More than 300 people turned out at the U.S. Department of Labor headquarters in Washington on Tuesday for a ceremony in which Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez inducted the late gay rights leader Frank Kameny into the department’s Labor Hall of Honor.
In a statement last month announcing Kameny’s selection for the honor the department said Kameny’s decades long work to end LGBT discrimination in the federal workplace made a “monumental difference in improving the lives of all workers all across America.”
Perez noted that Kameny joins the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.); former Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins; famed civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who was gay; and others selected for the Hall of Honor because of their extraordinary contributions to the field of labor and the quality of life for working families.
“People who are in the know, know of Frank Kameny,” Perez told the gathering. “And it is my sincere hope that more people will get to know Frank Kameny because like Bayard Rustin, like so many other figures in the LGBT movement, they changed this country for the better,” he said. “And frankly they changed the world for the better.”
Others participating in the ceremony were D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and U.S. Department of Defense Chief of Staff Eric Fanning, who’s gay.
Veteran D.C. gay activist Paul Kuntzler, who worked on gay rights projects with Kameny in the early 1960s in Washington, stood next to Perez and Fanning as Norton removed a black veil from a wall at the site of the Hall of Honor to officially display Kameny’s name.
Kameny’s name has been placed just above that of famed labor leader Walter Reuther and just below that of former AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland.
Just before unveiling Kameny’s name, Norton told the gathering that she observed Kameny’s work as a leading figure in the LGBT rights movement over a period of many years. She noted that Kameny, who held a Harvard Ph.D. in astronomy, chose to switch gears and start the fight for LGBT equality after being fired from his job with the U.S. Army Map Service because he was gay.
“He had no role models to encourage him and no gay rights organizations to protect him, so he started one, the Mattachine Society,” Norton said, referring to Kameny’s efforts in the early 1960s.
“He took his courage and made it contagious,” Norton said. “He counseled the closeted…He led countless gays out of their fear of being discovered by showing that hiding their identity reinforced bigotry.”
Kameny has been credited, among other things, with playing a key role in pressuring the then-U.S. Civil Service Commission to end its ban on gays in the federal workforce in 1975 and subsequent efforts to end the government’s longstanding ban on issuing security clearances for gays.