May 28, 2012 at 7:01 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Kameny house sold to private buyer

5020 Cathedral Ave., N.W. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The estate of the late gay rights leader Frank Kameny has sold Kameny’s house at 5020 Cathedral Ave., N.W., for $725,000 without the services of a realtor, according to estate attorney Glen Ackerman.

Ackerman said the settlement for the sale of the house took place May 25. He declined to identify or provide information about the buyer other than that he or she is a private individual who likely plans to live in the house, which is located in the city’s upscale Palisades neighborhood.

In March 2009, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board designated the house as an historic landmark, marking the first time a gay-related site had been approved for landmark status in the nation’s capital. Shortly after Kameny’s death in October 2011, the U.S. Park Service listed the house on the federal government’s National Register of Historic Places.

The Rainbow History Project, a local LGBT group that submitted the successful application to obtain the landmark designation from the D.C. government, said that beginning in the 1960s, the house became an office and center for carrying out Kameny’s widely recognized role as a local founder and national pioneer of the modern gay rights movement.

“Historians consider him a landmark figure in articulating and achieving gay civil rights in federal employment, criminal law, security clearances cases, and in reversing the medical community’s views on homosexuality,” the Rainbow History Project said in its application for the historic designation.

Mark Meinke, a Rainbow History Project official, and Charles Francis, co-founder of the Kameny Papers Project, which arranged for the purchase of most of Kameny’s historic papers and their donation to the Library of Congress prior to Kameny’s death, had expressed interest in converting Kameny’s house into an LGBT history center or possible museum. Both talked about this prior to Kameny’s death.

But Meinke told the Blade on Monday that no serious effort emerged to move ahead with such a proposal.

“It was more of a pipe dream,” said Meinke.

Under the city’s and federal government’s historic designation, the new owner of the house is prohibited from demolishing it or making major external changes. Under D.C. regulations, some external change could be made upon approval by the city.

Ackerman said the publicity surrounding Kameny’s death and the subsequent tributes and memorial services recognizing him as a nationally acclaimed civil rights leader prompted potential buyers of the house to approach the estate. Ackerman said the house was not listed for sale on normal real estate listing services.

The new owner of the Kameny house, like the owners of all real estate, will be identified in public city records. As of Monday, the sales transaction had not been published in the online site of the D.C. Recorder of Deeds, which keeps real property ownership records.

In his will, Kameny designated Timothy Clark, his friend and housemate of 19 years, as the beneficiary of his house, car, and all other property other than his papers, which he bequeathed to the Library of Congress.

Ackerman said the probate process for the estate has yet to be completed.

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

  • I feel a little like I have been had. In the last year or so of his death, people put out requests for money to help him, saying that he was in dire need. I gave about a total of $600. Not a great deal. But it was under the illusion that Kameny really needed help. Had the people who made this request told me that people were buying his papers and that his house was worth $725,000. I certainly would not have made the gift, nor would (I think) many others. I am disappointed that Kameny allowed people to do that and that people were willing to prostitute his legacy in that way. I’ll know better to be more skeptical in the future.

    • The compassionate don’t generally expect those in need to sell their principal place of residence to meet their other basic needs. As I understand it, the SSI Program — the Federal needs-based assistance program for the aged, blind, and disabled — doesn’t require the sale of one’s principal place of residence, regardless of value. Likewise, there is no requirement to sell one’s personal belongings.

      You were a good person to help Frank when he needed it.

    • The sale of the house now doesn’t mean that Kameny did not need money to live on day-to-day. As I recall from news reports, he didn’t have much cash or insurance to pay health bills and living expenses. The home sale proceeds may be going to his estate now that he is dead, but that didn’t help him while he was alive.

  • Let me clarify one of Lou’s statements: at the time the house was designated an historic site I was withRainbow History but retired in November 2010.

  • Too bad Kameny legacy ends up this way.

  • Jay, you gave from your heart. Maybe a few too many valves opened up and let you do a generous thing. I think you did a good thing no matter the outcome.

  • Even more disconcerting is that the $725,000 is going to his ex housemate ! instead of to gay charitable organizations. The groups that solicited donations for him are partially to blame. I think these groups should have insisted that he take a reverse mortgage before providing donations. Many of the people who donated have a lower net worth than Kameny.

  • Frank Kameny, like many seniors, was “house poor.” He had few assets, and a very small Social Security income, due to the sad fact that he was fired from his government job in 1957 and unable to find a job – or a decent paying job – for a good number of years. He made his struggle public, and it became the Gay Rights Movement, but he sacrificed financially. I have read the stories of how he survived some lean times by eating a single can of beans a day, and have also read that he didn’t have enough income over enough years in his working lifetime to qualify for a decent sized Social Security check.

    His house was his one tangible asset, and it wasn’t that well maintained. A year ago, he mentioned that the water heater hadn’t worked for three weeks, and – until someone helped him out by getting a new one – he hadn’t had a hot shower in all that time.

    Old people are like old trees. You don’t move them. And Frank wanted to stay in his home – with all the old picket signs and priceless relics of his struggle – our struggle. He died in his own bed, in his own house, unencumbered, his life’s work finished.

    I also gave to help with his funeral and memorial expenses. I don’t regret one bit doing so. And I don’t regret his decision – in his will – to leave whatever to whomever. The man who spent his lifetime fighting for our dignity deserved that dignity.

    Enough with the fighting over his personal possessions. Enough with the sniping over his will. It’s Pride Week. Let Frank Kameny rest in peace.

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