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Police, military officials lead Kameny farewell

Mayor, Council members join friends, activists in memorial ceremony

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A gay Air Force sergeant and four gay military veterans in full dress uniform joined gay D.C. Council members David Catania and Jim Graham as pallbearers at a memorial viewing on Thursday honoring the late gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny.

The contingent of pall-bearers, including gay former Army Lt. Dan Choi, carried an American flag draped coffin bearing Kameny’s remains into the main hall of the historic Carnegie Library in downtown Washington, where the viewing was held.

Friends and activists who knew Kameny during his 50 year tenure as one of the nation’s and D.C.’s leading LGBT rights advocates said the ceremony and memorial viewing of his closed coffin was a befitting sendoff for a man they said improved the lives of millions of LGBT Americans.

Members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington opened the ceremony by singing the National Anthem as D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, four D.C. Council members and a contingent of friends and activists stood near the coffin.

Hundreds of activists, community allies, public officials, and D.C. residents who knew Kameny or knew of his work filed past the coffin between 3 p.m. and the start of the ceremony at 6:60 p.m. Among them was John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the highest ranking openly gay appointee in the Obama administration.

Kameny Memorial. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Rev. Elder Troy Perry, founder of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, which caters to mostly LGBT congregations throughout the country, traveled from his home base in Los Angeles to attend the event. Perry, an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights for more than 30, worked with Kameny on national LGBT related projects in the 1970s and 1980s.

Mayor Gray said Kameny’s civil rights work led to a “massive, positive change” in the way LGBT people live their lives both in D.C. and across the nation.

“Frank Kameny is one of the most significant figures in the history of the American gay rights movement,” Gray told the gathering. “It was a poignant coincident that Dr. Kameny passed away on National Coming Out Day because he came out as a proud gay man in an era in which there were virtually no social and legal supports for sexual minorities who chose to live their lives openly in this country.”

Organizers of the ceremony, led by local activists and Kameny friends Charles Francis and Bob Witeck, placed at one end of the coffin a picket sign that Kameny made for a 1962 gay rights protest he organized outside the White House. The sign, still attached to its original wood stick handle, states, “Homosexuals Ask for the Right to the Pursuit of Happiness.”

At the other end of coffin stood a portrait of Kameny painted by local gay artist Don Patron.

Norton, a leader of the black civil rights movement, said Kameny’s acts of “defiance” and “raw, pure undiluted courage” during the decades he fought oppression against LGBT people put him in a place similar to that of black civil rights legend Rosa Parks.

Norton noted that Kameny began his fight for equality and justice for LGBT people shortly after he was fired for being gay from his job as an astronomer with the U.S. government in the late 1950s.

“Frank Kameny no more set out to sacrifice his livelihood when he refused to deny his sexual orientation to federal authorities than Rosa Parks intended to give up her work as a seamstress when she refused to move to the back of the bus,” Norton said. “Rosa Parks got tired of suppressing her full identity and her full dignity. So did Frank Kameny,” said Norton, adding, “There is a special place in our country for people like Frank Kameny. The phrase he coined, ‘Gay is Good,’ is every bit as significant as Black is Beautiful.”

Kameny died in his home Oct. 11 at the age of 86. Organizers of his memorial said a larger community memorial celebration of his life will take place Nov. 15 at a location to be announced.

“He was a great man who made it possible for me to be who I am,” said Rick Wood, a D.C. gay activist who said Kameny helped him organize the city’s first gay youth group 25 years ago.

“When I heard of Frank’s passing I was heartbroken but also grateful for the fearless and brave life that he led,” said Catania. “We’re all better off for having had Frank walk this earth. He changed minds and opened hearts to acceptance and tolerance in Washington and all over the world.”

Graham, who said he got to know Kameny during Graham’s tenure as director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, called Kameny an “extraordinary” figure on the Washington scene for half a century.

“It is not possible to overstate the contribution that has been made by Frank Kameny for human rights, for gay and lesbian people and for everybody because, in point of fact, he was concerned about everybody,” Graham said.

Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance and a friend and colleague of Kameny’s for more than 20 years, read from a chapter Kameny wrote for a book about the early “homophile movement” that was published during Kameny’s early years of activism. Kameny’s message in the book chapter was intended for a gay audience.

“It’s time to open the closet door and let in the fresh air and the sunshine,” Rosendall quoted Kameny as saying. “It is time to doff and discard the secrecy, the disguise and the camouflage. It is time to hold up your heads and to look the world squarely in the eye as the homosexuals that you are, confident of your equality, confident in the knowledge that as objects of prejudice and victims of discrimination, you are right and they are wrong, and confident of the rightness of what you are and the goodness of what you do. It is time to live your homosexuality fully, joyously, openly and proudly, assured that morally, socially, physically, psychologically, emotionally, and in every other way – gay is good.”

Joining the contingent of gay military pallbearers were four members of the D.C. Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, who served as pallbearers at the conclusion of the ceremony. With participants and well wishers lining the steps and plaza outside the Carnegie Library, the GLLU members and two of the gay military veterans carried Kameny’s coffin to a hearse on the street

Kameny’s friends and activist colleagues said they arranged for Kameny’s body to be cremated, based on Kameny’s expressed wishes, shortly after his death on Oct. 11. An urn bearing his ashes had been placed in the coffin for the ceremony.

Witeck said he and others close to Kameny had yet to decide on a burial site or other resting place for the Kameny’s ashes. One place under consideration, Witeck said, is D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery.

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District of Columbia

D.C. Public Schools’ LGBTQ+ program helps ensure students feel safe

More than half of queer students experience bullying, harassment

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According a study from Theirworld of LBGTQ+ Gen-Z youth, students feel unsafe in schools. D.C. Public Schools is trying to combat the problem in the District. 

“Research shows that the way schools and families respond to LGBTQ+ youth can affect their physical health, mental health outcomes, academic outcomes, and their decision-making later in life,” said DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Programming Specialist, Adalphie Johnson. 

DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Program started in 2011 after a 2009 survey from GLSEN revealed that 9 out of 10 queer students reported in-school harassment. 

In response, they have created extensive programming to ensure students feel safe at D.C. Public Schools. In 2015 they created a trans and non-binary policy that included guidance on LGBTQ+ terms, locker room accommodations, gender-neutral dress codes, and more. 

In addition, they host an annual conference for queer and trans DCPS students. 

“The “Leading With Pride” conference increases networking, and builds the leadership capacity of our students and faculty advisers to implement school-level LGBTQ programming,” Johnson said. 

In 2023, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures according to HRC. This year, Theirworld’s survey found that more than half of LGBTQ students experienced bullying and harassment at school.

Johnson said that students feeling safe in school requires creating an environment where all students can thrive. 

“We encourage students to report incidents without fear of retaliation and ensure that reports are taken seriously and investigated promptly,” she said. 

Johnson also pointed out that as a result of discrimination, students are more likely to miss school, which can lead to low grades, along with impairing cognitive responses. So, she said, it is best for schools to respond with action swiftly. 

However, Johnson and the LGBTQ+ programming team acknowledge that not all students come from supportive backgrounds. 

As a part of their trans and gender-nonconforming policy, staff are expected to work closely with students to determine how involved parents are with the transitioning student, before contacting parents. 

Johnson gave parents eight steps to ensure the safety of their child, if they are in the LGBTQ community.  

8 Steps For Parents

1. Educate Yourself. Learn about LGBTQ+ identities, issues, and terminology. Understanding the basics can help you provide better support and avoid misunderstandings.

2. Listen and Communicate. Create an open and non-judgmental space for your child to express themselves. Listen to their experiences and feelings without interrupting or offering unsolicited advice.

3. Advocate for Them. Stand up for your child in situations where they may face discrimination or misunderstanding. Become actively involved in the PTA and other parent groups within the school.

4. Seek Support. Lead or organize programming with/for other parents of LGBTQ+ children can provide  valuable insights and emotional support.

5. Respect Their Privacy. Allow your child to determine their own level of outness at school. Don’t share their identity without their permission.

6. Create a Safe Environment. Inform the school of any homophobic or transphobic remarks or behavior from others.

7. Inform school about their needs. Recognize that each LGBTQ+ person’s experience is unique. Ask your child what they need from you and how you can best support them. Communicate those needs to the school. This would be a great opportunity to develop and share a Safety Plan for the student while at school. 

8. Promote Inclusivity. Encourage, support and inform inclusive policies and practices in your child’s school community. 

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District of Columbia

SMYAL for Summer returns July 25

‘Their hard work, resilience, and identities are valued and celebrated’

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A scene from last year's SMYAL for Summer. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

SMYAL for Summer is back at Franklin Hall on July 25, where the youth services organization will honor the next generation of change makers in the LGBTQ community. 

“In a tumultuous year for policy against LGBTQ+ youth, celebrating the achievements of our scholarship winners sends a powerful message that their hard work, resilience, and identities are valued and celebrated,” said Caro Vordndran, SMYAL’s Development Coordinator. 

At the event, SMYAL, the D.C. queer and trans youth advocacy organization, will honor recipients of its Youth Leadership Award and the Sophie’s Live Out Loud Scholarship. Plus, the event will feature a drag performance from Mia Vanderbilt. 

One of the scholarship recipients, Lion Burney, said that in addition to the scholarship they were most excited for the community they will continue to seek in SMYAL’s safe space. 

“The SMYAL community means a lot to me. From found family to open expression to endless support — I am beyond grateful to be a part of this experience,” Burney said.

This is SMYAL’s 12th annual SMYAL for Summer event and the 40th year of creating community for D.C.’s youth. Given SMYAL’s history, alumni like Nathan Handberg often come back to keep traditions alive. 

Handberg was an awardee in 2019 and served on the selection committee this year. They said they felt great about their continued involvement with SMYAL.

“Being a previous winner really gave me insight that helped with the process of choosing the winners this year and I like that I have the ability to help shape future leaders in our community,” they said. 

Tickets for the event range from $10 for students and $20 for general admission, up to $500 for Platinum Supporters. Tickets for the event will contribute to funding for SMYAL’s year-round youth advocacy programming. The event will run from 6-8 p.m.

“They have housing programs for queer youth… they’ve done queer sex education classes filling in critical gaps that are left by our education curriculum,” Handberg said. “Honestly they do so much more, I could write multiple pages on my experiences with SMYAL and all they do.”

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District of Columbia

Congressional budget amendments target D.C. Office of LGBTQ Affairs, Human Rights Act

U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) introduced proposals

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U.S. Capitol
Two Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced budget amendments that would defund the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and prohibit the city from using its funds to enforce the D.C. Human Rights Act in cases of discrimination against transgender people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced separate amendments this week to the D.C. budget bill that would eliminate funding for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and prohibit the city from using its funds to enforce the D.C. Human Rights Act in cases of discrimination against transgender people. 

The two amendments, along with as many as 10 other amendments introduced by GOP House members targeting the D.C. budget, were expected to come up for a vote in the House Rules Committee, which is now considering the D.C. budget bill, during the week of July 22.

Congressional observers have said the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, as it did last year, was expected to reject most of the House amendments to the D.C. budget bill if they were to pass in the full House.

Under the D.C. Home Rule Act, in which Congress established D.C.’s home rule government consisting of an elected mayor and City Council, Congress retains full authority to approve, change, or reject any laws passed by the city, including its annual budget. 

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) introduced the amendment calling for eliminating funding for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) introduced the amendment calling for ending funding for enforcing the D.C. Human Rights Act regarding discrimination based on gender identity and expression. 

Spokespersons for the two House members couldn’t immediately be reached by the Washington Blade for comment on what prompted them to introduce their amendments. 

Sharon Nichols, a spokesperson for Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said Norton strongly opposes the two amendments and will be urging her House colleagues to oppose them. 

The amendment introduced by Gosar calling for defunding the LGBTQ Affairs Office states “none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act, including titles IV and VII, may be used for the salaries and expenses of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Affairs established under the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs Act of 2006 (Sec. 2-1831 et seq., D.C Official Code.”

The D.C. Council on June 12 gave final approval for D.C.’s fiscal year 2025 budget that includes $1.7 million in funds for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Among those who will lose their salary if the full Congress approves the amendment would be Japer Bowles, the LGBTQ rights advocate who currently serves as director of the LGBTQ Affairs Office. 

The amendment introduced by Mace would prohibit D.C. from using federal or local funds to enforce the part of its municipal regulations that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression, which pertains to trans people. The regulations in question pertain to the D.C. Human Rights Act. 

“It is no surprise to me that Republicans filed two anti-LGBTQ+ amendments to the D.C. appropriations bill,” Norton told the Blade in a statement. “D.C. has some of the strongest non-discrimination initiatives in the country, including regulations protecting individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Norton said.

“The Republican amendment that would prohibit funds from being used to enforce anti-discrimination regulations and the amendment to defund the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs are disgraceful attempts, in themselves, to discriminate against D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community while denying D.C. residents the limited governance over their local affairs to which they are entitled,” Norton told the Blade. “I will do everything in my power to prevent these amendments from being included in the final bill.”

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