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The Long Arc of History

Jim Burroway

April 4th, 2009
John Berry

John Berry

John Berry, an openly gay man, was confirmed yesterday as director of U.S. Office of Personnel Management. This is the federal agency which sets personnel and hiring policies for the U.S. government. Jonathan Rauch notes the historical significance of this momentous occasion: November of 1971, the federal personnel office wrote this letter to Frank Kameny, the pioneering gay-rights activist (still going strong, btw), in response to Kameny’s protest of the firing of a gay federal employee:

The activities of sodomy, fellatio, anal intercourse, mutual masturbation, and homosexual caressing and rubbing of bodies together to obtain sexual excitement or climax are considered to be acts of sexual perversions and to be acts of immoral conduct, which, under present mores of our society, are regarded as scandalous, disgraceful, and abhorrent to the overwhelming majority of people. …

Individuals who engage in acts of sex perversion and other homosexual acts…are not regarded with respect by the overwhelming majority of people. Indeed, some of the most extreme epithets of contempt and vituperation are popularly applied to persons who engage in such activities…

The letter goes on, and on, in that vein (the first page is here).

That same office as of yesterday is now headed by a gay man.

Frank Kameny

Frank Kameny

Kerry Eleveld at The Advocate phoned Kameny (he will be 84 in May) to discuss his long life of advocacy for LGBT rights, including several pioneering protests in front of the White House, Pentagon, State Department and Civil Service Commission. Kameny became involved when he was fired from the Army Map Service in 1957. Eleveld asked Kameny what he thought about Berry being named to head the OPM:

“I remember seeing his name somewhere,” Kameny said of the news, “but I don’t know terribly much about him.”

I said I wasn’t so much interested in his estimation of Berry as I was in the fact that a gay man might be heading the organization.

Silence weighted the other end of the line as I realized Mr. Kameny hadn’t fully grasped the news.

“Oh, oh my…” he said as it settled in. “For the first time in this whole conversation, this is really registering on me. Oh, my…now I am impressed!” he said with a hint of glee in his voice. “Macy must be turning over in his grave,” he added, referencing John W. Macy Jr., his archrival who chaired the commission in the ’60s.

Update: John Berry has invited Frank Kameny to be present for his swearing in.



April 5th, 2009 | LINK

It’s nice to hear good news like this :-)

April 7th, 2009 | LINK

It would be nice to have health benefits for my “unauthorized” spouse.

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