July 24, 2013 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
An end to Kameny burial stalemate?
Frank Kameny, gay news, Washington Blade

Frank Kameny died in October 2011 but his ashes remain in limbo due to a dispute between his estate and a local non-profit. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

An attorney representing the estate of nationally acclaimed gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny said on Wednesday that a “tentative agreement” has been reached to end a dispute that has prevented Kameny’s ashes from being interred at D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery nearly two years after his death.

Christopher Brown, an attorney with the gay-owned law firm Ackerman Brown, said the tentative agreement was reached on July 9 with Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS), a local LGBT charitable group that bought a plot for the burial of Kameny’s ashes at Congressional Cemetery after soliciting donations from the community to pay for it following Kameny’s death on Oct. 11, 2011.

Brown’s comment came one day after Ackerman Brown’s client, Timothy Clark, Kameny’s longtime friend and heir to his estate, told the Blade that he understood that an agreement between the two parties over the cemetery plot had been reached.

“We reached an agreement on that so I’m going to keep the burial plot,” Clark said in a telephone interview.

“I just have to decide on when I want to have something,” he said in referring to a burial ceremony at the cemetery. “I just don’t know. But I’m open to any suggestions that anybody wants to have because that was Frank’s life. The gay community was Frank’s life. That’s what he fought for.”

HOBS and a group of Kameny’s friends and colleagues in the LGBT rights movement initially scheduled an interment ceremony for Kameny at the cemetery for March 3, 2012. But they abruptly cancelled it after the estate reportedly told the cemetery it would not release Kameny’s ashes until it obtained legal ownership of the burial plot from HOBS.

For more than a year, HOBS and Ackerman Brown have declined to publicly disclose specific details of the nature of the dispute between the two parties over the burial plot other than to say they were negotiating an agreement to enable HOBS to transfer ownership of the plot to the estate.

“[W]e would point out that HOBS has never stood in the way of or delayed the burial of Dr. Kameny’s ashes,” said HOBS President Marvin Carter in an email to the Blade earlier this month. “HOBS has made numerous proposals and overtures to the Kameny estate to have Dr. Kameny’s remains buried at Congressional Cemetery.”

Brown told the Blade in an email on Wednesday that the estate, which is in possession of Kameny’s ashes, also is interested in moving ahead with the burial.

“The estate has always been, and remains willing to work with gay community representatives who knew Frank Kameny in organizing a burial service and appropriate gravesite at which members of the community could pay tribute to Kameny,” Brown said in his email.

In response to a request from the Blade last month, HOBS on Wednesday released information about the money it raised and spent both for Kameny’s personal needs in the last years of his life and for expenses related to Kameny’s funeral and planned burial.

HOBS’s IRS 990 finance reports filed with the IRS for 2010 and 2011 – the most recent such reports publicly available for HOBS – don’t include specific information about money raised for Kameny-related projects.

But the reports show that HOBS’s income increased dramatically in 2010 and 2011 during a period when the non-profit, tax-exempt group and its supporters appealed to the LGBT community for Kameny-related donations — initially to help Kameny pay household expenses and property taxes and later for Kameny’s funeral and burial.

The 990 reports, which all tax-exempt organizations are required to file, show that HOBS’s income was $2,125 in 2008, the first year for which such figures are reported, and $6,544 in 2009. The reports show that in 2010, HOBS’s income rose to $61,480 and in 2011 its income increased to $115,440.

In an op-ed column published in the Blade just before the Thanksgiving holiday in November 2011, Carter discussed efforts by HOBS and other groups and individuals to arrange two separate memorial services for Kameny, one of which was held at the Carnegie Library building in downtown D.C.

“Thus far, with the generosity of many friends, we have covered expenses for Kameny’s viewing at Carnegie Library and his essential funeral costs, too,” which Carter later explained involved paying for Kameny’s cremation and the rental of a casket and the service of a funeral hearse for the viewing ceremony.

“In addition, we have now paid the deposit on a fitting, public gravesite for Kameny at the historic Congressional Cemetery,” he said in the op-ed. “For all who wish to help raise the remaining $4,000 anticipated; you may make your tax-deductible contribution online…or simply mail a check to HOBS…”

The Blade and other local publications also published stories on HOBS’s Kameny-related fundraising activities for the funeral and burial and efforts by HOBS to help Kameny prior to his death.

One effort organized by local gay activist Ben Carver in 2010 was billed as the “Buy Frank a Drink” campaign, which Carver promoted on a Facebook page.

HOBS’s 990 report for 2012, which would include that year’s income, has yet to be released by the charitable watchdog group Guidestar.com, which obtains 990 reports for nearly all U.S. non-profit groups each year from the IRS. HOBS’s 990 report for 2010 was filed in November 2011, and its 2011 report was filed in November 2012. This suggests that its 2012 990 report will likely be filed in November of this year.

The 2011 report shows that HOBS during that year spent $66,413 on “direct support to qualified individuals,” $20,222 on “mentoring programs,” and $11,605 on “educational programs.”

Those three programs, which came to a total of $98,240, accounted for the bulk of HOBS’s expenditures for that year. The 2011 report shows that all other expenses were under $4,000 and were for administrative and overhead expenses such as supplies ($3,727), board meetings ($1,007), Internet ($1,555), meals and entertainment ($505), and telephone ($1,494). More detail on those reported expenses wasn’t available.

Carter discussed HOBS’s mission in an email he sent the Blade on July 24, which also provided information about money HOBS raised and spent on Kameny-related projects.

Frank Kameny, Marvin Carter, Dan Choi, Washington Blade, gay news, HOBS, Helping Our Brothers and Sisters

The late Frank Kameny (left) standing next to Marvin Carter at a HOBS benefit dinner in 2010. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

HOBS “is an all-volunteer micro-charity that helps marginalized LGBT individuals in our community to meet short-term and often life-sustaining needs,” Carter said. “We focus on helping those who often do not fit the criteria for help from other organizations or agencies – filling gaps in human distress here in Washington, D.C.  A sizable portion of our work involves discrimination cases too, many involving torture and asylum,” said Carter, referring to cases noted on the group’s website in which HOBS assists LGBT foreign nationals seeking U.S. political asylum to escape persecution in their home country.

“Before his passing, HOBS assisted Dr. Kameny frequently with some of his essential needs, including transportation for doctor’s appointments, the use of a mobile phone, groceries and meals, urgent bathroom plumbing repairs, repair of his eyewear, and the payment of past property tax bills to prevent his home foreclosure – spending in total thousands of dollars in the years before his death,” Carter said.

Carter provided these figures and related information in connection with the contributions HOBS received and expenditures it incurred for Kameny-related projects in 2010 and 2011:

  • Contributions earmarked by donors for Kameny’s burial expenses totaled about $800.
  • Other donors “make clear that their donations may be used for HOBS’ general mission,” were silent about how to use the donations.
  • During this period, “approximately $15,000 was raised in connection with our general fundraising efforts.”
  • HOBS incurred expenses totaling approximately $8,500 related to the purchase of a cemetery plot for Kameny at Congressional Cemetery, cremation expenses and “other expenses of the funeral home (including rental of a casket and hearse for transporting Dr. Kameny’s ashes to the memorial service…and a gravesite marker reading ‘Gay is Good.’”
  • There was no surplus of funds from contributions for Kameny’s burial and memorial service efforts. HOBS used money from its general operating account to cover the Kameny funeral and burial expenses not covered by earmarked donations.
  • HOBS did not solicit funds for payment of Kameny’s property taxes in 2011. It did raise money for and contributed to Kameny’s property tax payments in 2010.

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

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