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Remembering Frank Kameny

Friends, colleagues share thoughts on pioneering activist’s life and legacy

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Sometimes words fail. I just spoke to Frank last week. He called frequently on Fridays with comments (and polite criticisms) of the week’s paper. He was upset last week because his closest Blade newspaper box had the previous week’s issue inside. I asked him to finally let us comp him a subscription. He reluctantly agreed and we only got one issue out to him before this awful news. Frank helped to found the Blade and never missed an issue. Those of us who now write for the gay press without pseudonyms, or who serve openly in the U.S. military, or who legally marry a same-sex partner in D.C., do so in large part because of Frank’s pioneering and fearless work. Gay is, indeed, good. —Kevin Naff, editor, Washington Blade


I only hope that Frank passed with the same smile on his face that he had at the recent HRC dinner when being wheeled around by a beautiful young man. Frank Kameny will go down in the history books as a fighter for the civil and human rights of the LGBT community. He will be remembered for his courageous stands for justice and his fight for his own rights. I assume that on his tombstone will be the words ‘Gay is Good,’ an expression that he always wanted to be remembered for.

Not many people get the honors that they deserve while still able to enjoy them. But Frank was fortunate to see his life’s work honored in many ways. He saw one of his greatest fights, the right of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, come to fruition. He was honored by President Obama and a new generation that benefitted from his struggle to live openly the life that he was born to live.

We have lost an icon and a hero. May he rest in peace knowing he lived a life that made a difference.  —Peter Rosenstein, columnist and longtime LGBT rights advocate


Frank was a force of nature. He was a man of high intelligence, endless nerve, and a steel spine. When his own government fired him for being gay in the late 1950s, he was filled with patriotic indignation, outraged that a country that he had defended in front-line combat in World War II would treat him so unjustly. He treated his firing as an act of war, and (as he has said countless times since) he was not in the habit of losing his wars. Unlike most other “homophile” activists at the time, Frank used his own name and refused to cower in fear. He did not think there was the slightest thing wrong with him. He appealed his case to the Supreme Court and wrote his own brief. His entire strategy was based on seizing the moral and intellectual high ground, specifically invoking America’s founding principles and demanding for gay people the birthright of any other American citizen. He did this at a time when he had no backup, no army of activists and fundraisers behind him. He took on the U.S. Civil Service Commission and the Department of Defense by himself, on his own wits and native courage. —Rick Rosendall, vice president, Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance

 

Words like “champion” and “pioneer” are too frequently bandied about. But both apply to Dr. Frank Kameny. At a time when gays were shunned and vilified, Frank had the vision, and the chutzpah, to press for gay rights as civil rights. He took a courageous stand for equality by directly engaging with the legal system and fighting his way up to the Supreme Court. As importantly, he played a vital part in steadily building a social movement for gay pride that would first help to change the way we think about ourselves and then change the way others think about us. We, all of us, gay and straight, are thus in his debt. —Leslie Calman, executive director, Mautner Project


“Dr. Frank Kameny was more than a pioneer. He was definitely that. But he was also a trailblazer, a mentor, an inspiration — a hero. The list of platitudes to describe the father of the modern gay rights movement is endless. In 1957, Frank was fired as a federal government worker because he was gay. That was then. We, as gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people all owe a debt of gratitude to the lifetime of work Frank has done on our behalf. May we now stand on his shoulders and continue the fight for equality.  Let’s make Frank proud!” —Robert Turner, president, D.C. Log Cabin Republicans


“Frank Kameny was a champion of equal rights, a founding father of the Pride movement, and a hero to so many of us in the LGBT community. Dr. Kameny never ran from who he was and in so doing empowered millions to be open with the world about who they are. While I am deeply saddened by his passing, I am grateful for the fearless and brave life that he led. Frank Kameny changed minds and opened hearts to acceptance and tolerance in Washington, D.C. and all over the world.” —D.C. Council member David Catania


The day before Frank passed away I stumbled on a picture of him in a Christopher Street Magazine from 1976. He is quoted as saying: “We all know that Gay is Good. It’s up to us to get out there and make it better — much better.” Frank did make the world better for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. I am so pleased we had the opportunity to honor him at the DC Fall Reception last month. He inspired us then, and inspires me still, to get out there and make it better for our community. —David Mariner, director, DC Center for the LGBT Community


Dr. Frank Kameny was an American hero who transformed our nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT). … He was known for being feisty and combative, but he was also big-hearted. He honored me personally by attending my swearing-in, and showed his ability to forgive by accepting my official apology on behalf of the government for the sad and discredited termination of his federal employment by the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the predecessor of the agency I now head. We presented and he accepted OPM’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Award, given to those who are courageous in defense of our nation’s Merit Principles. I am grateful for his life, his service to his nation in WWII, and his passion and persistence in helping build a more perfect union.  He was a great man, and I will sorely miss him. —John Berry, director, U.S. Office of Personnel Management


In memory of a giant. All we have achieved grows from your accomplishments. Thank you Frank. —DC Allen, The Crew Club


 

 

I am spoiled that I had the great honor of knowing one of my heroes Dr. Frank Kameny. I first met him at a Pride meeting where he raised the roof by saying that we would win our fight for human rights because we are right and they (our enemies) are wrong.

One of my favorite memories of Frank was running into him in line outside Velvet Nation one Saturday. He was attending an after party and was standing outside in suit and tie surrounded by hundreds of club goers who probably had no idea that they were in line with a living legend. Frank appeared to have an excellent time.

Another great memory was being at the White House when President Obama name-checked him in a speech welcoming the first-ever GLBT Pride event. I asked him later if while organizing the first-ever LGBT protest in front of the White House in the early ‘60s he ever thought that he would be singled out by the president at an LGBT event, Frank paused and said “honestly, no.” Frank inspired so many and lived a life that proved that Gay is Good. —Chris Dyer, former D.C. Office of GLBT Affairs liaison

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Bisexual activists cautiously excited after White House meeting

Sept. 20 gathering took place during Bisexual Visibility Week

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From left to right: Ellyn Ruthstrom, Tania Israel, Nicole Holmes, Mimi Hoang, Ezra Young, Lauren Beach, Belle Hagget Silverman, Diana Adams, Heron Greenesmith, and Khafre Abif. Kneeling: Robyn Ochs, Fiona Dawson and Blair Imani outside the White House on Sept. 20, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Heron Greenesmith)

On Tuesday, Sept. 20, just in time for Bisexual Visibility Week, a diverse group of 15 bisexual and pansexual activists met with officials from the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including Melanie Fontes Rainer, the director of the Office of Civil Rights at HHS. 

The 15 advocates comprised a wide cross-section of the bisexual community, including nonbinary, transgender, female, young, older, Black, Asian and Muslim advocates, people with disabilities and parents. We came from many walks of life: Academia, education, research, health care, advocacy, law, media and community activism. This isn’t unusual: Bisexual people comprise more than half of all LGBT people, totally approximately 12.5 million bisexual adults in the U.S. Strikingly, 15 percent of all GenZ adults — nearly 1 in 6 — identify as bisexual. People of color are more likely to identify as bisexual, as are cisegender women and transgender people in general. 

It has been a painful six years since the Executive Branch last met with bisexual activists (you do the math.) Those meetings, like this one, were the product of tireless advocacy from a population with zero paid organizational staff and less than one percent of all philanthropic dollars earmarked for the LGBT community. It was these stats and others that we shared at HHS on Sept. 20. 

Bisexual and pansexual people face specific disparities in mental and physical health, intimate partner violence and monkeypox prevention, treatment and care. Did you know, for example, that nearly half of bisexual women report having been raped? And did you know that federal reporting on monkeypox doesn’t disaggregate between gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men, despite evidence that bisexual men are uniquely vulnerable to MPX and other infectious diseases. 

Khafre Abif is a Black bisexual educator, father and person living with HIV. At the meeting with agency officials, Abif shared the story of how staff at his HIV-care clinic initially denied him the monkeypox vaccine, despite Abif being bisexual and thus in a population of special focus for the vaccine. 

“This meeting has been a long time coming for the bi+ community,” said Abif. “I’m looking forward to a dialogue with federal officials about solving some of the health issues we face.”

In order to begin remedying these disparities and more, we presented the administration with a set of benchmarks, including the creation of a Federal Interagency Bisexual Liaison and a Federal Interagency Bisexual Working Group. Other benchmarks included training for HHS staff on bisexual disparities and remedies thereof, funding streams for bisexual-specific funding and interventions, and the disaggregation of data on specific health disparities. 

Robyn Ochs is a pillar of bisexual and pansexual community organizing. At HHS, Ochs shared more about her specific expertise. “Research has made clear our health disparities and invisibility. It’s time for federal interventions to catch up with what we already know through research and lived experience.”

Frustrated by years of inaction by the federal government to release bisexual-specific data, target the bisexual and pansexual community with tailored interventions, or recognize the importance of bi+ health in general, we are cautiously excited by this opportunity to share critical data and remedies. 

Heron Greenesmith is the Senior Research Analyst for LGBTQI+ Justice at Political Research Associates, and the co-founder of BiLaw and the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition. Find Greenesmith on Twitter @herong.

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Turkey Pride crackdowns only strengthen LGBTQ resistance

Hundreds arrested in Istanbul on Sunday

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Police crackdown on the Istanbul Pride march on June 26, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Hayri Tunç)

The waving colors of the thousand shades inside of a rainbow,

The sparkling joy from the pride and honor of self-declaration, 

The echoing sounds of the steps for solidarity in the cobblestone streets of İstanbul, 

To unite for equality, for justice, for solely our right to be. 

This was our goal, our expectation and our hope for Pride Turkey 2022. It has, however, been overshadowed by the government’s vicious attempts to repress the colors of the LGBTQI+ community. 

First, it started with the ban of Pride speeches and panels that many district governors and other local authorities across Turkey announced. Local police officers raided the many event venues as if “illegal” activities were being conducted. 

As in the last couple of years, it was already expected the government would ban the Pride marches in many cities. It was, however, the first time the government officially tried to prevent even face-to-face community gatherings of LGBTQI+ organizations. It was a type of intervention reflecting the level of fear and intolerance of the government regarding the growing connection, solidarity and public visibility of LGBTQI+ community.

Nevertheless, oppression often brings out the most creative means. As such, Pride committees have carried all the activities on digital platforms. Many activists and civil society representatives have shown support by participating in live broadcasts from event venues, and the voice of LGBTQI+ solidarity still reached a wide audience. 

Subsequently, the most drastic pressure by the government has manifested itself during the Pride marches. The police violently intervened and used unproportionate force against marchers in many cities, which resulted in a radical number of unwarranted detentions. 

While 530 LGBTQI+ activists were taken into custody over the last 37 days across Turkey, 373 of them were arrested during the Istanbul Pride march on June 26. This constitutes a first, since the Istanbul Pride arrests constituted the largest number of people taken into custody during a street march since the Gezi protests.

Will these enormous efforts to pressure win the day? The answer is “definitely no.” On the contrary, it sparked a backlash by triggering strong solidarity among Turkey’s queer community. The outstanding resistance of LGBTQI+ marchers gained public recognition on social media, while persistent legal support of LGBTQI+ initiatives canceled all the detentions. In the end, the exhaustive pressures of the government could not manage to fade the multicolor of LGBTQI+ identity. In fact, it helped our rainbow flag to shine even more glamorous and visible.  

We, as members of the LGBTQI+ community, have once again proved through this entire experience that solidarity, togetherness and collective resistance are the most powerful facilitators in our fight to exist equally.   

In honor of the unbreakable resistance of Turkey Pride 2022 supporters, 

Thanks to you, the cobblestones of Istanbul and every street in Turkey echoed with the steps of LGBTQI+ solidarity.

Dilek İçten is a journalist, researcher and civil society expert with a demonstrated history of working in interdisciplinary and investigative research projects examining the socio-cultural dynamics of media, gender and migration. The focus of her work varies from freedom of expression, media censorship and journalistic independence to gender based-discrimination and hate speech against disadvantaged groups and minorities.

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As Israel readies for new elections, the LGBTQ community is at risk

U.S.-based groups attacking transgender Israelis

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Elisha Alexander in April 2022 (Photo courtesy of Ethan Felson)

Israel’s government has collapsed — and the county is headed to new elections for the fifth time in three years. In this renewed period of uncertainty, Israel’s LGBTQ community has cause for particular concern. Any new coalition would likely welcome parties that oppose LGBTQ inclusion back into government, posing a clear and imminent threat to their human rights.

But amidst this trepidation, there is still much to celebrate: 30 LGBTQ leaders from the U.S. met with their counterparts in Israel this month. The backdrop was Tel Aviv Pride, one of the largest in the world. The leaders were there for more than celebrations. They came to learn. As with past A Wider Bridge trips, North Americans travelling to Israel and Israelis travelling to North America shared strategies for building LGBTQ inclusion, fighting conversion therapy, protecting young people needing shelter, and building vibrant pride centers. Pride celebrations got their start in the U.S. and will take place in more than 60 Israeli cities this month. Over the years, both of our countries have imported many successful approaches from one another. But one American import to Israel is less than welcome: Political transphobia. Let’s not let it become something that unites our nations.

As leaders of groups in Israel and the U.S., we’ve watched with sadness as trans kids in America have been put in harm’s way through legislation making their medical care less available and prohibiting their teachers and school counselors from providing the lifesaving support they need. And it turns out that the same retrograde forces fighting trans inclusion in the U.S. are backing similar efforts in Israel. There have always been opposition to LGBTQ rights, including trans inclusion in both countries and around the globe. What’s new is a vastly well-funded campaign — with plenty of American backing — directed at attacking the Israeli trans community. While the fight for LGBTQ equality in Israel hasn’t been easy, historically the community hasn’t been used as a political cudgel. That’s changing, and we’re ringing the alarm bell.

Groups like the Kohelet Forum, which is largely American-funded, are trying to take their American brand of anti-trans hate to Israel. While think tanks and policy shops aren’t a new phenomenon in Israel, Kohelet has adopted the broader American model of political change-making. They’ve launched a constellation of organizations working informally together to usher in transformational policy change. With the support of Kohelet and others, the anti-trans movement has exploded in Israel.

Their orchestrated effort comes at a very unfortunate moment. Ma’avarim, Israel’s most prominent trans organization, and the entire Israeli trans community have worked tirelessly for years, building careful relationships, educating important allies — and is making tremendous advances due to an Israeli government that was willing to embrace many key goals. There are historic opportunities to implement new life-saving policies including access to healthcare, legal recognition of gender identity, and diversity in the education system. All of this is now in jeopardy. Just as these successes are coming to fruition, the anti-trans movement is using social media and other tactics to spread disinformation and false accusations such as “men in dresses raping women in bathrooms.” These fabrications are felt by many in the trans community to be like anti-Semitic blood libels — made-up stories that lead to fear, hatred, and even violence. They help fuel anti-trans advocacy and lobbying to advance exclusionary policies and legislation to deny Israeli transgender persons their dignity and rights.

The new anti-trans movement has several distinctive features that require new responses. Firstly, unlike the traditional opposition for LGBTQ rights that springs from religious and social conservatives, anti-trans advocacy is now often fronted by self-styled “progressive” women. They bring with them established connections within liberal circles. Secondly, the central arena of the “progressive” anti-trans campaign is both traditional and social media — drawing on existing networks with hundreds of thousands of followers, while trans community organizations have minimal presence in social media beyond the trans community. Thirdly, the funding being poured into anti-trans campaigns eclipses the budgets of LGBTQ organizations. In Israel alone, the groups waging battle against the trans community have budgets in the tens of millions with hundreds of paid staff, many of whom work on anti-trans campaigns. 

None of us should sit idly by while these attacks on the trans community take place. As in other countries, this anti-trans hate movement poses an immediate threat to the safety and wellbeing of transgender and gender non-conforming persons. We cannot allow them to have their very existence denied.

But it doesn’t stop there. While transgender persons are the immediate targets of hate and violence, anti-trans campaigns have far-reaching political aims: dividing the liberal bloc of women’s, LGBTQ and minority rights, instilling hate, and turning liberal democratic societies against a newly created enemy from within. Anti-trans propaganda has proved instrumental in spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories that further undermine democratic values in society.

The eyes of the world often look to Israel on LGBTQ rights. Dana International, a trans woman from Tel Aviv, won the Eurovision music contest, became an international hero, and played a role in ushering greater acceptance of the trans community.

The world will be watching after Israel’s new elections: Will they continue to make progress in affording rights and protections to LGBTQ people? Or will they turn back the clock? Now more than ever, fighting the anti-trans movement must be a top priority not only for the transgender community but for LGBTQ people, feminists, and the wider progressive community in Israel- and in the United States.

Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge, an organization that fights for LGBTQ inclusion, counters anti-Semitism, and strengthens relationships between the LGBTQ community in Israel and North America. Elisha Alexander is the founding director of Ma’avarim, Israel’s leading NGO advocating for the transgender community.

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