The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, December 20
December 20th, 2011
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Frank Kameny Fired From Government Job for Being Gay: 1957. Frank Kameny was a World War II veteran and Harvard-trained astronomer working for the Army Map Service. In Eric Marcus’s compendium of oral histories, Making History, Kameny described the events that led him to a lifetime of LGBT advocacy:
When I was on assignment in Hawaii in November or December of 1957, I got a call from my supervisor in Washington, D.C., to come back at once. I told him that whatever the problem, it could wait a few days, and I returned to Washington at the end of the week. As soon as I got back, I was called in by some two-bit Civil Service Commission investigator and told, “We have information that leads us to believe that you are a homosexual. Do you have any comment?” I said, “What’s the information?” They answered, “We can’t tell you.” I said, well, then I can’t give you an answer. You don’t deserve an answer. and in any case, this is none of your business.” I was not open about being gay at that time — no one was, not in 1957. But I was certainly leading a social life. I went to the gay bars many, many evenings. I’ve never been a covert kind of a person, and I wasn’t about to be one simply because I was working for the government. I’ve never been one to function on the basis that Big Brother may be looking over my shoulder.
So they called me in, and ultimately it resulted in my termination. They did it the way the government does anything: They issued a letter. They said they were dismissing me for homosexuality. I was in shock.
…Keep in mind I had been training all of my life for a scientific career, for this kind of occupation. I was not at all familiar with the job market. When I was thrown out, I had nowhere to go. Perhaps if this had happened five or ten years later, I would have had a professional reputation to fall back on, but in this case I didn’t. For a long time I applied for jobs in astronomy, but there was nothing. Ultimately, in 1959, I got a job doing something in physics. My bachelor’s degree is in physics, in the area of optics.
But meanwhile, I had decided that my dismissal amounted to a declaration of war against me by my government. First, I don’t grant me government the right to declare war on me. And second, I tend not to lose my wars.
Kameny launched a string of appeals, first through the Civil Service commission itself, then through the courts. He took his appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — writing his own brief (which is available here) declaring the discrimination he experienced “a stench in the nostrils of decent people, an offense against morality, an abandonment of reason, an affront to human dignity, an improper restraint upon proper freedom and liberty, a disgrace to any civilized society, and a violation of all that this nation stands for.” The Supreme Court denied his petition in 1961.
Kameny went on to co-found the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., which in 1963 launched a long campaign to overturn sodomy laws. He participated in the very first picket line in front of the White House on April 17, 1965. He was also an instrumental player in the fight to remove homosexuality from the American Psychological Association’s list of mental disorders. In 1971, he became the first openly gay candidate for the U.S. Congress when he ran for D.C’s non-voting Congressional delegate. In 1975, the U.S. Civil Service Commission notified him that they had changed their policies and were now allowing gay people to work in federal jobs (see July 3). In 2009, the U.S. government officially repudiated Kameny’s firing when John Berry, the openly gay Director of the Office of Personnel Management, delivered a formal apology during a special OPM ceremony in his honor. Upon receiving the apology, Kameny tearfully replied, “Apology accepted.” He passed away this year on October 12 at the age of 86.
Vermont Supreme Court Rules State Must Recognize Same-Sex Unions: 1999. In a unanimous decision, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the state must provide the same benefits, protections and obligations to same-sex couples as it does to heterosexual couples. The Supreme Court left it up to the legislature to decide how it would end the discrimination, either through marriage or through civil unions. Most state political leaders opted for the latter. State Attorney General William Sorrell, predicted, “It would likely be a civilly sanctioned relationship that would, for all intents and purposes, have the benefits and protections a traditionally married couple would have but wouldn’t be called a marital relationship. They wouldn’t be called spouses, they’d be called domestic partners, and for a number of people, that makes an enormous difference.” Gov. Howard Dean concurred, saying that same-sex marriage “makes me uncomfortable, the same as anybody else.” Beth Robinson, the lawyer for the winning plaintiffs, dismissed that idea and pressed for full marriage. “The Legislature will come to understand that as a practical matter, you can’t call it something different and have it be truly equal.”
As it turned out, it would take another decade before the Legislature would come to that understanding. On April 26, 2000, Gov. Dean signed the state’s Civil Unions bill into law. It took effect on July 1, 2000. In 2009, the Vermont legislature revisited the issue again and passed a same-sex marriage bill with bipartisan support, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Jim Douglas (R). The legislature then overturned the governor’s veto, and same-sex marriages finally became available in the Green Mountain State on September 1, 2009.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?