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Kameny honored in memorial service on Capitol Hill

Members of Congress join LGBT community in remembering pioneer activist



John Berry

Director of the Office of Personnel Management, John Berry, addresses the attendees at the memorial service for Frank Kameny. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a memorial service on Capitol Hill Tuesday night, three members of Congress, an Obama administration official, and a Yale Law School professor described the late gay rights leader Frank Kameny as a major figure in the U.S. civil rights movement who changed the course of history for LGBT Americans and the nation.

More than 200 people turned out for the service, which was held in the historic caucus room at the Cannon House Office Building across the street from the U.S. Capitol.

“His life cleared the path that I and countless others followed into public service,” said John Berry, the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, who in 2009 became the Obama administration’s highest-level gay appointment.

“His unrelenting and unceasing fight for gay rights enabled other Americans to step out of the closet and into the full light of equality,” Berry told the gathering. “But most importantly, his long battle and eventual triumphs show the miracles that one person wrought upon the world.”

Berry’s sentiment was echoed by gay U.S. Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), and Yale Law School Professor William Eskridge Jr. Each told of how Kameny’s 50-year tenure as the nation’s preeminent gay rights strategist and advocate changed the course of the nation’s history and improved the lives of LGBT people and other Americans.

Rep. Barney Frank

Rep. Barney Frank also made remarks at the service. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gay rights advocate and Kameny friend Charles Francis said he and others who organized the memorial service chose to hold it on Nov. 15 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Kameny’s co-founding of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. Gay historians consider Mattachine of Washington to be D.C’s and the nation’s first homosexual civil rights organization.

Francis noted that Kameny and fellow activist Jack Nichols started the organization in 1961 not long after the Cannon Caucus Room, where Kameny’s memorial service was being held, was the site of the House Un-American Activities Committee’s widely publicized hearings in which communists and homosexuals were said to be a threat to the nation.

Eskridge praised Kameny’s role as a legal strategist and noted that Kameny waged one of the first effective efforts to repeal state sodomy laws, which classified gay sex as a crime. Eskridge and Norton, who called Kameny a civil rights champion, each compared the gay rights leader to American civil rights heroes in the black civil rights movement such as Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall.

Norton said that Kameny’s decision to become the first known gay person to fight his dismissal on grounds of homosexuality from his federal government job as an astronomer in 1957 was similar to Rosa Parks’ refusal to sit in the back of the bus as an act of defiance of the South’s segregation laws.

“He wore that dismissal as a badge of honor,” Norton said. “It is Frank’s lonely act of defiance that sets him apart” at a time when it was unthinkable for gays to stand up for their rights, she said.

Eskridge said Kameny’s work to advance legal rights for LGBT people in the early years of his activism in the 1960s was especially remarkable because he wasn’t a lawyer.

He said that in 1961 Kameny became the first in the U.S. civil rights movement to argue that sexual orientation should be treated the same as race in connection with laws and policies that ban discrimination.

“Those were remarkably good arguments,” said Eskridge. “Today they can get you tenure at a university. But back then they could land you in jail.”

Rep. Frank said Frank Kameny was an inspiration and role model for him at a time when he grappled with how his own status as a gay man would impact his plans to enter the realm of politics and run for public office in Massachusetts.

Frank said one of Kameny’s many accomplishments in the gay rights movement was his self-confidence and aggressive and assertive demeanor in informing the world that his cause was just and right.

“He was certainly the opposite of the stereotype of a gay person as a shrinking violet,” Frank said.

Baldwin said she, too, considered Kameny a role model in her own coming out as a lesbian interested in becoming involved in public affairs and politics.

“My own introduction to Frank came when I was in college,” she said. “I was just coming out. I sought everything I could find to read about our LGBT leaders… And what I learned about Frank Kameny, the Mattachine Society and so many other pioneers made me incredibly proud,” she said.

Attendees of Frank Kameny's memorial

Attendees of Frank Kameny's memorial. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Berry, who delivered the main eulogy for Kameny at the memorial service, said he had the honor as head of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to extend to Kameny a formal apology on behalf of the government for Kameny’s dismissal from government service in 1957.

“The apology closed an important cycle in his life’s work,” said Berry, who noted that it came more than 50 years after Kameny has been credited with initiating and living to see a long list of changes that have improved the lives of LGBT people.

An end to a government ban on granting security clearances to gays, the end of the ban on gays from serving in the military, the elimination of anti-gay sodomy laws, and the removal of the psychiatric profession’s classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder are all actions that Kameny played a key role in bringing about, Berry said.

“We have lost one of the great champions of truth. His life was long and full, his victories many and great. He has left his mark upon the world, and its stewardship falls to us now,” Berry told the gathering.

“The end of Frank’s avenue must not be the end of ours. We must continue on the journey forward. It is up to us to carry on the battles yet un-won, to write history and guard the future and to morn this great soul.”

Among those attending the Kameny memorial service were gay U.S. Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who, along with Norton, Frank, and Baldwin, served as official congressional hosts for the event. Also attending were Gautam Raghavan, associate director of public engagement at the White House, who serves as White House liaison to the LGBT community; White House press spokesperson Shin Inouye; and D.C. Council members David Catania, Jim Graham, and Mary Cheh.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. laurelboy2

    November 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Does this bring to conclusion the Kameny farewell events? I mean, really…

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Monika Nemeth to run for Ward 3 D.C. Council seat

First known trans elected official in city



ANC Rainbow Caucus, Monika Nemeth, gay news, Washington Blade
Monika Nemeth, the first known trans person to win election to public office in D.C., is running for Council.

Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Monika Nemeth, who became the first known transgender person to win election to public office in D.C. when she won her ANC seat in 2018, says she plans to run as a Democrat for the Ward 3 D.C. Council seat currently held by incumbent Democrat Mary Cheh.

Nemeth is a former president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which recently changed its name to the Capital Stonewall Democrats. She currently serves as chair of the ANC Rainbow Caucus, which advocates for LGBTQ issues. She holds the seat for ANC 3F 06, which represents the neighborhoods of North Cleveland Park and Wakefield.

Nemeth’s LinkedIn page says she has worked for more than 25 years in the Information Technology field. She says she currently manages a team of software developers for an IT company.

“Yes, I am planning a run for Ward 3 D.C. Council in 2022,” Nemeth told the Washington Blade. “I will be running as a Democrat, so I plan to be on the Democratic primary ballot,” she said. “I will pursue the public finance option for my campaign.”

When asked what she would do differently from Cheh, who is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights and who is expected to run for re-election, Nemeth said only that she will announce her platform at the time she formally announces her candidacy, which she expects to happen in early September.

Cheh was first elected to the D.C. Council in 2006. She is an attorney and tenured professor of constitutional law at George Washington University Law School.

The Washington City Paper has reported that at least one other candidate is considering running against Cheh for the Ward 3 Council seat – Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority attorney Petar Dimtchev. Dimtchev received the Washington Post endorsement when he ran unsuccessfully against Cheh in 2018 as an independent, according to the City Paper.

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UDC hit with anti-trans discrimination complaint

University accused of misgendering student



Emma Alexandra accuses UDC of misgendering her and outing her to fellow students and faculty. (Photo courtesy Alexandra)

A female transgender student at the University of the District of Columbia on Aug. 2 filed a discrimination complaint against the university on grounds that it is violating the city’s Human Rights Act by continuing to use her legal name on school documents and class enrollment lists unless she obtains a legal name change.

Emma K. Alexandra, 28, a part-time student who was admitted to UDC in April, states in her complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights that she informed UDC officials that she was not ready to immediately undertake a legal name change. She states in her complaint that she has repeatedly asked that her chosen name alone be used on all documents and student lists that can be viewed by fellow students and professors.

She said she understands that her legal name may be needed for legal admissions and academic transcript related documents. But to her dismay, Alexandra told the Washington Blade, UDC officials put in place what they consider a compromise position that identifies her on all public university documents and student class lists by both her legal name and her chosen name.

She said the university began and currently continues to identify her by her male legal name with her preferred name written next to her legal name inside parentheses in this way: Legal First Name (preferred name Emma); Legal last name (preferred name Alexandra).

“This is an egregious solution,” Alexandra told UDC President Ronald Mason Jr. in a July 4 email. “This is the name that appears everywhere now,” she wrote Mason. “Most notable, it’s the name that was displayed to my fellow students and professor during the class I took this summer on Blackboard,” she said, which is an online site like Zoom on which UDC conducts classes.

“This effectively outed me as trans to every other student and my professor,” she told Mason. “I assume the same will continue when I go to campus in the fall and get an ID. My ID will have this name and out me to everyone I show it to,” she wrote. “This is completely unacceptable, disrespectful and dangerous.”

Alexandra said she currently works full time as a Web Application Architect for Bloomberg Industry Group as part of its News Engineering team. She said the company is fully accepting of her using her chosen name without obtaining a legal name change. She said she has enrolled at UDC to take courses she needs to qualify for applying to medical school to fulfill her dream of becoming a psychiatrist.  

Under longstanding procedures, the D.C. Office of Human Rights investigates discrimination complaints and usually calls on both parties to consider reaching a conciliation agreement over the complaint if possible. If conciliation cannot be reached, OHR makes a determination of whether probable cause exists that discrimination occurred in violation of D.C. law.

If such a determination is made, the case is sent to the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, which conducts a trial-like hearing that includes testimony by witnesses before it issues a ruling on the case.

In response to a question from the Blade about whether a refusal by a D.C. university to use a transgender person’s chosen name violates the Human Rights Act, OHR Director Monica Palacio said OHR cannot provide legal advice on such a question. But in a statement to the Blade, Palacio said for educational institutions, the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on 15 protected characteristics, including gender identity and expression.

OHR’s regulations related to educational institutions “prohibit creating a hostile environment which could include deliberately misgendering a student,” Palacio said. “If anyone believes the statute has been violated, they may file a complaint with OHR,” she said. “OHR investigations are confidential.”

Alexandra said she had yet to receive a direct reply to her email message to Mason as of early this week. But last week she was contacted by phone by an official from the university’s admissions office and from Dr. William Latham, UDC’s Chief Student Development and Success Officer on behalf of Mason.

According to Alexandra, the two explained that her legal name was needed on certain legal documents. She said Latham explained that a software system the university uses to manage student records known as the Banner system, doesn’t support preferred names and currently prevents the school from displaying only her preferred name.

The officials said the university planned to upgrade to a newer version of Banner in October and the new system “may” support using preferred names, Alexandra said.

“Overall, I thought this was a really ridiculous conversation where folks from UDC tried to convince me that they are using my preferred name while also stating that they cannot use my preferred name as it should be used, mostly due to limitations of software,” Alexandra told the Blade. “I don’t think the Human Rights Act has an exception for software systems,” she said.

The Blade contacted UDC President Mason by email on July 20, asking him to comment on Alexandra’s concerns and asking him what, if any, problems would be caused if the university used Alexandra’s chosen name rather than her legal name on the various public, external documents and lists in which her legal name is being used.

“In response to your July 20 email, the Office of the Registrar can enter the student’s preferred name in Banner (via all access screen for faculty and staff awareness), however all official documents, such as the academic transcript, will require the use of the student’s official legal name,” Mason told the Blade in a one-sentence response.

His response didn’t address the issue raised by UDC official Latham in his phone conversation with Alexandra in which Latham said the Banner software system couldn’t currently identify Alexandra only by her chosen name. Mason also didn’t respond to the Blade’s question of why UDC could not adopt a policy like the D.C. Public Schools system, which accepts a request by transgender students to use their chosen name without having to obtain a legal name change.

Alexandra, meanwhile, points out that UDC’s refusal so far to allow her chosen name alone to be used on all public university documents and student lists without her legal name being attached to it appears to be at odds with a May 4 open letter Mason released to the university community expressing strong support for using the appropriate pronouns for transgender and gender non-conforming students.

“The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) strives to be an inclusive campus that supports and values all members of our community, including LGBTQIA+, nonbinary, intersex and gender non-conforming students,” Mason says in his letter.

“Choosing to not use or ignore the pronouns someone has requested you to use implies that person shouldn’t and doesn’t exist and does not deserve respect,” Mason wrote in his letter. “Therefore, we encourage all faculty and staff to use pronouns in their email signatures as an act of solidarity and to foster a culture of respect for every Firebird,” he concludes in referring to the symbolic name used for members of the UDC community.

UDC is governed by a 15-member independent Board of Trustees. Eleven of the members are appointed by the D.C. mayor and confirmed by the D.C. Council. Three are appointed by UDC alumni and one by students, according to information on the UDC website.

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LULAC Lambda announces 2021 scholarship awards

Castro, Javier Rodriguez win $1,000 honors



Brian Castro and Victor Javier Rodriguez are this year’s LULAC award winners.

The D.C.-based LGBTQ Latinx organization LULAC Lambda has announced it has selected two D.C. residents bound for graduate studies in foreign affairs and higher education to receive its 2021 annual scholarship award.

“For a fourth year in a row, LULAC Lambda will provide scholarships to outstanding scholars who come from our LGBTQ+ Latinx community,” said Erik Rodriquez, the LULAC Lambda president, in a statement released by the group. “Our scholarship program will help these scholars achieve their academic goals and reduce their student debt,” Rodriquez said.

The statement says one of the two scholarship awards, for $1,000, will go to Brian Castro, who will begin studies for a master’s degree in the fall of 2021 at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

“The generous scholarship provided by LULAC Lambda will complement my studies by going directly into my tuition costs,” Castro said in the statement. “Though I have been a resident of Washington, D.C., working full-time at a leading public health consulting firm, I am grateful to have received the support from an organization that is also committed to social justice,” he said.

The other scholarship, for $1,300, will go to Victor Javier Rodriguez for his doctoral work in education at Florida State University. The LULAC Lambda statement says Javier Rodriquez’s academic interest lies in “exploring the relationship between school communities and districts’ implementation of anti-racist practice and student success.”

In his own words, Javier Rodriquez said, “A long-term career goal of mine is to affect change at the federal level through the United States Department of Education, in which I would work to address our nation’s education crisis by advocating for equitable policies and practices that improve the outcome for all our students, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

LULAC Lambda says it was founded in October 2014 “to mobilize and strengthen the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities of Washington, D.C. through community and civic engagement.” It is one of 1,000 chapters across the country affiliated with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s largest and oldest Latinx volunteer-based civil rights organization, the group’s statement says.

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