News outlets over the past week — both LGBT and mainstream — have reported the death of Frank Kameny, the legendary Washington-based activist universally regarded as one of the most influential pre-Stonewall homophile movement leaders.
Kameny died Oct. 11 at age 86 at his home in Northwest Washington and the news accounts have relayed oft-noted biographical facts that have taken on increasingly mythic proportions over the years: his firing from the Army Map Service in 1957 for being gay, the 1961 founding of the D.C. Mattachine Society, the “gay is good” slogan he coined, his role in convincing the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, the Clinton-signed presidential executive order that permitted gay people to be given security clearances, the repeal of D.C.’s anti-sodomy law, his decades of work with the local Gay Activists Alliance (GAA; later GLAA) and more.
But once the dust settles — memorial services are planned for Washington and San Francisco on Nov. 15, the 50th anniversary of the founding of the D.C. Mattachine chapter — what will Kameny’s legacy be? Never one to shy away from taking credit, might his bluster and longevity have created a sense of myth about him? Or could his D.C. home base over so many years (he arrived here in 1956 and never left) have skewed perceptions of his efforts among local activists who may not be aware of the contributions of Kameny’s peers in other cities, especially on the West Coast? And where does Kameny fit in among other pioneering activists of his era? The Blade spoke to several gay historians, Kameny peers — both here and around the country — and friends to find out.
Kameny among peers
Kameny’s World War II-era generation is, of course, reaching its later years and many of the pre-Stonewall homophile activists — legendary figures such as Barbara Gittings, Harry Hay, Del Martin, Jim Foster, Jim Kepner, Jack Nichols and Hal Call — have died.
San Francisco’s Phyllis Lyon, who married her late partner Del Martin in 2008 after more than 50 years of joint activism, says she’s doing well (she’ll be 87 next month), still drives and has “no intention” of leaving her home, though life, obviously, has been a lot different since Martin’s 2008 death, just two months after they got married. She speaks highly of Kameny but admits to being fuzzy on specifics.
“Well, I think he did a lot of very good things, definitely,” she says. “I do remember Frank and I was very sorry to hear that he had died but it was different in those early days. I guess you could say the lesbians and gay men weren’t always buddy buddy buddy buddy back then. We worked together some, but in essence we also worked mostly with our own sexes.”
Things were somewhat different in Washington. Though she eventually moved on and did other things with her life, Lilli Vincenz, 73, was an early Washington-based activist who was in the Mattachine Society here and joined Kameny in his legendary White House protest in April 1965. She also knew — as did Lyon — the late Harry Hay, who started the first Mattachine Society in Los Angeles in 1950, which Kameny regarded as the start of the modern gay rights movement in the U.S. (a 1920s Chicago-based group was quickly shut down by police though a gay “emancipation group” started in 1897 in Berlin and lasted decades before being shut down by Hitler’s Nazi regime).
“Well, they had a slightly different approach,” Vincenz says of Hay and Kameny. “Frank was here taking advantage of Washington and being close to all the big government agencies, so that was his focus.”
Paul Kuntzler, who was just 20 when he met Kameny at the Chicken Hut in early 1962, was always “the kid” of the group. He says, as was Kameny’s contention, that the D.C. Mattachine Society was accomplishing things gays in other U.S. cities — chapters also existed in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles at the time — weren’t doing.
“A lot of them were just content to do more research and education,” Kuntzler says. “Originally I thought Harry Hay was very brave and I think originally they were very active, but they kind of got disinvolved.”
Kuntzler says it started with Hay’s group in 1950, the second wave was in Washington in the early ‘60s, then Stonewall, the 1969 New York riots that catapulted gay rights issues into the mainstream consciousness.
In Kuntzler’s estimation, Kameny is “the most influential and most important person in the history of the gay rights movement. The only other person I’d put in that league would be Barbara Gittings who died in February 2007. She was an intellectual heavyweight, but not quite up there with Frank. But she was very powerful and influential.”
San Francisco-based activist Michael Petrelis, who in 2009 launched an effort to have Kameny awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor, agrees. He lived from 1990-1995 in Washington and, though they sometimes clashed on issues of AIDS activism, saw Kameny as a grandfather of sorts.
“Some of my pushy personality, my pushy activism, comes from Frank,” Petrelis says.
But how does Kameny’s legacy sit with gay historians? Depends whom one asks.
Gay scholar John Lauritsen, who wrote two essays for the 2002 anthology “Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in a Historical Context,” says Kameny should certainly be admired for his contributions but that he was only one type of activist whose efforts should be put in context. Lauritsen, during a phone chat from his Boston home, says he was active in the homophile movement since 1960 and knew Kameny and Gittings in the ‘70s when they would meet at various conferences.
“Our politics were much different,” Lauritsen says. “I was much more radical. But Frank was always friendly to me … I would say I admired Kameny. He was a very good public speaker … but I think one has to give credit to the scholars and Kameny was not a scholar … I think he was more a good publicist perhaps. I’m not sure he really did invent the saying ‘gay is good,’ that’s been debated, but at least it was a catchy slogan and it played a role in the movement at the time.”
Kameny could be a polarizing figure. Though even his detractors in the gay world eventually came to mostly acknowledge his accomplishments, in the early years there was much debate about the appropriate plan to gain traction with the movement.
“In those days, people felt he was rather reckless and far too militant,” says writer David Carter who interviewed Kameny about 45 times over the last several years for a biography he hopes to publish. “It’s funny though, after Stonewall, he was held up as a symbol of not being militant enough but that was more of a caricature of Frank.”
Michael Bronski, whose book “A Queer History of the United States” came out in May, teaches women, gender and LGBT studies at Dartmouth. He praises Kameny’s work but agrees, Kameny wasn’t working alone and it’s important to remember others.
“It’s vitally important to remember Frank and to give him credit for all this, but the ‘50s were really an incredible time … It’s unfair, I agree, to try to rank people mostly, unless the ranking happens by simply looking at the facts, but does the average gay person reading the Advocate really know who Harry Hay was or who Harvey Milk was? They think of Sean Penn or they might say, ‘Harvey Milk, wasn’t he married to Madonna in the ‘80s?’ Not knowing about Frank is a huge loss and it’s a loss that needs to be corrected. But I don’t think this is just an LGBT problem, it’s an American problem in general.”
Bronski is quick to point out, though, that Kameny is part of a small list of pre-Stonewall iconoclasts.
“Harry Hay, Del and Phyllis, Barbara Gittings — there aren’t many whose names come to the forefront because a lot of the work (others) did was very quiet, so somebody like, say, Randy Wicker, who founded the Oscar Wilde bookstore and the Mattachine Society in New York before Stonewall, that was a different kind of a thing.”
Paul Boneberg, executive director of the San Francisco-based GLBT Historical Society, is more unequivocal.
“There is no greater gay activist than Frank Kameny,” Boneberg says. “He is one of the heroic founders of the modern era.”
Boneberg agrees with Bronski — the pre-Stonewall movers and shakers list is quite small.
“He’s part of a very small group,” Boneberg says. “He and a few of the early activists really founded the GLBT movement and the community is what it is because of people like Frank and what’s extraordinary is that his work in the ’50s and ‘60s continued right up until this year. It was really a lifetime of service to the queer community. … What we’re seeing is the passing of the queer community’s greatest generation. That World War II generation that he was part of. He was just an extraordinary individual and it’s a great loss to the community.”
Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Equality Form and executive producer of the PBS documentary “Gay Pioneers, unequivocally this week called Kameny “the father of the LGBT civil rights movement” in a press release. The term hasn’t been widely used but may become more common as Kameny’s contributions are assessed.
And where might LGBT rights be today if Kameny hadn’t done what he did?
“I think on one level, what Frank did moved us ahead incredibly far,” Bronski says. “But if Frank didn’t exist, would somebody else have done it? Possibly. You know Frank wasn’t the only person to get arrested and lose his job. It’s conceivable and actually likely that somebody else would have had the courage to do that, but in no way do I say that to diminish what he did, but did the movement depend on Frank? I don’t think so. Did Frank move the movement forward? Sure.”
Kameny on Kameny
And what did Kameny himself think of his place in the history books? Outtakes from an Aug. 16 interview pertaining to the push for a presidential Medal of Freedom for him, found him waxing nostalgic for several of his peers.
“Just about all these people are gone,” Kameny said. “One of the first I would name would be Barbara Gittings, whom I miss very, very much. Another would be Jack Nichols. One by one they have all gone.”
Kameny also mentioned several activists whose work has been more D.C.-centric.
“On much less a level, but still someone who goes all the way back would be Craig Howell and coming much later onto the scene and I first got to know him in college in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but I would also say Rick Rosendall. That’s just off the top of my head. Many of them have just all died off one after another and I’m very, very sorry to see some of them go, but that happens.”
Kameny phoned the next morning to say he was “embarrassed I overlooked Paul Kuntzler. He goes back to the very beginning of my involvement in 1961 right after we formed the Mattachine Society … he was perhaps the last one going back to the ‘60s who’s still around.”
Comparing Kameny’s life and work to Harvey Milk’s — the first openly gay man to be elected to public office when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors — is apples and oranges, many say. If Milk’s story is more widely known, it’s undoubtedly because it’s been told several times, most memorably, perhaps, in a 2008 Academy Award-winning film. That he died young (he was murdered at age 48) perhaps gave him a JFK-like stature among gays that captured their consciousness.
“They were just from very different times,” Boneberg says. “Harvey is separated almost a whole generation and he would have acknowledged that. … It’s hard for people today to imagine how difficult it was to stand up and be out back then. Time is such a huge factor. That first generation stood alone and said, ‘I will not take this.’ Frank did that. [Drag legend] Jose [Sarria] did that. It’s just something later people have not had to do because there were already other people standing. It’s very hard for people to grasp. There were profound legal consequences and people who were gay were literally destroyed.”
Even Cleve Jones, a friend and contemporary of Milk and an activist in his own right, says their lives are too different to warrant much comparison.
“Harvey and all of us who came after the Stonewall rebellion, all of us were marching down a road that had already been paved by people like Frank, Barbara [Gittings], Phyllis and Del … the Stonewall generation was still in the closet when Frank was doing his work, so you can’t really compare them.”
Milk, of course, suffered. But those close to him say Kameny suffered in other ways — less dramatic, but also difficult.
“He lived in poverty,” Kuntzler says. “He got some inheritance money from his mother and he eventually bought [his] house, but it was a struggle. I gave him money for his fax machine. People helped him out, but he lived basically in poverty, there’s no question about it.”
Marvin Carter, a local gay volunteer with Helping Our Brothers and Sisters who’d known Kameny for years, started helping him the winter before last during several extreme blizzards the region suffered.
“There’d been a few calls here and there before, but that’s when we really started to see the extent of the situation,” Carter says. “He was snowed in and had no groceries. … It was really a bad situation.”
But was some of that by choice? Obviously in recent years Kameny was elderly, but why didn’t he work much — at least for income — in the ‘70s and ‘80s? Couldn’t he have secured a position doing the work he loved for an organization like Human Rights Campaign or National Gay & Lesbian Task Force?
Kuntzler says Kameny was “very stubborn” and single minded in his activist philosophies.
“He was very independent, very much his own person. It would have been very hard for him to acquiesce to someone else’s vision,” Kuntzler says. “He absolutely sacrificed.”
Bronski agrees, but with a caveat.
“Yes, he made that sacrifice, but it’s important to remember that he made it on his own. There wasn’t a vote on it. We should all be thankful and we can’t expect other people to do the same. It’s a matter of self sacrifice, but yes, from what I’ve heard he did actually live in fairly impoverished conditions.”
Time, of course, has a way of putting individuals’ contributions into perspective. In the meantime, Kameny’s colleagues are remembering him fondly.
“In my opinion, his legacy is already established,” Vincenz says. “He was a tutor to me and I was very thrilled to work with him. … I saw him as a zealot, very effective. He also had such a kind heart. I was reading not long ago his lovely eulogy to Barbara and it was just beautiful.”
Kuntzler remembers a rabble-rouser who “delighted in antagonizing.”
“He was never violent, it was all intellectual,” he says. “And he was very self assured. He didn’t question it at all. He truly felt that he was right and they were all wrong.”
The evolution of the open house
The more sophisticated the advertising, the more the events flourished
In the early 20th century, there were no exclusive agreements between a seller and a real estate agent. Any broker who knew of someone wanting to sell could participate in an “open listing” by planting his sign in the yard of that person and competing with agents from other brokerages who did the same. To the victor who obtained a buyer went the spoils of commission.
The rules began to change in 1919, when being a real estate broker now required a license. An agent might handle only one property at a time exclusively, but an “open for inspection” period could be used to introduce a model home or new community to the buying population.
According to the National Association of Realtors, Dallas homebuilder, Howdy Howard, hosted one of the most successful open houses of all time in the 1950s. During the first 12 days of the event, an estimated 100,000 people attended, drawn by free sodas and the ultimate prize for the buyer – a new Cadillac.
Soon, brokers began hiring additional agents who could handle multiple properties. Unlike Howard’s marathon open house, agents would now host them for a few hours at a time, usually on a Sunday, to whet the appetite of the buyer pool.
Classified advertisements with a description of a property would be placed in a local newspaper and potential buyers would review them with their morning coffee to decide which houses to visit later in the day.
Marketing in newspapers went from a few lines of black and white text to a photo of a home’s exterior, to a multi-page spread that included both photos of houses and the agents who represented them.
The more sophisticated the advertising became, the more the open house flourished as a marketing tool, not only for the home itself, but also for the agent and the brokerage. It allowed agents to prospect for buyers for that home and others, and converse with neighbors who might want to sell their homes as well.
Soon, the sign-in sheet was born, used by the agent to capture the contact information of a potential client or customer and to let the seller know who had visited his home. While sign-in sheets or cards are still used, some agents have gravitated to electronic applications, using a tablet computer instead of paper for the same purpose.
Fast forward to the early 2000s in D.C., when open houses became the primary source of showing property. An agent would enter a property into the multiple listing service (MLS) on a Thursday, entertain no showings until Saturday, host an open house on Sunday afternoon, and call for offers either Sunday night or Monday. The open house allowed agents to send their buyers rather than accompany them and serve multiple clients at once.
The delayed showing day strategy referenced above has since been supplanted by the MLS’s Coming Soon status. Agents can now email or text links to upcoming properties to their clients in advance of showing availability and the clients can view photos, read property descriptions and disclosures, and schedule future visits accordingly.
Enter COVID-19. Due to the proliferation of the virus and the subsequent lockdown, the real estate world had to accommodate new public health requirements.
One of the first things to go was the open house. Even agent showings were constrained, with visitors limited to an agent plus two people and additional requirements for wearing masks and disposable shoe covers and gloves.
Overlapping appointments were not allowed, showings were limited to 15 to 30 minutes, and bottles of hand sanitizer sprung up on kitchen counters everywhere.
Ultimately, technology and ingenuity provided new marketing avenues for agents that included 3-D virtual open houses, Facetime and Duo viewings, videos, property websites and QR codes. Many of these marketing techniques remain, even though traditional open houses are coming back post-lockdown.
But are they really necessary? Certainly not for all types of properties.
I believe the days of using a public open house to procure a buyer are limited. Agent security has become a concern and the desire for in-person viewings during a specific day or time has waned.
On the other hand, Internet marketing and social media have a much wider reach, so much so that some people now feel comfortable buying a home – probably the most expensive item they will ever purchase – without even stepping into it until after closing.
After all, if we can work in sweatpants or pajamas while Zooming corporate meetings, how can naked virtual reality house hunting be far behind?
Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.
D.C. homebuyers face hyper competitive market
Sellers in driver’s seat as region faces record low inventory
With job growth rising during a period of aggressive government spending and historically low mortgage rates, the spring 2021 market sits at the lowest level of inventory since 1983.
Homebuyers in the D.C. area continue to face an incredibly competitive market. This is truly a seller’s market.
Lack of Inventory: Washington, D.C. has been in a gradually worsening housing shortage since the Great Recession. The area hasn’t had a six-month supply of homes for sale for almost 12 years. Now, we add a global pandemic that seriously altered what homeowners want out of their home, Wall Street on fire, and insanely low interest rates and we get a surge in motivated homebuyers.
According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the number of homes nationwide reached a record low in December 2020, with just 1.07 million properties on the market. The DC metro area is even worse off than the national average with only one month’s supply of homes. That means if new listings were completely dried up, there would be no homes available in four weeks. On average, D.C. homes have been selling within 11 days, which is 15 days faster than this time in 2020.
Seller’s Market: The time is now for Washington, D.C. homeowners to seriously consider selling their homes if they have played with the idea. Experts predict 2021 will be another strong housing market with an increase in demand from existing homebuyers in search of larger homes and buyers who delayed purchasing a home due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.
Zillow forecasts a nearly 30 percent annual growth in homes for sale in 2021. This would be the largest home sales growth since 1983. Zillow’s annual report stated, “Home price appreciation will reach its fastest pace since the Great Recession, as the inventory crunch continues to pit buyers against each other, competing for a scarce number of homes for sale.”
D.C.’s Current Market: According to the NAR, in March of 2021, D.C. home prices had increased 4.1% compared to March 2020, for a median price of $635,000. There were 1,004 homes sold in March 2021, an increase from 842 at this time last year.
We are seeing many homes receive multiple offers within just a few days in the D.C. area. The average home is selling a little above 1% of the listing price and many hot homes are seeing large bidding wars and selling for 3% or more above the listing price; 42.7% of D.C. homes sold above list price in March of 2021. That is a 13.4% increase from last year at this time. Active inventory for March of 2021 was 1,457 homes, down 9% from March 2020. March 2021 also saw 991 homes sell in the D.C. area, an increase of 31% from February of 2021. March 2021’s total homes sold had a 19% increase from March 2020.
Buying a Home: In the current seller’s market, buying a home can be like playing a chess match. You need to know the rules and be strategic. It can seem more like winning than purchasing a home right now. If you find a home you want to buy, chances are you won’t be the only one making an offer. It is a seller’s market everywhere in the country right now and D.C. is no different. Be sure you know what you qualify for and what you can afford.
Conclusion: The NAR and the Mortgage Bankers Association both project prices of existing homes to increase 5.9% in 2021. This may mean buyers will have to be more flexible than in the past. For example, making an offer contingent upon the sale of a current home may be harder than before. It’s also possible you will pay more than the list price. The D.C. real estate market is on fire and many homes are off the market within 24 hours of listing. For sellers, if you have been thinking of selling your home there is no better time than the present.
Khalil El-Ghoul is Principal Broker for Glass House Real Estate. Reach him at [email protected] or 571-235-4821. Glass House Real Estate is a modern, more affordable way to buy and sell a home in the D.C. Metro area. Learn more about what makes us different at glassshousere.com.
Still the hottest vehicles in dealer showrooms
Crossovers keep wending their way into our driveways—and our hearts. After overtaking sedans, station wagons and minivans as the hottest vehicles in dealer showrooms, crossovers are now taking aim at the most quintessential of American rides: the muscle car. With naughty looks and hepped-up engines, the two dynamite crossovers below are sure to blow your mind—and just maybe your budget.
DODGE DURANGO SRT HELLCAT
Mpg: 12 city/17 highway
0 to 60 mph: 3.5 seconds
For more than 20 years, the Dodge Durango has been a solid if nondescript family hauler. But this year the automaker jazzed up its midsize crossover with brawnier styling and the latest tech toys. And for the first time, Dodge is offering a limited-edition Durango SRT Hellcat—a high-test model with the same hellacious Hemi V8 engine in the Challenger super coupe and Charger sport sedan. With 710 horsepower, this blazingly fast crossover can kick some serious ass, outrunning many a Ferrari and Lamborghini.
The upgraded suspension provides more dynamic handling and cornering, as well as selectable steering for better grip. For straight-line acceleration and to prevent nasty fish-tailing, I simply flipped the “launch control” toggle switch. The massive Brembo brakes also were stellar, with stop-on-a-dime performance and flaming red calipers on each wheel. Another plus: the iconic Hellcat exhaust rumble could be heard blocks away—music to the ears of any auto aficionado. As with all Durangos, this bruiser has best-in-class towing capacity of 8,700 pounds.
Inside, there’s plenty of space, including more room than expected for third-row passengers. The steering wheel, dash, and trim accents now have trendy Euro styling, though it’s more VW than upscale Audi. And you can opt for flashy seatbelts and premium seats in a color Dodge calls Demonic Red, along with black velour floor mats and a soft-touch headliner. Other features include heated/ventilated seats, a large 10.1-inch touchscreen, wireless smartphone integration and the ability to pair two Bluetooth devices at once. Options include a 19-speaker Harman Kardon stereo and rear-seat entertainment with Blue-Ray player. Alas, this is a limited-edition model and all 2,000 of these speed demons quickly sold out months ago. But there’s still hope: Dodge allocated some of the racy Durangos to select dealerships, so you can call around to see if any are still available. And you can always try social media to find a lucky Durango Hellcat owner who just might be willing to sell this rollicking ride, if the price is right.
LAND ROVER DEFENDER X
Mpg: 17 city/22 highway
0 to 60 mph: 5.7 seconds
For decades, both the Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover have been ubiquitous in the United States. Not so the smaller and less ostentatious Defender, often seen as a work-horse vehicle in BritBox reruns or action flicks like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. But last year the Defender returned to these shores after nearly a quarter-century hiatus.
Available in two- or four-door models, both Defenders start around $50,000. My test vehicle was the new top-of-the-line Defender X, which added—yikes!—another $35,000 to the sticker price. The look on these crossovers is boxy chic, which allows for a ginormous amount of headroom, legroom and cargo space. Land Rover also added extra stowage areas and cubby holes, as well as transom windows and a sliding panoramic sunroof to keep things airy. While the cabin may be sparse and full of solid plastics, the walnut trim on the center console and door panels is quite elegant.
Land Rovers have a somewhat infamous reputation for less-than-stellar electronics, but the 10-inch touchscreen was crystal clear and synced up seamlessly with the infotainment system. Tricked out with a jet-black roof, hood, and side cladding, the press vehicle I test drove was painted a haughty Eiger Gray Metallic. It also came with thick all-terrain tires, adding to a slightly menacing vibe. A full-size spare is conveniently mounted on the vertical tailgate, which swings completely open like a refrigerator door for easy access. The Defender X may not be as lightning quick as a Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, but it’s still plenty fast. And this brute can tackle the toughest of terrains, thanks to locking differentials, hill-descent control and a standard air suspension that can raise the chassis 11.5 inches above the ground. Overall, the Defender X can’t quite hide its refined roots as a tony Land Rover. But as with the Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, this burly crossover flexes some serious muscle.
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