in place and are open for visitors at the cemetery, which is located at 18th Street and Potomac Avenue, S.E.