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Kameny ‘farewell viewing’ set for Nov. 3

Carnegie Library to welcome ‘all grieving friends and neighbors’

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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.

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District of Columbia

D.C. house with rainbow Pride flag set on fire

Investigators seeking help from public in search for suspect

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A Pride flag remained displayed at the house in Shaw this past Sunday, one week after the fire in the rear of the house which fire officials have listed as arson. (Washington Blade photos by Lou Chibbaro Jr.)

The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department has classified as arson a June 19 fire at a two-story row house on the 1800 block of 8th Street, N.W. in the city’s Shaw neighborhood that had an LGBTQ rainbow Pride flag prominently displayed on the front of the house.

A Fire & EMS Department spokesperson said the fire was ignited in a detached wooden garage in the rear of the house accessible only through an alley, and fire investigators have yet to identify a suspect or a motive for what evidence shows was an intentionally set fire.

Although the front of the brick rowhouse where the Pride flag was displayed was not damaged, the fire in the garage spread to the rear of the house, destroying a wooden outdoor deck, and caused extensive damage to the kitchen, bathroom, and second floor bedroom. Fire investigators have sealed the house, requiring its three occupants to find a temporary residence as the investigation continues.

One of the three occupants of the house, who was the only one at home when the fire started at about 2 a.m., escaped without injury, according to sources who know the occupants.

“The Pride flag on the front of the house was present at the time of the fire,” Jennifer Donelan, director of communications for the Fire & EMS Department, told the Washington Blade. “We do not have any information, at this time, that suggests the arson was related to the presence of the flag, however we are still working on the case,” she said.

“We are aggressively working to identify a suspect and a motive,” Donelan said. “Until such time, we won’t be able to make a determination as to whether or not this was a hate crime.”

She said the Fire & EMS Department is seeking help from the public in its effort to identify one or more suspects responsible for the fire. Anyone with information that could be helpful to the investigation is asked to call fire investigators at 202-673-2776.

The fire at the D.C. house with the Pride flag took place less than a week after Baltimore police said a house in that city’s Waverly neighborhood on which “Pride décor” was displayed was set on fire on June 15, causing extensive damage to the house and nearby houses.

Baltimore police and fire department officials said a Pride flag on a house across the street from the house set on fire was also ablaze when firefighters arrived on the scene. Two men were hospitalized in critical condition and a woman was listed in serious condition because of the fire ignited in the house.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott released a statement saying fire department officials had yet to determine a motive for the fire.

“At this point, we cannot confirm that this was a hate crime,” Scott said. “However, my agencies will bring every appropriate resource to bear to get to the bottom of this tragic event,” he said. “I continue to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. officials vow to fight any GOP effort to ban abortion in nation’s capital

Without statehood, District vulnerable to congressional interference

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D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton vowed to fight to protect abortion access in the city. (Blade file photo by Drew Brown)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, and six members of the D.C. Council said they were united in fighting an attempt by Congress to ban abortions in the nation’s capital following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

At a press conference on the day the Supreme Court handed down its controversial decision, the D.C. officials pointed out that unlike any of the states, D.C. is vulnerable to the authority Congress has over the city under its limited Home Rule Charter, including the authority by Congress to pass a law to ban abortions in the city.

The press conference was held at the headquarters in Northeast D.C. of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., whose leaders said they would continue to provide abortion services in the District at the present time.

At this time, “Nothing has changed in Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said at the press conference. “Abortion remains legal, and women and girls we know, however, are worried,” the mayor said. “We are worried because we know we are vulnerable as a jurisdiction because of our lack of statehood.”

Norton told news media representatives and others attending the press conference that she expects at least some congressional Republicans to introduce legislation to ban abortions in D.C. now that the Supreme Court has given them the authority to do that.

“We are subservient still to the House and Senate,” she said. “I’m calling on the Congress to immediately codify the right to an abortion in federal law,” Norton said. “That is the very least the District needs to save this city from what will surely be an attempt by Republicans in Congress to move first on the District of Columbia to make sure that abortions are not available for women in our city.”

Norton added, “We always have more work cut out for us than other jurisdictions. But I assure you I am up to the task. There is a lot to fight for here, and I’m ready for that fight.”

Norton and Bowser also pointed out that Congress over a decade ago added a permanent provision to D.C.’s annual budget that prohibits the city from using any of its funds to pay for abortions either directly or through the funding of private organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide abortion related services.

With the prospect that Republicans might regain control of the House or Senate or both in the November congressional elections, D.C. officials said they were especially concerned about an attempt to ban or greatly restrict abortions in the city.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said he was hopeful that such an attempt would be blocked by a Democratic-led filibuster in the Senate as well as by a presidential veto if President Biden or another Democrat continues to occupy the White House.

Bowser, Mendelson, and D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) also pointed out that the legal reasoning used by the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, especially the rationale given by Justice Clarence Thomas, could be used in future cases to overturn previous court rulings establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage and the right to intimate sexual acts between same-sex couples.

“We are about to enter into decades of darkness with this court that we have,” Cheh said at the press conference. “And don’t be fooled. We’re told, OK, it’s just abortion,” she said. “Don’t you believe it. The very reasoning of the case – and I spend a lot of time teaching constitutional law – means that many other liberties will be in jeopardy.”

LGBTQ rights advocates have pointed to the concurring opinion handed down by Justice Thomas on the day the court overturned Roe v. Wade that specifically calls on the high court to “reconsider” the 2003 ruling of Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned state laws banning sodomy between consenting adults, both gay and straight. Thomas’s concurring opinion also called for reconsidering the high court’s 2015 Obergefell ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Others speaking at the June 24 press conference included Laura Meyers, president of Planned Parenthood of the D.C. area, and D.C. Council members Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large), Christina Henderson (I-At-Large), and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2). 

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Virginia

Va. delegate comes out as bisexual

Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler spoke at Hampton Roads Pride

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(Public domain photo)

Virginia state Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach) came out as bisexual on June 25 during an appearance at Hampton Roads Pride in Norfolk.

“I’m bisexual,” the Virginia Beach Democrat told Pride attendees. “I just never felt like I could say that out loud.”

Convirs-Fowler has represented Virginia’s 21st House District since 2018.

State Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County) is gay and state Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) is a lesbian. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) in 2018 became the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the U.S.

“For those who don’t know, Del. @FowlerforVA and I are both part of the Class of 2017 #RedToBlue legislators who flipped seats that Nov. 7,” tweeted Roem on Monday. “We’ve both earned re-election twice since then and I couldn’t be more proudof her declaration of Pride =).”

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