What Frank Kameny Meant By “Gay Is Good”
October 12th, 2011
If anyone would ask the late Frank Kameny what he thought his greatest accomplishment was, he’d give what many would consider a surprising answer. You might expect that he would point to the first public pickets in support of gay rights, the APA’s removal of homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, or Rob’s example of the slow process of overturning the federal ban on employing gays in government positions. Instead, as I remembered late last night of an email exchange I had with him and others, he would point to his coining of the slogan “Gay is Good.” Bob Witeck, a longtime friend and adviser of Frank’s, posted the following explanation of why Frank saw this slogan as being the foundation of everything he set out to accomplish. I and others are posting this with Bob’s permission.
Bob Witeck: On December 1, 2008, my husband Bob Connelly, who is also an adjunct professor at American University, invited Frank to speak to his undergrads about LGBT civil rights issues, and to conduct a Q&A with his students. Frank always had game on, especially talking with students. Here’s the final question from the class, asking Frank how he wished to be remembered. I am aware many of us are familiar with Frank’s coda, “Gay is Good,” but not entirely aware of its genesis, and the kinds of logic and messaging that Frank gave to everything he said and wrote.
Professor Bob Connelly: Is there one thing you’ve done that stands above all others, as what you are most proud of?
Dr. Franklin Kameny: Well, yes. The one thing I’ve said, if I want to be remembered for nothing else, it’s back in July, 1968 I coined the slogan “Gay Is Good.”
And that really, it sort of, it epitomizes really my entire approach to all the issues. You have to take an affirmative approach on these things. In other words, if I may expound for a moment — people tend almost automatically, since we are under attack, and we are under criticism, they tend to respond defensively and reactively. Around then, taking the next step and responding on the offensive and proactively. In other words, the tendency — we’re told that homosexuality is bad in all sorts of different ways so the response tends to be “It’s not bad.”
You have to take the next step and say, “Not really, it’s not bad. It’s good.” It’s not that same sex marriage will not damage the institution of marriage. Same sex marriage will enhance the institution of marriage. You have to consciously take the next step and move over into being affirmative and so here again, it’s not that gay is not bad, it’s that gay is affirmative and good.
That came out of, in those days — again you have to go back to the issues of that day and the rhetoric of that day — in June of 1968 I saw on television an item of Stokely Carmichael leading a group of students at a college in Salisbury Maryland, chanting, “Black Is Beautiful.” And again, same thing. It’s not that black is not ugly, or in other ways lesser. We’re going to take the next step, “Black Is Beautiful,” and I realized I had to do exactly the same thing. I tossed around words and phrases. “Homosexuality” was obviously too clinical. “Good” was sort of bland; on the other hand it covered all the possibilities. Some people had suggested to me, “Gay Is Great,” but that sounded a little bit too informal. So ultimately I came up with that. It was adopted in August at a meeting of what was then the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations as a slogan.
Meanwhile, in those days, Playboy had a separate little publication called the Playboy Forum, and they had a long article, just about that time, July, August, September, which was sort of, at best wishy-washy about the gay issue. So I wrote them a long letter — I can be verbose at times — and I included “Gay Is Good.” And to my pleased astonishment, the following February or March of 1969, they published my whole letter under their heading, “Gay Is Good.” And that sent it out to the whole public, and we’re off and running.