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Longtime gay activist Frank Kameny dies

Community, public officials mourn loss of LGBT movement hero, pioneer

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Frank Kameny

Frank Kameny’s gay rights activism predated the Stonewall riots by more than a decade. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Expressions of condolences from LGBT activists and their straight supporters poured in from across the country this week following the death in Washington on Tuesday of Franklin E. Kameny, one of the nation’s most prominent gay rights leaders.

Friends said Kameny, 86, appears to have died in his sleep while in bed at his house in Northwest Washington. A representative of the D.C. Medical Examiner’s office, who spoke to friends and well-wishers who stood outside the house Tuesday night, said the cause of death couldn’t be immediately determined.

Kameny’s passing came a little more than a month before the planned celebration on Nov. 15 of the 50th anniversary of his founding of the Mattachine Society of Washington, the first gay rights organization in the nation’s capital.

LGBT rights advocates Charles Francis and Bob Witeck, who were longtime friends of Kameny’s and established the project to preserve Kameny’s papers over a 50-year period, said they would be announcing soon plans for a memorial service to honor the gay rights leader’s life.

Witeck said Nov. 15 is being considered as a possible date for a Kameny memorial gathering.

Timothy Clark, Kameny’s tenant and friend, said he found Kameny unconscious and unresponsive in his bed shortly after 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Clark said he became concerned when he arrived home a few minutes earlier and noticed Kameny hadn’t retrieved his newspapers, which are delivered outside the house in the morning.

He said he called 911 and rescue workers determined that Kameny had passed away earlier, most likely in his sleep. Clark said he had spoken with Kameny shortly before midnight on the previous day and Kameny didn’t appear to be ill or in distress.

Kameny is credited with being one of the leading strategists for the early gay rights movement – beginning nearly a decade before the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York’s Greenwich Village and continuing forward.

The Stonewall riots, triggered by a police raid of the Stonewall gay bar, are considered by most activist leaders as the starting point of the modern LGBT rights movement. But movement leaders credit Kameny and his collaborators in the Mattachine Society of Washington with laying the groundwork that enabled the post-Stonewall LGBT organizing to flourish.

“Frank was a revolutionary who lived to see the world change, and I’m comforted by that,” said Francis. “He was the first gay American to root the argument for gay civil equality in the words of Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.”

Gay historian David K. Johnson, who wrote about Kameny in two books on the gay rights movement, said Kameny broke from the early American “homophile” movement’s tactics of accommodation with the prevailing views that homosexuality was a disorder.

“Kameny’s style and tactics differed markedly from those of earlier homosexual leaders,” Johnson wrote in a 2002 article posted on the website of D.C.’s Rainbow History Project. “By unabashedly proclaiming that homosexuality was neither sick nor immoral, Kameny helped move gays and lesbians out of the shadows of 1950s apologetic, self-help groups and into the sunlight of the civil rights movement, setting the tone for a movement that continues today.”

It was during his years as head of the Mattachine Society of Washington that Kameny in July 1968 coined the phrase, “Gay is Good,” which activists say became a forerunner to the gay pride celebrations that followed the 1969 Stonewall riots.

Born and raised in New York City, Kameny served in combat as an Army soldier in World War II in Europe. After the war, Kameny received his doctorate degree in astronomy from Harvard University.

He came to Washington in 1956 to take a position teaching astronomy at Georgetown University. The following year, government recruiters persuaded him to take a job as a civilian astronomer with the U.S. Army Map Service in Washington.

NASA career derailed

Kameny told the Blade in a 2002 interview that the nation’s race against the Soviet Union for superiority in space had just begun in full force and he set his sights, among other things, on a possible role in the U.S. space program.

A short time later, Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Kameny said he would have seriously considered applying to become an astronaut. But that was not to come about.

Just five months into his job at the Army Map Service, U.S. government security investigators uncovered information leading them to believe Kameny was gay. They opened an investigation into his alleged “threat” to national security. Within a few weeks he was dismissed from his job, with his name placed on a list of people labeled as government security risks.

Kameny challenged the dismissal before the U.S. Civil Service Commission, which set personnel policies for federal employees. The commission upheld the firing, prompting Kameny to take the matter to court. After losing in the lower courts, he appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first known gay person to file a gay-related case before the high court.

The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling against Kameny and declined to hear the case. But Kameny’s decision to appeal the case through the court system motivated him to become a lifelong advocate on behalf of LGBT equality.

Gay historian Johnson wrote in his 2002 article that Kameny’s lawyer withdrew from the case after the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against Kameny, forcing Kameny to write his own appeal to the Supreme Court.

Johnson called Kameny’s 60-page legal brief filed before the high court a groundbreaking challenge to the federal government’s policy barring homosexuals from working for the government in any capacity. Johnson said it served as Kameny’s and the gay movement’s strategy document for advancing legal rights for gays in the years going forward.

Kameny’s Supreme Court brief, or petition, also offered the world its first glimpse of what became his trademark use of blunt, sometimes inflammatory language combined with reasoned arguments to challenge anti-gay policies.

“The government’s regulations, policies, practices and procedures, as applied in the instant case to petitioner specifically, and as applied to homosexuals generally, are a stench in the nostrils of decent people, an offense against morality, an abandonment of reason, an affront to human dignity, an improper restraint upon proper freedom and liberty, a disgrace to any civilized society, and a violation of all that this nation stands for,” he wrote in his Supreme Court petition.

“These policies, practices, procedures, and regulations have gone too long unquestioned and too long unexamined by the courts,” he wrote.

Gov’t apologizes to Kameny

Although Kameny lost his own case, he spent the next decade working with attorneys and other gay and lesbian federal workers to chip away at the then U.S. Civil Service Commission’s ban on gay federal employees through new court challenges. By 1975, after losing several cases to gay employees who won reinstatement to their jobs over a period of years, the Civil Service Commission dropped its ban on gay employees.

The change, which came under the administration of President Gerald Ford, was based on court rulings saying the government could not discriminate against homosexual federal employees if no evidence exists to show a harmful “nexus” between someone’s sexual orientation and their ability to perform their job.

Kameny, who called the development a major victory for gay rights, turned next to ongoing efforts to end two other anti-gay policies of the government – the ban on gays from receiving government security clearances and the ban on gays in the military.

In 2009, the Obama administration through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management – the successor agency to the Civil Service Commission – issued Kameny a formal apology for his 1957 firing. The apology was extended by OPM Director John Berry, an openly gay man.

In an area of work for which Kameny is less known, he established a paralegal practice in the 1970s that continued through the 1980s and early 90s to represent gays encountering problems obtaining or retaining security clearances as well as gays facing discharge from the military because of their sexual orientation.

Activists following his paralegal work, including those who he helped keep their security clearances, called Kameny a tenacious counsel who sometimes worked with lawyers and other times served as an administrative representative before adjudicatory hearings, including discharge hearings in all branches of the military.

“When the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA) was on the verge of firing me simply for discovering I was gay, I enlisted Frank Kameny’s help in resisting,” said Jamie Shoemaker, a linguist and NSA career employee.

“His gutsy, unapologetic efforts to save my career and that of many others with security clearances led to a ground-breaking change in the attitude of our country’s intelligence agencies toward gays,” Shoemaker said.

Kameny said he was pleased when his security clearance practice became mostly unnecessary in the 1990s when President Bill Clinton issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in the issuance of government security clearances.

Soliciting sodomy

In his work with military service members ensnared in what activists called witch hunts, where military investigators pressured vulnerable gays to identify other gays under false promises of lenient treatment, Kameny coined another phrase aimed at helping those under investigation – “Say nothing, sign nothing, get counsel.”

Charles Francis and others who knew Kameny said his paralegal work met an important need in the years before groups such as Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network emerged to take on this type of legal work.

LGBT movement colleagues also credit Kameny with playing a lead role in the effort to persuade the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 to remove homosexuality from its list of disorders. As a scientist by profession, Kameny wrote and spoke often beginning in the 1960s about what he called the faulty or “junk” science that the psychiatric profession used to support its claim that homosexuality was a mental disorder.

Kameny and others supporting him within the profession argued that nearly all of the “gays are sick” theories were based on studies of patients in therapy. There were little or no studies made of the overwhelming majority of gays who never sought therapy and functioned well in society despite widespread anti-gay prejudice, Kameny and others argued.

When broader studies were conducted of gays and lesbians in the population at large, findings showed there were no differences in the numbers found to have mental health problems between samples of gays and straights, Kameny often pointed out.

In yet another area of work, Kameny is credited with playing an early and effective role in pushing for repeal of state sodomy laws, which made it illegal for consenting adults to engage in oral or anal sex in the privacy of the home. In keeping with his characteristic defiant rhetoric, Kameny sought to dramatize what he called the “lunacy” of laws prohibiting private, consenting sex.

On a number of occasions he publicly solicited public officials, including D.C.’s police chief in the 1960s, to engage in sodomy with him. In 1987, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Georgia’s sodomy law in the case Bowers vs. Hardwick, Kameny said he wrote letters soliciting sodomy to each of the Supreme Court justices that voted to uphold the law.

“I defied them to prosecute me,” he told the Blade. “They never did.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Kameny “led an extraordinary life marked by heroic activism that set a path for the modern LGBT civil rights movement.”

“From the early days fighting institutionalized discrimination in the federal workforce, Dr. Kameny taught us all that ‘Gay is Good,’” Solmonese said. “As we say goodbye to this trailblazer on National Coming Out Day, we remember the remarkable power we all have to change the world by living our lives like Frank – openly, honestly and authentically.”

Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said Kameny’s death marked the “loss of a hero and a founding father of the fight to end discrimination against LGBT people.”

“Dr. Kameny stood up for this community when doing so was considered unthinkable and even shocking, and he continued to do so throughout his life,” Wolfe said. “He spoke with a clear voice and firm conviction about the humanity and dignity of people who were gay, long before it was safe for him to do so. All of us who today endeavor to complete the work he began a half century ago are indebted to Dr. Kameny and his remarkable bravery and commitment.”

Local activists who knew Kameny said they are deeply saddened over his passing but pleased to have shared time with him at several LGBT events in Washington during the past three weeks.

On Sept. 30, D.C.’s LGBT Community Center honored Kameny along with three other activists with its community service award at a ceremony at the downtown Hotel Sofitel. Kameny delivered what his activist friends called his standard and beloved fiery speech asserting his 50-year struggle to change society to bring about full and unabridged rights for LGBT people. It was to be his last speaking engagement.

His passing inside his house on Tuesday came several years after the city designated the house at 5020 Cathedral Ave., N.W., as a historic landmark because of the work Kameny and his activist colleagues performed there since the 1960s on behalf of LGBT rights. In 2010, the D.C. City Council voted unanimously to name a two-block section of 17th Street near Dupont Circle as Frank Kameny Way in honor of Kameny’s lifelong work on behalf of equality for the LGBT community and the community at large.”

Kameny’s death also came five years after Francis and Witeck helped arrange for the Library of Congress to acquire more than 50,000 documents from the Kameny Papers Project, which pulled together nearly 50 years of papers and documents that Kameny compiled through his work on behalf of LGBT people.

“Frank Kameny was the Rosa Parks and the Martin Luther King and the Thurgood Marshall of the gay rights movement,” Yale Law Professor William Eskridge told the Associated Press earlier this year.

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Comings & Goings

Jarvis lands lead consultant role at Meridian

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Ted Jarvis

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success.

Congratulations to Ted Jarvis on his new position as Lead Consultant with Meridian Compensation Partners, in D.C. He will work on executive compensation, governance research and development. When asked for a response to news of his new role, Jarvis told this story: “I was on the prowl for a new job, I contacted the CEO of Meridian, who worked closely with me during our years at Towers Perrin. After half an hour on the phone, he asked: ‘Send me a list of things you really like to do.’ I followed up with a list of activities that continually engage my interest. Within a few days he mailed me a job description that reiterated my list almost word-for-word. I feel truly blessed to have a job so aligned with what I enjoy doing. This is going to be great.”

Prior to working for Meridian, Jarvis worked as Managing Director with Main Data Group in D.C. and Wilton Manors, Fla. He has also worked as Global Director of Executive Compensation Data, Research & Publications, Mercer, in D.C.; principal with Willis Towers Watson; and as a research consultant with McKinsey & Company. Jarvis is a member of the Lotos Club (New York); a benefactor at Drew University (Morristown, N.J.). He funded two undergraduate prizes (Wettstein Drama Prize; Norton Wettstein and Jane Brown Memorial Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement); a benefactor, Woodmere Art Museum (Philadelphia): funded William Joseph Coverley-Smith Prize, awarded annually at the Juried Art Competition; and a benefactor, St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church (Rochester, N.Y.).

Jarvis earned his MBA from The University of Chicago, Booth School of Business; his bachelor’s (cum laude); his Ph.D. (ABD) major in music history, literature and theory from NYU. He earned a Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Vienna.

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Nellie’s fires security firm after woman dragged down stairs

Pride weekend incident triggers protests, investigation by liquor agency

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Keisha Young was dragged down the stairs by her hair at Nellie’s. (Screen capture via Instagram)

Nellie’s Sports Bar, a gay bar in the city’s U Street commercial district, announced on Monday that it has dismissed a security company whose employee was captured on video dragging a Black woman down a flight of stairs inside the bar during the city’s Capital Pride celebration last Saturday.

The video of the male security employee dragging Nellie’s customer Keisha Young down the staircase and the brawl that erupted when other customers intervened has triggered expressions of concern by city officials and LGBTQ activists, including the local Black Lives Matter group that organized a protest outside Nellie’s on Sunday.

Young, who said she was injured during the incident, has said the security staffer mistakenly thought she was part of a group of customers who brought into the bar their own alcoholic beverages, which Nellie’s does not allow.

“Nellie’s Sports Bar has terminated, with immediate effect, the independent security vendor hired to protect our guests during Pride Week,” Nellie’s said in a statement released to the media.

“Our investigation into the matter is ongoing, and we will cooperate with any law enforcement investigation, however we do not need to wait for the investigation’s conclusion before we take decisive action,” the statement says. “We offer a heartfelt apology to all who witnessed the horrific events of this past weekend,” it says. “No matter what behavior occurred prior, nothing warrants mistreating and disrespecting one of our guests.”

The statement adds that Nellie’s will be closed this week “as we evaluate this regrettable situation.” It says all non-security staff will continue to be paid their regular wages during the temporary shutdown.

“In the interim, we will use this time to listen and understand what more we can do to create the safe and friendly atmosphere our guests have come to expect from Nellie’s Sports Bar over the past 14 years,” the statement says.

Brandon Burrell, an attorney representing Young, told D.C.’s Fox 5 News that Nellie’s had yet to offer an apology directly to Young. Fox 5 News reported on Monday that Young was considering filing a police report over the incident and a possible lawsuit against Nellie’s depending on how Nellie’s responds to Young’s concerns. 

A D.C. police spokesperson told the Washington Blade that Young had not contacted police to file a report about the incident as of early Monday.

The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, which issues liquor licenses to bars and restaurants, has opened an investigation into the Nellie’s incident, the agency confirmed to Fox 5 News.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the local group that organizes D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride events, including Saturday’s Pride Walk and Pridemobile Parade, issued a statement on Monday expressing concern over the Nellie’s incident.

“The Capital Pride Alliance condemns the reprehensible actions taken by Nellie’s staff over the weekend,” the statement says. “The incident resulted in Keisha Young being dragged by the hair down the stairs, which was a violent response to the trivial action of allegedly bringing into the bar a bottle of liquor,” the statement says.

“Capital Pride Alliance is committed to creating safe spaces for all,” says the statement. “We expect Nellie’s to take immediate, remedial action in response to this incident. Their response will impact the future of CPA’s relationship with Nellie’s.”

Nellie’s owner Doug Schantz couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also expressed concern about the Nellie’s incident when asked about it by reporters at an event on Monday.

“Obviously, entrepreneurs enforce rules in their restaurants, but they’re not allowed to assault anybody,” the mayor said. “If that’s a matter for the Metropolitan Police Department, we’ll take it up.”

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New gay bar ‘Central’ to open in Baltimore this summer

Just a few blocks from where Grand Central closed last year

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Marc Hayes and Ivan Yordanov inside the new Central. (Photo by Ed Gunts)

Fans of the old Grand Central club in Baltimore will get a new place to patronize this summer, and it has a familiar name and operator.

Central is the name of a gay bar and restaurant that’s expected to open in August, just a few blocks from where Grand Central closed last September. One of its owners is the former general manager of Grand Central, Marc Hayes.

Baltimore’s liquor board last week approved a request to transfer an existing Beer, Wine and Liquor license to Hayes, from Baltimore, and business partner Ivan Yordanov, from Alexandria, Va.

The location is a three-building complex at 885-889 N. Howard Street, part of a block called Antique Row on the western edge of Mount Vernon, the city’s traditional “gayborhood.” Over the years, the Howard Street buildings have housed a series of clubs and lounges, most recently Bentley’s jazz club.
Grand Central closed after original owner Don Davis sold the property at 1001-1003 N. Charles Street to a developer, Landmark Partners, that’s now constructing an eight-story office building in its place. Its last day was Sept. 3.

Started in 1991 as Central Station at 1001 N. Charles St. and renamed when Davis bought the old Stagecoach Bar at 1003 N. Charles St., Grand Central was one of Baltimore’s largest gay-friendly clubs and remained busy on weekends even after Landmark acquired the property. Patrons called it ‘Central’ for short. It was required to close temporarily during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic but did offer outdoor and carryout service when permitted.

Hayes, the last general manager of Grand Central for both Davis and Landmark, had indicated before it closed that he wanted to find another place for patrons to go once construction of the office building began.

He said the Howard Street business is not a relocation of Grand Central because Landmark isn’t involved and Landmark owns the rights to the name and other intellectual property associated with Grand Central.

“We’re not Grand Central,” he said. “This is going to be Central. This is going to be an LGBTQIA-friendly place, but not using the Grand Central intellectual property.”

Hayes said he and Yordanov chose the name Central because the Howard Street buildings are centrally located between Leon’s and The Drinkery, two other gay bars in Mount Vernon.

“We are central,” he said. “We’re in a triangle.”

Even if it doesn’t have a legal connection with Grand Central, Hayes said, he will welcome its former patrons, as well as people who have never been to Grand Central. And while he’s billing it as a gay bar, he said, “I don’t see gender or race in anybody.” He describes himself as gender fluid and Yordanov as an ally of the gay community.

The three buildings date from around 1900 and are connected internally. Together, they contain more than 6,200 square feet of space on two levels – large but less than half the 15,000 square feet of space inside the two buildings that made up Grand Central.

Hayes and Yordanov are leasing the property and received a letter of support for the liquor license transfer from the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association. They still need to pass inspections required by the liquor board and intend to hire a staff of about 20. They plan to have a dance floor and DJs, Sunday brunch, drag shows and other live entertainment as well as a full-service kitchen.

The interior has a long wooden bar that’s reminiscent of Grand Central’s, a series of lounges and dining areas, and some exposed-brick walls with arches that impart an air of history and allow views from one area to another. The main dance floor will be on the second floor, including one space where the walls are covered with mirrors.

Hayes said the building doesn’t need much in the way of renovations and since it’s actually three addresses, there’s already a separate entrance for carryout orders. He said he considered other locations but liked the ambiance, layout and location of this property. “I’ve always liked this building,” he said. “Grand stairwell. Wrought iron…It’s gorgeous. Look at the arches.”

The bar will be open from 4 p.m. to 1:45 a.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. on Sundays, when Central will serve brunch. The carryout will open daily starting at 11 a.m. Central will have a cover charge when there are shows.

While many gay bars have closed around the country during the pandemic, Hayes said he believes there’s a market for a new one in Baltimore. He notes that Central will be different from the Baltimore Eagle, which caters to the leather community; the tavern-style bars without live entertainment, and The Manor, an “ultralounge” in a meticulously restored townhouse on Charles Street.

“We’re not The Manor, obviously. They’ve got a fantastic chef and fantastic food and we’re going to be doing bar food” with a relaxed atmosphere and DJs. But Central will offer more in the way of food service and entertainment than the tavern-style bars around the city.

That’s another reason the name they chose makes sense. Given the other options in town, Hayes said, “We’re kind of right in the middle.”

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