October 21, 2011 at 3:41 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
White House mum on Kameny’s death

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday he didn’t have an immediate reaction to the passing of gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny — although he said he was aware of the activist’s death.

Asked by the Washington Blade for a response to the pioneering activist’s death last week, Carney replied, “I’ll have to take that. … I know that he passed away, but I don’t have a comment on that.”

The Blade has been seeking comment from the White House on Kameny’s passing since his death last week. However, the White House hasn’t responded to the inquiries.

Asked why a White House statement on Kameny wasn’t issued upon his death, Carney replied, “I don’t know, so I’ll have to take the question.”

Carney similarly dodged when asked if President Obama would be open to attending a public viewing for Kameny on Nov. 3. The “farewell viewing” is scheduled to take place at the Carnegie Library and civic leaders are expected to speak.

Asked if Obama would be open to attending the service, Carney replied, “I’m not his scheduler.”

The White House’s silence on Kameny’s death raises questions because Obama is familiar with the activist’s work and included him at events where the administration has advanced LGBT causes.

In 2009, Kameny appeared in a photo-op and on camera with Obama when he signed a memorandum to extend benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. In December, Kameny was invited and present during the signing of legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

In 2009, Obama noted Kameny’s presence at the White House reception commemorating June as Pride month and called Kameny a “civil rights pioneer.”

“Frank was fired from his job as an astronomer for the federal government simply because he was gay,” Obama said. “And in 1965, he led a protest outside the White House, which was at the time both an act of conscience but also an act of extraordinary courage. And so we are proud of you, Frank, and we are grateful to you for your leadership.”

Upon Kameny’s death last week, John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, issued a statement, and subsequently wrote an op-ed for the Blade in tribute to Kameny. But no statement has come directly from the White House.

“Dr. Frank Kameny was an American hero who transformed our nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” Berry said. “His courage, his brilliance, his force of will led to victory in a decades-long fight for equality. He helped make it possible for countless of patriotic Americans to hold security clearances and high government positions, including me. And in so doing, he showed everyone what was possible for every employer in our country.”

It isn’t unusual for the White House or President Obama to comment on news events relevant to the LGBT community.

When certification of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal happened in July, President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen each issued statements observing the importance of the event.

A transcript of the exchange between the Blade and Carney follows:

Washington Blade: Jay, last week, gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny died at the age 86. After being fired from his government job in the 1950s for being gay, he became a leader in the gay rights movement before the Stonewall riots of 1969 and many years afterwards. What reaction does the White House have to his passing?

Jay Carney: I’ll have to take that. I’m not aware of — I mean, I know that he passed away, but I don’t have a comment on that.

Blade: Can you tell me why the White House didn’t put out a statement last week upon his death?

Carney: I don’t know, so I’ll have to take the question.

Blade: Just one last question, there’s going to be a public viewing of Kameny on Nov. 3 at the Smithsonian and civic leaders are to expected to speak. Would the president be open to attending this ceremony?

Carney: I’m not his scheduler.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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