Timothy Clark, the man D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny named in his will as heir to his estate, has released a statement through his lawyers saying he has decided to inter Kameny’s ashes at an undisclosed location.
The statement released Feb. 20 by the D.C. law firm Ackerman Brown represents a dramatic change from Clark’s earlier statements, including comments in an interview with the Blade in 2012, that he would release half of the ashes for burial at a memorial site in the city’s historic Congressional Cemetery. He reiterated his intent to inter ashes in D.C. in another Blade interview in July 2013.
“We reached an agreement on that so I’m going to keep the burial plot,” Clark said at that time. “I just have to decide on when I want to have something,” he said in referring to a burial ceremony at Congressional Cemetery.
Clark, 37, Kameny’s housemate and longtime friend, had said in the months following Kameny’s death on Oct. 11, 2011, that he planned to keep some but not all of the ashes for his personal reflection and possible interment elsewhere. Kameny died in his Washington home of natural causes at the age of 86.
“The decision regarding interment of Frank Kameny’s ashes rests solely with Timothy Clark, the Personal Representative of the Estate of Franklin E. Kameny,” the Ackerman Brown statement says.
“Mr. Clark has decided to inter the ashes at an undisclosed location. Mr. Clark asks the community to respect his wishes and his privacy,” the statement says.
Clark’s announcement through his attorneys comes more than two years after the local LGBT charitable group Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS) purchased a burial plot for Kameny’s ashes at Congressional Cemetery.
HOBS and some of Kameny’s gay activist friends and supporters who worked with the group to choose the location of the cemetery site said it would become a monument to Kameny’s legacy and a place where people could go to pay their respects to a nationally known figure considered a hero to the LGBT rights cause.
The site they selected is located just behind the gravesite of the late gay rights leader and U.S. Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, who, with Kameny’s assistance in 1975, became the first active duty military service member to come out of the closet and challenge the military’s ban on gay service members. Matlovich died in 1987.
A planned ceremony and burial of Kameny’s ashes scheduled for March 2012 was abruptly cancelled at the request of the estate, according to Patrick Crowley, who worked as senior manager of Congressional Cemetery at that time. Lawyers for the Kameny estate wanted HOBS to transfer ownership of the cemetery plot to the estate, Crowley said.
Although HOBS agreed to the transfer, a dispute arose over the terms of an agreement proposed by lawyers for both parties, and negotiations dragged on for nearly two years.
Last July, both sides said a tentative agreement had been reached, raising hopes among Kameny’s friends and admirers that a burial ceremony and the official opening of a Kameny memorial site at Congressional Cemetery would soon take place.
“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,” said attorney Christopher Brown of Ackerman Brown at that time.
However, no announcement of an agreement emerged since that time. When Ackerman Brown released its statement last week saying Clark decided to inter the ashes at an undisclosed location, neither Ackerman Brown nor HOBS would disclose where things stood with the cemetery plot.
“The estate has no further comment,” said Glen Ackerman, principal partner of Ackerman Brown, in a Feb. 23 email to the Blade.
Matthew Cook, an attorney with the national law firm Fried Frank, which is representing HOBS, sent the Blade a separate statement from HOBS that made no mention of whether ownership of the cemetery plot had been transferred to the estate or whether HOBS would seek to set up another memorial site for Kameny at Congressional Cemetery.
“Dr. Kameny was a true gay rights pioneer and local legend,” the HOBS statement says. “HOBS was proud to work with and for Dr. Kameny during the last years of his life. Of course, as the executor of the Kameny Estate, it is Mr. Clark’s decision where to inter Dr. Kameny’s ashes.”
Veteran D.C. gay activist Paul Kuntzler, who worked with Kameny on gay rights activities beginning in 1962, and San Francisco gay activist Michael Bedwell, a friend of Kameny’s, each told the Blade that the LGBT community should now take immediate steps to arrange for another memorial site for Kameny at Congressional Cemetery, even though the ashes won’t be interred there.
The four local activists and Kameny friends who initiated plans to inter Kameny’s ashes at Congressional Cemetery in early 2012 – Marvin Carter, CEO of HOBS and LGBT rights advocates Charles Francis, Bob Witeck and Rick Rosendall – have declined to comment on Clark’s decision to inter the ashes at another location.
They also declined to comment on what, if anything, they may do to set up a Kameny memorial site at the cemetery now that the ashes are out of the picture.
“Frank Kameny’s monumental legacy may be best remembered by laws he helped overturn, the hateful policies he defeated and the causes of equal rights he unselfishly advanced for the LGBT community,” said Witeck in an email statement on Sunday.
The relationship between the four men and the Kameny estate became strained in 2012 shortly after they announced plans for a Congressional Cemetery memorial site and burial when Clark stated through his attorneys that Clark was never given the courtesy of being consulted about those plans.
Carter, however, has said Clark was informed about the plans and invited to participate in the planned ceremony.
The relationship between the four men and the estate became further strained when the estate filed individual lawsuits against each of them, charging that they took without permission items from Kameny’s house that belonged to the estate shortly after Kameny’s death. The men disputed the allegations, saying Clark along with Clark’s lawyer at the time, Michele Zavos, gave them permission to enter the house and take an inventory of Kameny’s papers and other possessions to arrange for their safe keeping.
The lawsuits, which were filed by Ackerman Brown on Clark’s behalf, were later dropped after undisclosed settlements were reached in three of the cases. The court dismissed the case against Rosendall on grounds that no cause was shown to justify the complaint, according to Rosendall’s attorney, Mindy Daniels.
Upon learning of Clark’s decision to inter the ashes in an undisclosed location, Bedwell expressed concern that Clark, who among other things, inherited Kameny’s house that the estate sold in 2012 for $725,000, was not doing his part to promote Kameny’s legacy.
“Frank’s trust and affection made Mr. Clark a wealthy man,” Bedwell said. “His sacrifices helped make him, like all LGBTs, a freer man,” Bedwell said.
“Now that Mr. Clark has disappeared with Frank’s ashes along with any hopes of his repaying Frank’s extraordinary generous friendship by sharing them for a memorial, I trust that others will create one without them,” he said.
Clark didn’t respond to a phone message from the Blade this week.
In a 2012 interview with the Blade, Clark described himself as a private person who shunned the spotlight, saying he intentionally remained in the background during the 19 years he lived in Kameny’s house.
Also remaining unclear this week is what will become of a headstone and separate grave marker that HOBS and the activists working with the group installed at the cemetery site before the dispute with the estate surfaced.
Francis, the founder of the Kameny Papers Project, which arranged several years before Kameny’s death to have Kameny’s voluminous collection of letters and gay rights documents donated to the Library of Congress, obtained the headstone from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Francis and others working on the memorial site said the military headstone would recognize Kameny’s role as a World War II combat veteran. The stone is identical to gravestones used for soldiers and veterans buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and is issued free of charge to all deceased military veterans.
HOBS purchased a separate footstone inscribed with the slogan Kameny coined in the 1960s, “Gay is Good.” Carter said HOBS paid for the footstone along with the cemetery plot through funds donated by members of the LGBT community.
HOBS had both stones installed at the gravesite in March 2012 in anticipation that plans for burial of the ashes would move forward as planned.
Cemetery officials later removed the headstone and the “Gay is Good” marker and placed them in storage, saying it was inappropriate for them to remain in place while the ownership of the gravesite was in dispute.
Bedwell, who has played a role in managing the Matlovich gravesite, said he owns a separate plot next to the Matlovich site that he offered to donate for the Kameny burial shortly after Kameny died. HOBS instead chose to buy a plot a short distance away. Now, Bedwell said he is open to donating the plot he owns for a new Kameny memorial site at the cemetery.
“Neither [Clark’s] permission or Frank’s ashes are required for anyone to create a memorial to Frank anywhere,” Bedwell said in a comment to the Blade in October. “Millions more visit Lincoln’s Memorial in Washington every year than his actual gravesite in Springfield, Ill.,” he said.
“I’m confident many would be eager to contribute to the purchase of another marker bearing Frank’s name,” Bedwell said, in the event that the Veterans Administration stone or the “Gay is Good” stone won’t be released by the estate.
Ackerman, while repeating his firm’s written statement that the Kameny estate would have no further comment on Clark’s decision to inter the ashes in a private location, said the estate would welcome inquiries “by anyone” interested in establishing a public memorial for Kameny.
“All they have to do is call us,” he said.