Connect with us

Opinions

Let Kameny rest in peace

Shameful aftermath of activist’s death an embarrassment to those who admired him

Published

on

Frank Kameny, gay news, Washington Blade
Frank Kameny, gay news, gay politics dc

A gravestone for Frank Kameny was briefly in Congressional Cemetery. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Pioneering gay activist Frank Kameny died four years ago, yet his remains were never interred at Congressional Cemetery, where a plot was purchased for them, and there is still no memorial in D.C. to honor his legacy.

The saga of what happened to Kameny’s estate and his remains is long and twisted and well documented in the Blade over the past four years. It’s been ugly, with the estate filing frivolous lawsuits against some of the community’s best known and respected activists who spent years selflessly caring for Kameny late in his life. Community leaders like Bob Witeck, Rick Rosendall, Charles Francis and Marvin Carter worked and sacrificed to help their friend Kameny and were rewarded with hurtful gossip and accusations and even lawsuits. They are honorable men and deserved better.

Fast forward a few years and the estate, represented by Ackerman Brown PLLC and local gay attorney Glen Ackerman, is now criticizing Congressional Cemetery President Paul Williams and even Kameny’s 89-year-old sister, Edna Kameny Lavaie.

Williams told the Blade last week that he’s hopeful a memorial headstone for Kameny issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will be installed at the cemetery soon. According to Williams, the Veterans Affairs Department informed him it could not approve an application that he and Kameny’s sister submitted for the headstone until it learns of the disposition of Kameny’s ashes. Williams said he told VA officials neither he nor Lavaie knew the whereabouts of Kameny’s ashes because the man Kameny named in his will as his heir has declined to disclose that information. Timothy Clark, who Kameny named as personal representative of his estate, disclosed through his attorneys in February 2014 that he decided to inter Kameny’s ashes at an undisclosed location, despite previously telling the Blade that he would release half the ashes for burial at Congressional.

Ackerman, who once represented the Blade, last week said that neither Congressional Cemetery nor Kameny’s sister contacted the estate at the time they submitted their application for the headstone. “It would have been nice if Edna Kameny and Paul Williams would have worked with the Estate prior to ordering the headstone,” he said. “It is interesting that the public continues to initiate actions that affect the Estate without communicating with the Estate. The public continues to diminish Frank’s choice. Timothy Clark is Frank’s choice. Dr. Kameny chose Mr. Clark to administer his Estate.”

Unfortunately, Kameny did name Clark as his heir. But Congressional Cemetery doesn’t need the estate’s permission for this memorial. If Clark won’t release half the ashes, which he said he would do, then the estate should release a letter detailing what happened to them so that Williams and Congressional can work with Veterans Affairs to obtain the memorial stone.

Williams has won acclaim and international media attention for his creative, successful management of the historic cemetery. He is also gay and has worked hard behind the scenes for several years to secure a proper place to memorialize Kameny alongside other gay rights pioneers like Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, who is buried at Congressional. He doesn’t deserve the runaround from Clark or Veterans Affairs.

Ackerman can help put an end to all the acrimony that has followed Kameny’s death by detailing publicly what happened to the remains so Congressional’s memorial can proceed. It’s time for an end to this sad saga, which undermines Kameny’s legacy and which Kameny himself would have hated. If the estate won’t cooperate and instead wants to continue picking fights with reputable community leaders, then maybe someone will cut a check for the estimated $3,000 to purchase a private memorial stone that doesn’t require any help from the VA, Ackerman or the elusive Clark.

 

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

Continue Reading
Advertisement
4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Rick Rosendall

    October 15, 2015 at 6:04 am

    A memorial without remains is called a cenotaph, and Congressional Cemetery has a great many of them. There is no good reason why there shouldn’t be one for Frank.

  2. DeaconMac

    October 15, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Is $3,000 really sufficient for a proper memorial stone? Is there a picture of such a cenotaph (thanks Rick) that could be purchased for that amount? It seems a paltry sum, easily raised. Is there already a mechanism for raising it, a 501(c)(3) handling it, an account into which the donations can be put? (I may not see any replies posted here, so contact me if you can answer these questions.

  3. Michael Bedwell

    October 15, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Bedwell “If the estate won’t cooperate and instead wants to continue picking fights with reputable community leaders…..” That’s transparently EXACTLY what they intend doing from now into eternity. Time to abandon the idea of an official VA marker UNLESS Ackerman IMMEDIATELY provides a letter on behalf of Mr. Clarke surrendering ALL legal claim to such a marker. Otherwise we’ll be back in spin cycle for years about it as we were about the ashes. It’s past time to reunite, however symbolically, those two comrades who launched the fight against the military gay ban 40 years ago this year: Frank and Leonard Matlovich. I’LL contribute to a fund a unique stone as a cenotaph in Frank’s memory for the HOBS plot just as I helped raise the money for Frank’s Legacy Walk memorial in Chicago. Anyone else?

  4. Mark Meinke

    October 16, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Well said Kevin! We don’t need the ashes or Clark and Ackerman to celebrate Dr. Kameny’s life and legacy. I would contribute to a fund to place a memorial in Congressional Cemetery. Perhaps the Blade would organize such a fund.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Opinions

Should we be scared of Omicron?

A reminder to stay vigilant against latest mutation

Published

on

It’s Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend when I sit down to write this column. The craziness in the world continues but other than the scare of the new COVID mutation, which has been named Omicron, there isn’t one headline to grab attention. Instead, there are many, including some manufactured by the news media to gain viewers or sell papers. Some like the car rampaging through the Christmas parade is frightening but incidents like this seem to be happening all too often.  

The stock market went down 1,000 points on Friday because market players freaked out about the new COVID mutation coming out of South Africa. However that didn’t seem to stop people from spending their money on Black Friday. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) was again on the attack this time against fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) accusing her of being a Muslim terrorist. She apologized, or pretended to, but again the Republican leadership wouldn’t condemn her statements. These things seemed to be grist for the news media with no one else unfortunately really voicing concern. 

Boebert’s comments were taken as old hat. They are disgusting, offensive, and dangerous, but as long as her constituents reelect her we will have to live with them. She is joined by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.),  Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), and Paul Gosar  (R-Wyo.) who represent the worst in Congress and the worst of the American people. Yet again until their constituents throw them out we have to live with their stupidity and the absurdity of their being where they are. 

The new COVID mutation out of South Africa is potentially a game changer. But it will be important for scientists to look at this carefully to determine how quickly it spreads and whether or not the current vaccines will offer any protection against it. Countries around the world, including the United States, have quickly instituted travel bans for South Africans and those in countries surrounding it. The World Health Organization at this time has suggested this should not be done as it will have limited impact on its spreading and could have severe and detrimental economic impact on countries whose people are being banned. One thing we must learn from this is how important it is to ensure everyone all over the world has access to vaccines as we know the more people who are inoculated the harder it is for the virus to mutate. It is not time to panic yet and by Sunday there was some reporting this new mutation may not be any more difficult to deal with than the current ones and not lead to any more severe illness. The takeaway from all this is we need to keep vigilant, get vaccinated and get booster shots, and make sure we vaccinate our children. Continue to wear masks indoors and wash our hands. 

Now the other interesting stories last weekend were about what will happen in the Senate in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays. Remember the House of Representatives passed President Biden’s Build Back Better bill as a reconciliation measure, which means it can pass the Senate with a simple majority. That would mean every Democratic senator and the vice president. The focus is on two senators: Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sinema (D-Ariz.). In reality we need to look at a number of others who will fight to either take out or put something into the bill the House passed. It is clear it will not pass in the current form and then it has to go back to the House again. 

Another issue that will be taken up is the debt ceiling. It may be a little easier than thought because as recently reported, “After taking a hard line and refusing to negotiate with Democrats during the last standoff over the debt limit, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is quietly looking for a way to get the issue resolved without another high-profile battle.” Then there is the budget and since none is passed Congress will have to pass another continuing resolution since the one they passed in September expires on Dec. 3. 

So for the next few weeks there will be a focus on the Senate to see what they do and how obstructionist Republicans want to be. Seems while things change, they somehow remain the same.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

Continue Reading

Commentary

It doesn’t take a miracle

Hanukkah a time for LGBTQ Jews to celebrate full identity

Published

on

(Public domain photo)

For Jews around the world, Sunday night marked the beginning of Hanukkah. The story of Hanukkah celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem by the Maccabees, a small and poorly armed group of Jews who took on, and defeated, one of the world’s most powerful armies. 

Upon entering Jerusalem, the Maccabees saw that there was only enough oil to light the Temple’s eternal flame for one night. But the oil lasted eight nights — enough time for new oil to be prepared. The eternal flame remained lit, and light triumphed over darkness.

The story of Hanukkah was a miracle. While we celebrate and commemorate that miracle, we should also remember that it doesn’t take a miracle for one person to make a difference. 

The entire world is shaking beneath our feet. The climate is in crisis and our planet is in danger. A viral contagion has claimed the lives of millions, and there’s no clear end in sight. Creeping authoritarianism threatens the entire world, including here at home.

Sometimes it seems like it will take a miracle to solve even one of these problems. The reason these problems seem so overwhelming is because they are — no one person can fix it themselves.

Here in the LGBTQ community, we have made enormous strides, and we ought to be proud of them. But there is so much more work to be done.

Not everyone in our community is treated equally, and not everyone has the same access to opportunity. Black, brown and trans LGBTQ people face systemic and structural disadvantages and discrimination and are at increased risk of violence and suicide. It must stop.

These are big problems too, and the LGBTQ people as a collective can help make the changes we need so that light triumphs over darkness. But it doesn’t take a miracle for individuals to light the spark.

Our movement is being held back by the creeping and dangerous narrative that insists that we choose between our identities instead of embracing all of them. 

The presentation of this false choice has fallen especially hard on LGBTQ Jews, many of whom feel a genuine connection to and support for Israel. They feel marginalized when asked to sideline their identity by being told that the world’s only Jewish state shouldn’t even have a place on the map. And they feel attacked when asked about the Israeli government’s policies during a conflict, as if they have some obligation to condemn them and take a stand simply because of their faith.

One of the ways we can shine our light is to fight for an LGBTQ community that is truly inclusive.

This holiday season, pledge to celebrate all aspects of your identity and the rights of LGBTQ people to define their own identities and choose their own paths. If you feel the pressure to keep any part of your identity in the closet, stand up to it and refuse to choose. 

In the face of enormous challenges that require collective action, we must not give up on our power as individuals to do what’s right. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

The tradition of lighting the menorah each night represents ensuring the continuity of that eternal flame. One of the reasons the Hanukkah menorah is displayed prominently in the windows of homes and in public squares is because the light isn’t meant to be confined to the Jewish home. The light is for everyone — and a reminder that we can share it with the world every day to try to make it better.

As long as we keep fighting for justice, we don’t need to perform miracles. But we do need to do our part so that light triumphs over darkness.

It is up to each of us to map out what we can contribute to create a truly inclusive LGBTQ community. This holiday season, be the light. If you can, donate to a group that helps lift LGBTQ youth in crisis. Volunteer your time to fight for the rights and the lives of trans people. And be kind to one another.

Whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or of no faith at all, take this opportunity to share your light with the world. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge.

Continue Reading

Opinions

Trend of banning books threatens our freedom

‘History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas’

Published

on

National Book Festival, gay news, Washington Blade

I knew Helen Keller was a DeafBlind activist. But, until recently, I didn’t know that some of her books were torched.

Nearly 90 years ago, in 1933 Germany, the Nazis added “How I Became a Socialist,” by Keller to a list of “degenerate” books. Keller’s book, along with works by authors from H.G. Wells to Einstein were burned. 

The Nazi book burnings were horrific, you might think, but what does this have to do with the queer community now?

I speak of this because a nano-sec of the news tells us that book censorship, if not from literal fires, but from the removal from school libraries, is alive and well. Nationwide, in small towns and suburbs, school boards, reacting to pressure from parents and politicians, are removing books from school libraries. Many of these books are by queer authors and feature LGBTQ+ characters.

Until recently, I didn’t worry that much about books being banned. My ears have pricked up, every year, in September when Banned Books Week is observed. Growing up, my parents instilled in me their belief that reading was one of life’s great pleasures as well as a chance to learn about new ideas – especially, those we disagreed with. The freedom to read what we choose is vital to democracy, my folks taught me. 

“I don’t care if it’s ‘Mein Kampf,’” my Dad who was Jewish told me, “I’ll defend to my death against its being banned.”

“Teachers should be allowed to teach it,” he added, “so kids can learn what a monster Hitler was.”

In this country, there have always been people who wanted to ban books from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by writer and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe to gay poet Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.”

In the 1920s, in the Scopes trial, a Tennessee science teacher was fined $100 for teaching evolution. (The law against teaching evolution in Tennessee was later repealed.)

But, these folks, generally, seemed to be on “the fringe” of society. We didn’t expect that book banning would be endorsed by mainstream politicians.

Until lately.

Take just one example of the uptake in book-banning: In September, the Blade reported, Fairfax County, Virginia public school officials said at a school board meeting that two books had been removed from school libraries to “reassess their suitability for high school students.”

Both books – “Lawn Boy” a novel by Jonathan Evison and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by non-binary author Maia Koabe feature queer characters and themes, along with graphic descriptions of sex.

Opponents of the books say the books contain descriptions of pedophilia. But, many book reviewers and LGBTQ students as well as the American Library Association dispute this false claim.

The American Library Association honored both books with its Alex Award, the Associated Press reported. The award recognizes the year’s “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.”

Given how things have changed for us queers in recent years – from marriage equality to Pete Buttigieg running for president – it’s not surprising that there’s been a backlash. As part of the blowback, books by queer authors with LGBTQ+ characters have become a flashpoint in the culture wars.

As a writer, it’s easy for me to joke that book banning is fabulous for writers. Nothing improves sales more than censorship.

Yet, there’s nothing funny about this for queer youth. My friend Penny has a queer son. “LGBTQ kids need to read about people like themselves,” she told me. “It’s horrible if queer kids can’t find these books. They could become depressed or even suicidal.”

If we allow books to be banned, our freedom to think and learn will be erased.

“History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas,” Keller wrote in a letter to students in Nazi Germany.

Anti-queer officials may remove LGBTQ books from school libraries. But, our thoughts will not be unshelved.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular