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Kameny’s storybook ending

Vindication after decades of struggle

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Frank Kameny (center) at the Library of Congress’ ‘Creating the United States’ exhibit looking at his 1961 Supreme Court brief flanked by historian John Haynes (left) and Charles Francis. (Photo by Charles Francis)

The freight elevator opened with a shudder. It sounded like a death rattle. Gloved attendants pushed the sheet-covered gurney down a long corridor, stopping at the doors to a vault. The doors opened onto a room of drawers and lockers surrounding a platform —like a morgue.

We gathered and held our breath as the attendants rolled back the shroud. Where one might expect a pair of legs were wooden sticks. Nicked and numbered, the sticks were not attached to a corpse but a neat pile of well-aged picket signs, hand-lettered, “First Class Citizenship for Homosexuals.” Frank Kameny stood silent, at near attention. And this man was rarely silent. The pickets, carried in 1965, were delivered at that moment in 2006 from his attic to the nation’s — the vault of the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution.

The pickets were placed on the platform. The Smithsonian curator laid them alongside the writing table where Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence; the inkwell used by Lincoln when signing the Emancipation Proclamation; and the pin worn by Alice Paul who went to jail picketing the White House for women’s suffrage. “Frank, this is where the pickets fit into American history,” the Smithsonian curator said.

Last week, Washington, D.C.’s gay community lost a warrior-general and a good friend, Franklin E. Kameny. Even more, America lost a man who helped create the United States. Yes, create the United States. For the past six months, Kameny’s 1961 petition to the Supreme Court has been on display at the Library of Congress in its exhibition: “Creating the United States,” chronicling how citizens have steadily expanded American liberty under the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Like the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress placed Kameny’s papers among the great stories of abolition, women’s suffrage and civil rights. He was the first to consistently anchor the gay and lesbian fight for civil equality — not in angst, alienation or radical ideology, but in the words of Thomas Jefferson and the Constitution, itself.

Kameny’s petition to overturn his firing by the federal government in 1957 for being homosexual, was denied, but it began a revolution in culture and law. After Kameny, no longer would gay and lesbian Americans, in isolation, supinely accept second-class status. “We are throwing down the gauntlet!” he declared.

Kameny’s petition to the Supreme Court became a faintly remembered footnote until rediscovered and re-interpreted for our time. Kameny wrote: “In World War II, petitioner did not hesitate to fight the Germans, with bullets, in order to help preserve his rights and freedoms and liberties, and those of others. In 1960, it is ironically necessary that he fight the Americans, with words, in order to preserve, against a tyrannical government, some of those same rights, freedoms and liberties, for himself and others.”

Today, Paul Smith, the Supreme Court attorney in Washington, D.C., who represented Lawrence, in the case Lawrence v. Texas, 2003 (and won) wrote, “It is astounding to see Kameny, in 1960, making the same arguments that have now caused the invalidation of sodomy laws, the protection of LGBT civil servants from discrimination, and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Kameny yells up the attic ladder: “Hey, I’m coming up now. I’m coming up!” Well into his 80s, he climbed into the attic to join me in a dusty netherworld of political papers. Boxes by the score overflow with single-spaced, multi-page typewritten letters and carbons, newsletters, transcripts, umpteen boxes of Washington Blades, every gay publication from “Drum” to “One” and two black typewriters that looked like anvils. “News Release: Homosexuals to Picket White House,” “Homosexuals to Picket Pentagon,” “Homosexuals to Picket State Department.” In a far corner, lay the pickets, one proclaiming “Homosexuals Ask for the Right to the Pursuit of Happiness.” The man saved everything. He never moved. He never discarded. He never denied gay history.  Today, some 70,000 items gleaned from this attic are organized for appreciation and research at The Library of Congress. Go there.

Kameny hated how LGBT history was so often deleted. Tom Brokaw felt the force of Kameny’s ire with the publication of his pop-history, “Boom! Voices of the Sixties” (Random House, 2007). Brokaw somehow neglected to mention the Stonewall riots or any reference whatever to gay and lesbian Americans and the impact they, too, had on the decade. Kameny wrote, “Mr. Brokaw, you have de-gayed the entire decade!”

Speaking for his comrades, Kameny wrote, “Mr. Brokaw, [in your book] you deal with the histories of countless individuals. Where are the gays of that era: Barbara Gittings; Jack Nichols; Harry Hay; Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon; Randolfe Wicker; Harvey Milk; and numerous others?” Kameny continued, “Mr. Brokaw, the whole thing is deeply insulting. You have de-gayed an entire generation. … Gay is Good. You are not. Sincerely, Frank Kameny.”

Unpack Frank’s trademark blast, and you can hear the voice of a leader fiercely committed to those who came before him like Harry Hay, colleagues and friends like Nichols, Martin, Wicker and Gittings; an LGBT community that had suffered so; and his place in history, too.

Everywhere Frank appeared in the last months of his life, he happily reminded people — whether at the Library or his last HRC dinner or as an honoree at the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community — his life did have “a storybook ending.”

“They mulled over my appeal for 52 years! Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry issued a formal apology on behalf of the government. Things have come full circle.”

“Oh, if only John Macy (Berry’s predecessor and Frank’s arch foe so many years ago) were alive to see this,” he cackled.

Charles Francis is founder of the Kameny Papers Project.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Rick Rosendall

    October 20, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    Wonderful. Thanks so much, Charles.

  2. laurelboy2

    October 20, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Everyone can open his or her own door by exercising good judgment regarding his/her actions and behaviors. As such, everyone can be his/her own trailblazer. While Kameny may have taken his actions public, no one really needed him to do their work for them.

  3. Marvin Carter

    October 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Excellent article, Charles.

  4. Kris McLaughlin

    October 20, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Kris

  5. Deacon Maccubbin

    October 21, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Thank you for that touching and inspiring reminiscence, and for the crucial role you played in preserving Dr. Kameny’s papers and our history.

    • Charles Francis

      October 22, 2011 at 12:36 am

      thank you, Deacon. Frank so loved dropping by Lambda on Fridays!

  6. Mike Silverstein

    October 21, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Among the happiest moments in Frank’s storybook ending were the last two Capital Pride parades, when he rode as a guest of honor. Time and time again, young people – some sixty years younger than Frank – came up to the convertible to shake his hand and thank him for all he had done for them. Someone put a rainbow colored lei around him, and he sat atop the backseat of the convertible as thousands yelled his name and he waved back and threw candy at the crowd. And when those parades were over, there was a sense of peace and joy around him.

    And thank you, Marvin Carter, for all that you have done – and are still doing – for this great man.

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Opinion | Lovitz for Pennsylvania state representative

Accomplished gay candidate is longtime equality advocate

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Jonathan Lovitz, gay news, Washington Blade
Jonathan Lovitz (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It’s an embarrassment of riches for residents of center city Philadelphia, which includes the “gayborhood,” as they prepare to vote for their next state representative. 

The post has been held by Rep. Brian Sims, who’s gay, since 2013. Sims is giving up the seat to run for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor. More on that later.

Two out LGBTQ candidates are among those competing in the 182nd District’s Democratic primary to replace Sims — Jonathan Lovitz and Deja Alvarez. Lovitz, who’s gay, has served as senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce for five years. If elected, it would be the first time a seat held by an LGBTQ state representative transitioned to another LGBTQ official and he would be the first LGBTQ Jewish elected official in Pennsylvania.

Alvarez, who’s transgender, is director of community engagement at World Healthcare Infrastructures and serves as chair of the Philadelphia Police LGBT Liaison Committee. She would become the first out trans person to serve in the Pennsylvania Legislature if elected.

Both are excellent candidates who would make their own bit of history if elected, but Lovitz stands out as the strongest choice to replace Sims in the legislature, a change that local residents desperately need.

To paraphrase Oprah in her famous endorsement of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton: Just because I am for Lovitz, doesn’t mean I am against Alvarez. I am acquainted with Lovitz and know him to be an ethical, smart, hard-working professional who is deeply dedicated to his work and to the residents of Philadelphia. He would make a fearless and tireless advocate for Philly and for equality issues in Harrisburg.

At NGLCC, Lovitz has helped write and pass more than 25 state and local laws, including in Pennsylvania, extending economic opportunity to LGBTQ-owned businesses around the country. As the country struggles to emerge from pandemic restrictions, we need more legislators at all levels of government who understand the importance of small business. Lovitz has the experience in business and in his work on equality issues to deliver tangible results for Philadelphia. 

Contrast his record with that of Sims and it’s a no-brainer that the people of the 182nd District have nowhere to go but up. Sims has sponsored or introduced scores of bills in the past year, but only one has been enacted, according to BillTrack50. Sims has been criticized in the district for his endless media tour and social media self-promotion. He is more interested in thirst-trap selfies than in constituent service. He lacks the professionalism and temperament for elected office, favoring profane outbursts and juvenile insults over diplomatic compromise and legislative achievement. As Christopher Pinto wrote in the Philadelphia Gay News, “Almost a decade in the State House, and he has no legislative victories that he can claim as his own. He spent more time out of the district than inside it, flying from one speaking engagement to the next, while abusing his state issued travel budget and being shrouded in a lengthy ethics investigation.”

Lovitz will not succumb to such vanities. He is a grounded professional who understands how to craft legislation and, more importantly, how to get it passed. He won’t alienate colleagues as Sims has done. 

On equality issues, Lovitz has worked on behalf of marginalized communities at NGLCC and last year he organized PhillyVoting.org, which works to boost turnout among Black and LGBTQ voters. 

“The ongoing violence against our communities, especially against our trans siblings, is a stunning reminder that our work together continues,” Lovitz wrote in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Gay News. “Once again the movement for long-overdue social change in America is being led by communities of color, especially right here in Philly,” he wrote. “And the LGBTQ community must continue to stand in solidarity with them.”

Lovitz understands the moment. He has a passion for business and for helping entrepreneurs to succeed, something cities desperately need after more than 200,000 small businesses have shuttered due to COVID, according to the Wall Street Journal; more than 1,000 Philly businesses closed in just the first five months of the pandemic, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Voters, donors, and our national advocacy organizations should support his bold campaign and help retain an out LGBTQ voice in Harrisburg while improving constituent service for residents of the district. 

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

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Opinion | LGBTQ Virginians advocate D.C. statehood

The right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society

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My hometown will always be Washington, D.C. It’s the place where I was born and spent all of the first seven days of my life. As a lifelong Virginian however, where I live and attended schools, I straddle two communities important to me. 

As a business owner of 30 years in Washington, D.C., I pay many of my taxes and payroll taxes to the Nation’s Capital while I also pay income tax to Virginia where I’m a citizen.

Most important of all, as a gay Virginia voter, I can think of few lifelong political goals more important to me than achieving statehood for Washington, D.C. One of the compelling reasons I still make my home in Virginia and cross the Potomac River every day of my life, is because of my right as a Virginian to vote for two U.S. senators and for a member of the House of Representatives with the power to vote in Congress.

(It is still shocking to know that, with Washington, D.C. statehood still beyond grasp, the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton who represents D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives, has never yet had the authority to vote on the floor of the House.)

At an early age, I was dumbfounded to know that D.C. then did not even have a local government. We lacked an elected mayor and city council, with almost all decisions for the District of Columbia made by the federal government. Yet today, even with a mayor and local government in place, it is breathtaking to know that my friends, neighbors and co-workers still have zero voice in the Capitol and no one to vote for them – and for us – in Congress.

Consider that one of the world’s most diverse and educated cities has so often been bullied by extreme conservative leaders on Capitol Hill who – whenever possible – turn back the clock for D.C. citizens on voting rights, abortion rights, gun measures and our civil rights including LGBTQ equality. Not a single voter in D.C. has much, if any, say over any of those decisions.

The absence of statehood and the lack of real voting rights means that the unforgivable strains of racism and homophobia often held sway not just for Washington D.C., but in denying the United States a true progressive majority on Capitol Hill too. 

Virginians get it. In the past decade, we’ve worked very hard in every county and city in the commonwealth to turn our regressive political past into a bright blue political majority. We have elected LGBTQ candidates to state and local offices in unprecedented numbers. Our vote is our power.

More significantly, through the work of Equality Virginia and its many allies, we are repealing scores of anti-LGBTQ measures and reforming our statutes and constitution to secure equal rights as LGBTQ voters, adoptive parents, married couples, students, and citizens. Doesn’t Washington, D.C. deserve that future?

Virginia needs more states – like D.C. – to join forces and represent all Americans. To achieve this, and to defeat or neuter the anti-democratic Senate filibuster rule, we need our friends, allies and neighbors, the citizens of Washington, D.C. to share in our democratic ambitions.

Long ago, Washington, D.C. resident, abolitionist and civil rights leader, Frederick Douglass declared that “the District is the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people, and by the people. Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes, just like residents of Nevada, California or any other state. Washington, D.C. residents have fought and died in every American war just like residents of Ohio, Kentucky or any other state. The District deserves statehood and Congress should act to grant it.” 

Speaking for LGBTQ Virginians, we agree. Conferring statehood is not a gift nor a blessing from the rest of us, but instead, it is the absolute right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society. As LGBTQ Americans, if we are to pass the Equality Act and other fundamental civil rights measures, we need the State of Washington, D.C. and its voters by our side.

Bob Witeck is a longtime LGBTQ civil rights advocate, entrepreneur, and Virginian, with long roots and longstanding ties to D.C.

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Opinion | Representation matters: The gayest Olympics yet

From one out athlete to more than 160 in just 33 years

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OK, I really want a Tom Daley cardigan. The now gold-medal Olympian told Britain’s The Guardian that he took up crocheting during the pandemic. He even has an Instagram page dedicated to his knit creations, MadeWithLoveByTomDaley. It’s all very adorable; it’s all very Tom Daley. 

All that aside, you’d have to be practically heartless to not feel something when Tom Daley and his diving partner Matty Lee won the gold on Monday in the men’s synchronized 10-meter diving competition, placing just 1.23 points ahead of the Chinese. And then seeing him with tears in his eyes on the podium as “God Save the Queen” played. Later that week, he knitted a little bag featuring the Union Jack to hold and protect his medal. So very wholesome

Daley is certainly one of the highest profile LGBTQ athletes in these games. Besides the diver, the 2020 Summer Olympics, now in 2021 because of the pandemic, are hosting more than 160 out athletes. A record to be sure, but calling it a record does it somewhat of an injustice. The United States sent the first out athlete to the 1988 Summer Olympics, Robert Dover an equestrian rider competing in dressage. Dover remained the only out (sharing the title once in 1996 with Australian diver Craig Rogerson) for 10 years. Then, during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the number of out athletes jumped to 15. London’s 2012 Olympics saw the number increase to 23. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro saw the number jump to 68 out athletes. And now we’re at over 160. 

So you get the trend building here. From one out athlete to more than 160. So very far, so very fast. And competing in everything from handball to sailing to golf to skateboarding. Also, noteworthy, New Zealand sent the first trans athlete, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. These are but numbers and names, but to be sure, this sort of representation, this sort of visibility, is hugely important. Not just for athletes coming up behind them, but let’s think too of those out there, not yet even out, maybe watching in their parents’ living room. Seeing Tom Daley thank his husband, mention their son, this sort of queer normality being broadcast as if it is both groundbreaking and at the same time nothing at all — the importance of this cannot be overstated. 

On top of that, growing up gay, how many times were we all told, whether outright or simply implied, that sports were more or less off limits to us. Meant to display the peaks of gender and ability, sports were not meant for those who couldn’t fit neatly into that narrative. But it appears that that narrative is slowly becoming undone. Just look beyond the Olympics, to the wider world of sports. Earlier this summer, pro-football’s Carl Nassib came out.   

And maybe I’m just of a generation that marvels at the destruction of each and every boundary as they come down. We had so very little as far as representation back then. Now to see it all, and in so many different sports, you can’t help but to wonder what the future will hold for us; and it really delights the imagination, doesn’t it? 

It is the gayest Olympics yet. And if the trend laid out above continues, it will only get gayer as the years go on. And if it’s a barometer for anything, I think we will see a lot of things getting a bit gayer from now on.

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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