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1 year later, Kameny’s ashes still not buried

Dispute over burial site remains unresolved



Frank Kameny, gay news, Washington Blade

Pioneering gay rights activist, Frank Kameny died on Oct. 11, 2011, which happens to be National Coming Out Day. (Washington Blade photo by Doug Hinckle)

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.

Frank Kameny gravesite, gay news, Washington Blade

A headstone once marked the the spot where advocates intended gay activist Frank Kameny to be buried, but legal action has halted the interment and the headstone has been removed. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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.

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  1. George Bakan

    October 11, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    One assumes the money collected to buy the cemetary site was offered with good intent – so it seems unseemly and a bit strange why the site is not donated so the burial can be accomplished. Bad bickering, really. Makes little sense from here. Seattle.

    • Dave Kaplan

      October 11, 2012 at 6:36 pm

      Geez! Just let the guy rest in peace. Give the plot to the executor, and let Frank be buried. Why fight over it?

  2. Luis H. Lopez

    October 11, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Put aside your stupid differences and give our liberation fighters a proper burials and the respect that they have earned with their lives!

  3. Ed

    October 12, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Lot’s of rehashing of old stories here, Lou. And, you neglect to point out that the estate attorney Glen Ackerman is also the attorney for the BLADE. Shame on you!

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Howard County activists and allies hit back at censorship, hate

More than 100 people attended ‘We ARE the People’ rally



(Photo by Bob Ford)

A diverse crowd of 100 to 200 folks gathered at the Columbia Lakefront on Saturday to attend a rally to push back against censorship in the county’s public schools as well as homophobia and transphobia emanating from a group of conservative parents.

The rally called “We ARE the People” was organized in response to the comments and actions by members of a Maryland-based conservative group “We the People 2” that among other things are anti-masks, anti-vaccinations and are opposed to teaching racial history in the schools. They also oppose two books that are in Howard County Public Schools library shelves: “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy.”

Speakers at a We the People 2 rally last month at an Elkridge warehouse condemned the books, which contain LGBTQ characters, as sexually explicit. The group later filed police reports against the Board of Education alleging the books constitute pornography with “graphic sexual content and materials being used and disseminated in public schools,” according to the group’s press release.  A flier announcing this action used the loaded terminology, “We must not allow our children to be abused and victimized.”

Among the speakers at the Elkridge rally was Republican Gordana Schifanelli who is running for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Daniel Cox. Another speaker, George Johnson, a teacher from Baltimore City, was heard on a video of the event saying, “We’re doing God’s work because Marxism, homosexuality and transgenderism is the devil.”

In response, the pro-LGBTQ rally in Columbia announced the following:

We are taking a stance against hate in the community as we raise our voices in support of equity in our schools. Attacks on teachers and school staff have prompted us to stand united and drown out the noise.

In addition, We ARE the People states:

We stand for LGBTQ+ students and educational professionals

Teaching accurate history to our students

Supporting equitable practices in our schools

Providing students with relevant LGBTQ+ media through their school libraries

The two-hour rally, which was attended by several county council members, featured speakers representing a wide swath of community, educational, religious and political organizations. They included: Community Allies of Rainbow Youth (CARY), Black Lives Activists of Columbia (BLAC), Absolutely Dragulous, Howard County Schools, PFLAG-Columbia/Howard County, IndivisibleHoCoMd, Columbia Democratic Club, Howard Progressive Project, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (UUCC), HoCo Pride, Progressive Democrats of Howard County, and the Columbia United Christian Church.

Many of the speakers denounced the censorship of materials that are needed by many LGBTQ students. Genderqueer and non-binary students, they point out, are most vulnerable and need affirming literature to help with their development and self-acceptance. The speakers also decried hate speech, which has surfaced again, as well as the opposition to teaching history as it relates to race.

Others argued that the community must not sit back and take it from extremist groups.

“You are all defenders,” said Cynthia Fikes, president of the Columbia Democratic Club, in a fiery speech. “But to succeed a strong defense also needs a strong offense.”

The two books in question were recently the center of controversy in the Fairfax County (Va.) school system. The books were removed in September from the shelves of the high schools pending a comprehensive review following opposition from a parent at a school board meeting. It should be noted that both books were previous winners of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, which each year recognize “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”  

The board established two committees consisting of parents, staff and students to assess the content of the books and make recommendations to the assistant superintendent of instructional services who would make the final determination.

One committee found that “Lawn Boy” includes themes that “are affirming for students” with marginalized identities. “There is no pedophilia in the book,” the committee added. The other committee found that “Gender Queer” depicts “difficulties non-binary and asexual individuals may face.” The committee concluded that “the book neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.” The books were restored to the shelves.

“As this backlash against LGTBQ+ literature demonstrates, we must be ready to stand up and defend the progress we have made,” said Jennifer Mallo, member of the Howard County Board of Education, expressing her own point of view. “We must ensure our elected officials understand and share our values and will fight for our marginalized students.”

The enthusiastic crowd was clearly pleased with the event.

“Today’s rally was meant to inspire our community to take action,” said Chris Hefty, who was the lead organizer of the rally and the emcee. “Action that protects our youth. Action that protects our educators and admins. This action comes in the form of advocacy, communication with elected officials so they know your voice, and through well informed voting to ensure those who represent us are those we know will support us. We shared a message of love, acceptance, and warmth.”

Hefty adds, “The unity we facilitated through this rally was a sight to behold. As the lead organizer I couldn’t have been more pleased! In the future we will be sure to better meet the needs of all our community members. We thank all those in our community for their support and feedback and look forward to accomplishing great things together moving forward.”

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action



Rikki Nathanson

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January



SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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