October 20, 2011 at 4:02 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Kameny ‘farewell viewing’ set for Nov. 3
Frank Kameny

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 courtesy of Charles Francis)

An American flag draped coffin bearing the remains of gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny will be placed in the main floor atrium of the historic Carnegie Library Building in downtown Washington on Nov. 3 for public viewing, a committee of Kameny’s friends and colleagues announced on Thursday.

“This farewell viewing will be held on behalf of the late Dr. Kameny, and it is intended to invite all grieving friends and neighbors to remember and honor his life and his legacy,” according to a statement released by the Franklin E. Kameny Host Committee.

“It is not intended to be a formal memorial service or a funeral ceremony,” the statement says. “The plans for a public memorial service at a later date are under consideration and will be announced in the days to come, as well as future plans for his burial. Those details are not yet decided but will be made known.”

Kameny died in his home on Oct. 11 at the age of 86. He has been credited with playing a lead role in the LGBT civil rights movement over a 50-year period. The Kameny Papers Project, one of the groups assisting in Nov. 3 farewell viewing, arranged in 2006 for more than 50,000 of his papers and documents to be donated to the Library of Congress and made available to researchers studying the history of the LGBT rights movement.

In a related development, the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History announced this week that it has made available on display three additional artifacts from the Kameny papers collection that Kameny donated to the Smithsonian. Among the items the museum has already displayed is a picket sign Kameny used during the 1965 protest for gay rights in front of the White House, which Kameny and his colleagues with the Mattachine Society of Washington organized.

“Three of the most resonant picket signs are now on display in Flag Hall, just off the entrance from the National Mall and near the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the National Anthem, and the Civil Rights era Woolworth Lunch counter,” said Smithsonian spokesperson Valeska Hilbig.

“The Kameny collection is part of the museum’s longstanding commitment to preserve the history of American democracy and the struggles for individual and civil rights in the United States,” Hilbig said.

The committee announcing the Nov. 3 farewell viewing for Kameny at the Carnegie Library said in its statement, “This will not be a formal program or a funeral service conducted during this viewing period. However, informal remarks by civic leaders and choral presentations may be made during the 5 hours set aside for viewing (details to come).”

Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications, a longtime Kameny friend and one of the organizers of the farewell viewing, said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and members of the D.C. City Council took steps to make the Carnegie Library available for the viewing. He said Gray is expected to speak at the viewing.

Witeck said Kameny’s flag draped coffin will mark his service as a combat veteran who served in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II as well as his years of advocacy for ending the U.S. policy of banning gays and lesbians from serving in the military.

Organizers of the viewing are in the process of arranging for a military honor guard to stand near the coffin, with the possibility of gay or lesbian service members taking on that task, Witeck said.

Witeck said that in keeping with his wishes, Kameny’s body will be cremated before the viewing, with the ashes placed in the coffin.

The farewell viewing is scheduled to take place Nov. 3 between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. The Carnegie Library is located at Mt. Vernon Square, with the main entrance on K Street, N.W., between 7th and 9th Streets, N.W.

Organizers of the Kameny viewing also offered advice to well wishers considering making a contribution to a cause in Kameny’s honor in lieu of flowers.

“Many have asked whether Dr. Kameny expressed his wishes for donations in his memory to any worthy causes,” organizers said in their statement of Oct. 19. “To the best of our knowledge, he did not do so – however, in his life, he founded and supported many important LGBT and human rights causes including such organizations as the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, and Helping Our Brothers and Sisters,” the statement says

“He was also a champion for statehood for Washington, D.C. among other priorities. In that light, your personal contribution, in his memory, to any cause aligned with Dr. Kameny’s principles and lifelong battle for equality and justice would be very meaningful. In lieu of flowers or other floral tributes, we again suggest that contributions be made to a civil rights cause or nonprofit organization of your choice, consistent with Dr. Kameny’s values,” the statement says.

The host committee organizing the farewell viewing consists of officials with the Kameny Papers Project, Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, Helping Our Brothers and Sisters, and Rainbow History Project, the statement says.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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