Library of Congress researchers are expected to gain access next year to the more than 70,000 documents of veteran D.C. gay civil rights leader Frank Kameny.
The papers, which were turned over to the library Oct. 6, are the product of Kameny’s work on gay causes for nearly 50 years. Included is correspondence with former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and the American Psychological Association.
The Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History also accepted a collection of protest and picket signs Kameny retained. The signs were used at the nation’s first gay civil rights demonstration outside the White House.
Bob Witeck, a member of the Kameny Papers Project, which raised money to facilitate transfer of the materials, said the documents provide readers with unique historical insight into the struggle for equality.
“I think until you read these things and know what Frank was dealing with day after day,” he said, “you couldn’t begin to understand what he was fighting.”
Kameny, 81, is credited with playing a lead role in launching the modern U.S. gay civil rights movement in the early 1960s after government officials discovered he was gay and fired him from his job as an astronomer with the Army Map Service.
Witeck said it’s ironic that federal officials, decades later, sought to “preserve and protect” Kameny’s work.
“To have the federal government come full circle like this is very powerful,” he said. “It’s a very public recognition that he was right, they were wrong.”
Witeck noted Kameny’s papers will be stored in the same federal division that holds papers by Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony and Abraham Lincoln.
“It means that our story has equal importance to those others in American history,” Witeck said. “It’s one thing for us to say it’s history. It’s another thing for your tax dollars to say it’s history.”
Kameny’s papers are valued at $75,000. Donations from the Human Rights Campaign, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and Liberty Education Fund, among others, facilitated the transfer.