Pioneering gay activist Frank Kameny died four years ago, yet his remains were never interred at Congressional Cemetery, where a plot was purchased for them, and there is still no memorial in D.C. to honor his legacy.
The saga of what happened to Kameny’s estate and his remains is long and twisted and well documented in the Blade over the past four years. It’s been ugly, with the estate filing frivolous lawsuits against some of the community’s best known and respected activists who spent years selflessly caring for Kameny late in his life. Community leaders like Bob Witeck, Rick Rosendall, Charles Francis and Marvin Carter worked and sacrificed to help their friend Kameny and were rewarded with hurtful gossip and accusations and even lawsuits. They are honorable men and deserved better.
Fast forward a few years and the estate, represented by Ackerman Brown PLLC and local gay attorney Glen Ackerman, is now criticizing Congressional Cemetery President Paul Williams and even Kameny’s 89-year-old sister, Edna Kameny Lavaie.
Williams told the Blade last week that he’s hopeful a memorial headstone for Kameny issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will be installed at the cemetery soon. According to Williams, the Veterans Affairs Department informed him it could not approve an application that he and Kameny’s sister submitted for the headstone until it learns of the disposition of Kameny’s ashes. Williams said he told VA officials neither he nor Lavaie knew the whereabouts of Kameny’s ashes because the man Kameny named in his will as his heir has declined to disclose that information. Timothy Clark, who Kameny named as personal representative of his estate, disclosed through his attorneys in February 2014 that he decided to inter Kameny’s ashes at an undisclosed location, despite previously telling the Blade that he would release half the ashes for burial at Congressional.
Ackerman, who once represented the Blade, last week said that neither Congressional Cemetery nor Kameny’s sister contacted the estate at the time they submitted their application for the headstone. “It would have been nice if Edna Kameny and Paul Williams would have worked with the Estate prior to ordering the headstone,” he said. “It is interesting that the public continues to initiate actions that affect the Estate without communicating with the Estate. The public continues to diminish Frank’s choice. Timothy Clark is Frank’s choice. Dr. Kameny chose Mr. Clark to administer his Estate.”
Unfortunately, Kameny did name Clark as his heir. But Congressional Cemetery doesn’t need the estate’s permission for this memorial. If Clark won’t release half the ashes, which he said he would do, then the estate should release a letter detailing what happened to them so that Williams and Congressional can work with Veterans Affairs to obtain the memorial stone.
Williams has won acclaim and international media attention for his creative, successful management of the historic cemetery. He is also gay and has worked hard behind the scenes for several years to secure a proper place to memorialize Kameny alongside other gay rights pioneers like Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, who is buried at Congressional. He doesn’t deserve the runaround from Clark or Veterans Affairs.
Ackerman can help put an end to all the acrimony that has followed Kameny’s death by detailing publicly what happened to the remains so Congressional’s memorial can proceed. It’s time for an end to this sad saga, which undermines Kameny’s legacy and which Kameny himself would have hated. If the estate won’t cooperate and instead wants to continue picking fights with reputable community leaders, then maybe someone will cut a check for the estimated $3,000 to purchase a private memorial stone that doesn’t require any help from the VA, Ackerman or the elusive Clark.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.