One year after gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny’s death in his Washington home at the age of 86, LGBT advocates said they would remember his legacy as they celebrate National Coming Out Day this week.
Kameny died of natural causes on Oct. 11, 2011, the day LGBT advocates have designated as National Coming Out Day.
His friends and admirers, while saddened by his loss, said it was befitting that Kameny departed on a day commemorating an action he may have been among the first to take part in in the late 1950s — a proud and open declaration that one is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
“His accomplishments for our community are immeasurable,” said veteran D.C. gay activist Paul Kuntzler
Kuntzler spoke to the Blade about Kameny during a candidate endorsement forum Tuesday night sponsored by the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, an LGBT organization that Kuntzler and Kameny helped found in January 1976.
But Kuntzler and others who worked with Kameny said they remain troubled that an ongoing dispute between Timothy Clark, the heir and personal representative to Kameny’s estate, and the D.C. gay charitable group Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS) has resulted in the indefinite postponement of the burial of Kameny’s ashes.
In August, an official with D.C.’s historic Congressional Cemetery, where Kameny’s ashes were to be buried, said an urn bearing the ashes remained in a storage vault at the cemetery’s headquarters near Capitol Hill while the estate dispute dragged on.
When asked if the ashes were still in storage at the cemetery, Congressional Cemetery President Paul Williams told the Blade on Wednesday, “There has been no substantial change in the case. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Both sides acknowledge that the dispute is over a disagreement about how to transfer the ownership of the cemetery plot from HOBS, which bought it earlier this year, to the Kameny estate, which is under the control of Clark.
HOBS executive director Marvin Carter has said HOBS is willing to sell the plot to the estate at the price the group paid for it earlier this year. The estate, through one of its attorneys, Glen Ackerman, has said HOBS bought the plot through donations from members of the LGBT community who knew and admired Kameny and that HOBS should transfer the title to the plot to the estate.
Earlier this year, Ackerman said Clark was troubled that some of Kameny’s longtime friends worked with HOBS to buy the plot and make arrangements for the burial without consulting Clark, who has legal authority over the ashes. Ackerman said then that Clark was concerned that HOBS might seek to bury others in the plot along with Kameny’s ashes since the plot can accommodate at least two coffins and three urns.
HOBS has said it has no intention of burying anyone else in the plot.
“The estate of Franklin Kameny is currently in negotiations in an effort to settle outstanding matters related to the estate,” Ackerman said in a statement released on Tuesday. “We cannot comment on these negotiations or the status of the various matters as doing so may compromise the progress that has been made thus far,” he said. “All involved are hopeful that resolution may be reached in the near future.”
“HOBS is working diligently and in good faith to resolve all issues concerning the plot at Congressional Cemetery and the final burial of Frank’s ashes at the Cemetery in a manner and under circumstances that will protect and advance Frank’s reputation in and contributions to the LGBT community,” Carter said in a statement issued to the Blade.
Records in the D.C. Superior Court’s civil division, where the Kameny estate case remains pending, show that at least one creditor filed suit against the estate on Aug. 7 to challenge a decision by the estate to reject the creditor’s request for repayment of a $12,000 loan and $3,075 of accrued interest on the loan for a total of $15,075.
The suit says the loan was made by D.C. gay activist and longtime Kameny friend Craig Howell in two increments in 2003 and 2004, according to Mindy Daniels, Howell’s attorney.
Court papers filed by the estate challenge the legal authority of Howell’s claim for the loan repayment on several grounds, saying, among other things, that Howell waived a requirement that Kameny make interest payments on the loan prior to Kameny’s death.
The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT political group that organizes Coming Out Day activities, included a remembrance of Kameny on its website this week.
“One year ago, the LGBT community lost equality pioneer Frank Kameny, a man whose tireless activism blazed a trail for the entire LGBT community,” the HRC web posting says. “This National Coming Out Day, we remember Frank Kameny by honoring his legacy as a forerunner of the modern LGBT rights movement.”
Kameny, a D.C. resident since the 1950s, is credited with playing a key role in laying the foundation for the modern gay rights movement beginning in the early 1960s, nearly a decade before the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York’s Greenwich Village.
He began his fight for LGBT equality in 1957 after being fired for being gay from his job as an astronomer at the U.S. Army Map Service. After losing administrative and lower court appeals, Kameny took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he wrote his own petition urging the high court to hear the case in 1961.
The Supreme Court denied his petition and left standing a lower court ruling upholding his firing. But LGBT advocates and historians have said Kameny’s petition, or brief, filed with the high court represented the first known time anyone submitted an unapologetic and legally reasoned argument before a court of law in support of equal rights for gay people in the United States.
A short time later, Kameny co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, the city’s first gay rights organization. Although Mattachine Society groups had formed in other cities beginning in the 1950s, the D.C. group under Kameny’s leadership took on a far more assertive posture in pushing for gay equality, laying the groundwork for the post-Stonewall Riots LGBT rights movement in the years ahead, according to author David Carter, who is currently writing a Kameny biography.
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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