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Posts for July, 2012

FrankKameny is in the heavens

Timothy Kincaid

July 10th, 2012

Yes, it has been officially confirmed that FrankKameny is in the heavens. Rotating the sun between Mars and Jupiter, to be exact. (FoxNews)

When astronomer Gary Billings read Kameny’s obituary, he consulted with others in the astronomy world. They decided to submit a citation to the Paris-based International Astronomical Union and the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., seeking to designate Minor Planet 40463 as Frankkameny.

It’s located in the asteroid belt, orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. The Kameny asteroid is visible through a telescope and was first discovered in 1999 using long-exposure photography.

Donations Sought For Frank Kameny’s Funeral

Jim Burroway

October 20th, 2011

Frank Kameny, 1925-2011.

Pioneering LGBT rights advocate Frank Kameny, who died last week, spent the last decade of his life living a hand-to-mouth existence financially. His firing from the Army Map Service in 1957 was the start of a long career dedicated to fighting for equality for LGBT Americans, but being a self-supporting gay rights advocate does not come with a retirement plan. If he hadn’t been fired in 1957, of course, he would have had a decent goverment pension. Instead, like many LGBT seniors, he relied on a number of Washington, D.C. social services, principally HOBS (Healping our Brothers and Sisters). HOBS has established a funeral fund to cover expesnes for Frank’s cremation and memorial. Tax deductible contributions can be made at helpingourbrothersandsisters.com or by mail to HOBS, P.O. Box 53477, Washington, D.C. 20009.

“I Genuinely Admired Frank Kameny’s Courage and Pioneer Spirit, But…”

Jim Burroway

October 19th, 2011

An anti-gay activist pays tribute, after a fashion, to the late Frank Kameny. Let me just say that those emails that Michael Brown shared are pure Frank.

What Frank Kameny Meant By “Gay Is Good”

Jim Burroway

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.

The Battle Frank Kameny Took Up

Rob Tisinai

October 12th, 2011

Jim has posted a lovely tribute to Frank Kameny below. I’d like to add a note of my own.

With presidential hopefuls saying our struggle has nothing in common with the civil rights movement, with lawyers from the House of Representatives — paid for with our tax dollars — claiming gays don’t face a significant history of discrimination, this is a good time to look at the huge, official, morally-sanctioned, seemingly-unbreachable wall of bigotry, ignorance, and hate that Kameny helped knock down.

Start with this letter to Kameny from the US Department of Commerce, explaining why it’s just good sense to fire homosexuals (click to enlarge):

Here’s one from the State Department, saying that if an open homosexual is to be hired, then at the very least the homosexual would have to admit to being sick:

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This is the battle Kameny faced. You can find more in the Kameny Papers Archive.

I’ll tell you, sometimes I feel moral exhaustion just from monitoring the extreme, fringe, anti-gay views of Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer, and the folks at NOM. I’m awestruck by Kameny’s courage and fortitude in fighting this sort of bigotry when it was the official policy of the federal government.

The company I work for doesn’t discriminate against gays. I owe Kameny for that. The Board of Directors doesn’t see my orientation as bringing hatred, ridicule, and contempt to the firm. The HR department will never brand me as sick or emotionally disturbed for being gay. I owe Kameny for that.

I owe Frank Kameny a lot.

The battle’s not done. Perkins, Fischer, and the rest of them are working to bring back the bad old days. We still have to fight. We have to ensure Kameny’s legacy of dignity and respect isn’t ground into the mud of bigotry and hate. But thanks to Frank Kameny, many of us — not all, perhaps not even most — but at least many of us can take up the cause without fear of losing our jobs, our homes, our very means of survival.

Rest in peace, Frank Kameny. You’ve earned it.

Frank Kameny Has Died

Jim Burroway

October 12th, 2011

Frank Kameny, 1925-2011.

One of the greatest and most steadfast pioneering advocates for the gay rights movement, Frank Kameny, died on Tuesday, October 11 at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 86. He appears to have died of natural causes. According to the Washington Blade:

Timothy Clark, Kameny’s tenant, said he found Kameny unconscious and unresponsive in his bed shortly after 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Clark called 911 police emergency and rescue workers determined that Kameny had passed away earlier, most likely in his sleep. Clark said he had spoken with Kameny shortly before midnight on the previous day and Kameny didn’t seem to be in distress.

Kameny was born on May 21, 1925 in New York City. He is a World War II veteran, having seen combat in Europe. After the war, Kameny earned a doctorate in astronomy from Harvard University and went to work for the Army Map service as an astronomer. He became a gay rights activist when he was fired by the Army in 1957 when they learned he was gay. At that time, gay people were prohibited from Federal employment due to a 1953 Executive order by President Eisenhower. In Joyce Murdoch and Deb Price’s book, Courting Justice: Gay Men And Lesbians V. The Supreme Court, Frank called his 1957 firing the spark which energized his long dedication to securing equality for all LGBT people:

“I just couldn’t walk away,” recalled Frank Kameny, a brilliant Harvard-educated astronomer who became nearly destitute after being fired from his government job in 1957. The phrase echoed through many interviews with gay people who fought against dreadful odds after losing a job, being embarrassed by a “sex crime” arrest or suffering some similar humiliation. “For the rest of my life, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself,” Kameny added. “I would be dead of stomach ulcers by now. There’s simply a burning sense of justice.”

He immediately set about challenging the his firing and the federal ban, taking his case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Because he acts as his own attorney, he became the first known gay person to file a gay-related case before the high court. In his petition before the court, Kameny let loose his full rhetorical powers which would  become a trademark throughout his life of activism:

…the government’s policies…are 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.

Jack Nichols, Frank Kameny, and other members of the Washington Mattachine Society picketing the White House, April, 1965.

Kameny lost the case, but was undeterred. He, along with Jack Nichols, co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. The Mattachine Society elsewhere was know for being rather conservative in their tactics, but Kameny’s leadership of the Washington chapter brought an unprecedented boldness to gay activism. The Washington chapter organized the very first picket for gay rights in front of the White House on April 17, 1965, and that was followed by further pickets in front of the Pentagon, the Civil Service Commission, and, in cooperation with other East Coast activists, in front of Philadelphia’s City Hall.

Inspired by the civil rights movement’s slogan “Black is Beautiful,” Kameny coined the phrase “Gay Is Good.” That message may appear rather simple today, but it was a particularly significant slogan for 1968 when homosexuality was still considered both a mental illness and a criminal act. It was also a message that many gay people didn’t understand or fully believe themselves. Kameny didn’t just want to change how the laws treated gay people, he also wanted gay people to see themselves as fully equal to everyone else as people, deserving full equality not as a priveledge to be won but as a right earned at birth. In an email exchange with me in 2007, Frank reflected:

I’ve said, for a long time, that if I’m remembered for only one thing, I would like it to be for having coined “Gay is Good.” But never did I expect that that would make its way to the Smithsonian. I feel deeply contented.

When Washington D.C. was awarded a non-voting seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1971, Kameny became the first openly gay man to run for Congress. He lost that election, but went on to become the first openly gay member of the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Commission. Meanwhile, Kameny saw that the American Psychiatric Association’s listing of homosexuality as a mental disorder was the primary roadblock to full civil equality for gay people. He worked with other gay rights activists, principally Barbara Gittings, to convince the APA to remove homosexuality from that list. They were ultimately successful in 1973. In 1975, Kameny was also successful in getting the Civil Service Commission to drop their blanket ban on hiring gay people. Federal personnel officials “surrendered to me on July 3rd, 1975,” he recalled. “They called me up to tell me they were changing their policies to suit me. And that was the end of it.”

OPM Director John Berry delivers an official apology to Frank Kameny on behalf of the U.S. Government

In 2006, Kameny’s papers were donated to the Library of Congress, where they were catalogued and made available to the public. In 2008, his personal collection, including original picket signs from the 1965 protests and an original “Gay Is Good” button, were donated to the Smithsonian Institution. But in June, 2009, Kameny’s long years of activism finally came full circle. More than fifty years after his firing from the Army Map Service, Frank was invited to a special ceremony to receive a formal letter of apology from John Berry, the openly gay Director of the Office of Personnel Management, which is the organizational successor to the Civil Service Commission which had fired untold thousands of gay people. Kameny was also bestowed the Teddy Roosevelt Award, the department’s highest honor. Upon receiving the apology, Frank Kameny tearfully replied, “Apology accepted.”

Kameny On Your Kindle

Jim Burroway

March 23rd, 2011

…the government’s policies…are 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.

LGBT pioneer activist Frank Kameny fired off those words in a petition he filed with the Supreme Court. The petition was to appeal a lower court decision upholding Kameny’s firing from his job as an astronomer for the Army Map Service in 1957 because of his homosexuality. Gay people were prohibited from Federal employment due to a 1953 Executive order by President Eisenhower. The Supreme Court denied his petition to overturn that Executive Order fifty years ago this week.

Kameny’s historic petition has not been available, until now. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s denial of that petition, Petition Denied, Revolution Begun: Frank Kameny Petitions the Supreme Court is now available as a Kindle ebook. Editor Charles Francis created the edition along with some background information.

Frank Kameny with an original picket from 1965

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 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, Frank Kameny tearfully replied, “Apology accepted.”

Frank Kameny is 85 and is still active in Washington, D.C. His home was designated as a D.C. Historic Landmark by the District of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Review Board in honor of his activism. His papers are now in the Library of Congress, and a collection of original picket signs, a “Gay is Good” button (he invented the phrase), and other memorabilia are a part of the Smithsonian’s collection.

The President Gave A Very Good Speech

Jim Burroway

June 29th, 2009

The speech, the transcript of which is included below, was very good but also of little note. There’s not much there that President Barack Obama hasn’t said before when he met with some 250 to 300 LGBT guests in the East Room of the White House today. That gathering was billed as a commemoration for the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion.

The President acknowledged Frank Kameny, who was fired in 1957 from the Army map service because he was gay. Later in the speech, he acknowledged the estimated 272 servicemembers who have been fired by the Pentagon since the start of his administration when he renewed his promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”:

Someday, I’m confident, we’ll look back at this transition and ask why it generated such angst, but as Commander-in-Chief, in a time of war, I do have a responsibility to see that this change is administered in a practical way and a way that takes over the long term.  That’s why I’ve asked the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop a plan for how to thoroughly implement a repeal.

I know that every day that passes without a resolution is a deep disappointment to those men and women who continue to be discharged under this policy — patriots who often possess critical language skills and years of training and who’ve served this country well.  But what I hope is that these cases underscore the urgency of reversing this policy not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it is essential for our national security.

The President also acknowledged the impatience of the LGBT community:

And I know that many in this room don’t believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that.  It’s not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half century ago.

But I say this:  We have made progress and we will make more.  And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I’ve made, but by the promises that my administration keeps.  …  We’ve been in office six months now.  I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration.

He also addressed the Defense of Marriage Act, saying:

I’ve called on Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act to help end discrimination — (applause) — to help end discrimination against same-sex couples in this country.  Now, I want to add we have a duty to uphold existing law, but I believe we must do so in a way that does not exacerbate old divides.  And fulfilling this duty in upholding the law in no way lessens my commitment to reversing this law.  I’ve made that clear.

He says he wants to “uphold existing law” in a way “that does not exacerbate old divides.” He apparently failed to understand that it was that very DOMA brief that exacerbated old divides. Maybe there’s only one side of the divide he wants to avoid exacerbating, but not the other.

That said, I thought it was an excellent speech overall. But speeches are relatively unimportant. It’s actions that matter.

But there were, I hope, some speeches in that room that will be more important than the President’s. Those guests were given the opportunity to meet with and exchange a few words with the President afterward. If any speech will matter in the long run, it will be their stories, pleas and promises, not the President’s. Let’s hope they took advantage of that opportunity.

Click here to see the transcript of the President’s remarks.

Gov’t Repudiates Frank Kameny’s 1957 Firing, Apologizes

Jim Burroway

June 25th, 2009
OPM Director John Berry and Frank Kameny at yesterday's ceremony. (Office of Personnel Management)

OPM Director John Berry and Frank Kameny at yesterday’s ceremony (Office of Personnel Management)

In 1957, Frank Kameny was fired from his job as an astronomer at the Army Map Service when his supervisors found out he was gay. He protested to the U.S. Civil Service Commission and argued his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which denied his claim. That experience turned Kameny from an anonymous government employee to one of the most tireless activists of the LGBT movement.

No Longer ‘Unsuitable for Federal Employment’ (Laura McGinnis, Renna Communications)

No Longer ‘Unsuitable for Federal Employment’ (Laura McGinnis, Renna Communications)

Yesterday, more than fifty years after his firing, Frank was on hand at a special ceremony to receive a formal letter of apology from John Berry, the openly gay Director of the Office of Personnel Management. Kameny was also bestowed the Teddy Roosevelt Award, the department’s highest honor. Upon receiving the apology, Frank Kameny tearfully replied, “Apology accepted.”

We often think of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York as being the start of the Gay Rights movement, but that assumption ignores the bold, aggressive action by Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, Del Martin and Phylis Lyon, along with other pre-stonewall landmark events like the Black Cat Raid and the White House pickets. Frank Kameny was right in the middle of many of those bold initiatives in demanding equality for gay people when relatively few gay people themselves believed they deserved equality. Remember, this was a time when the medical profession regarded homosexuality as a mental illness.

Frank would have none of that. He co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., which in 1963 launched a long campaign to overturn sodomy laws and remove homosexuality from the American Psychological Association’s list of mental disorders. He participated in the very first picket line in front of the White House on April 17, 1965. Along with other activists from New York they expanded those pickets to include the Pentagon, the U.S. Civil Service Commission, and, more famously, to Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia pickets would become an annual event for the next five years.

Gay Is GoodIn 1968, Kameny coined the phrase “Gay Is Good,” basing it on the slogan “Black Is Beautiful.” It was a bold and radical gesture for many gays and lesbians who hadn’t before dared to believe that about themselves. While Frank points to that phrase’s popularity as his most proud accomplishment, it wasn’t his last. He became the first openly gay candidate for Congress in 1971 (he lost), and he played a pivotal role in the APA’s removal of homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1973 (he won).

Yesterday, Frank’s life of advocacy completed its full circle with the apology and recognition from the Office of Personnel Management, the successor department to the U.S. Civil Service Commission which upheld his firing. In Joyce Murdoch and Deb Price’s book, Courting Justice: Gay Men And Lesbians V. The Supreme Court, Frank called his 1957 firing the spark which energized his long dedication to securing equality for all LGBT people:

“I just couldn’t walk away,” recalled Frank Kameny, a brilliant Harvard-educated astronomer who became nearly destitute after being fired from his government job in 1957. The phrase echoed through many interviews with gay people who fought against dreadful odds after losing a job, being embarrassed by a “sex crime” arrest or suffering some similar humiliation. “For the rest of my life, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself,” Kameny added. “I would be dead of stomach ulcers by now. There’s simply a burning sense of justice.”

Frank Kameny is 82, and is still active in Washington, D.C. where he makes his home. His home, by the way, was designated as a D.C. Historic Landmark by the District of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Review Board in honor of his activism. His papers are now in the Library of Congress, and a collection of original picket signs, a “Gay is Good” button, and other memorabilia are a part of the Smithsonion’s collection.

Click here to read the OPM’s letter of apology

President Obama Signs the Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits

Jim Burroway

June 17th, 2009
YouTube Preview Image

By the way, the older gentleman who President Obama handed the pen to is longtime gay activist Frank Kameny. Frank became an activist when he was fired by the Army Map service in 1957 when his superiors learned that he was gay. Frank quickly became a no-holds barred activist, participating in the very first picket line in front of the White House in 1965. He coined the phrase “Gay Is Good” in 1968. To many gays and lesbians who hadn’t before dared to believe that about themselves, that phrase was a bold and radical gesture. The impact of those three simple words is incalculable. Today, Frank points to that simple act as his most proud accomplishment.

But his accomplishments didn’t end there. He became the first openly gay candidate for Congress in 1971 (he lost), and he played a pivotal role in the APA’s removal of homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1973 (he won). Franks papers are now a part of the Smithsonian’s collection, and his home in Washington was designated as a D.C. Historic Landmark by the District of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Review Board in honor of his activism.

Whatever criticisms we all have about Obama’s timidity in LGBT rights as well as the grievous injury stemming from his Justice Department’s DOMA brief, it is good to pause and savor this moment for one important hero. The man who was fired by the federal government because he was gay is now a witness to a president signing a memorandum addressing limited benefits for gay employees.

History sometimes takes a very long time. And it’s not even close to being over yet.

Click here for the official transcript of President Obama’s remarks

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:

..in 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.

Frank Kameny’s Papers Available To The Public

Jim Burroway

September 19th, 2008

It’s been about two years since Frank Kameny, longtime Washington, D.C. LGBT activist, donated his papers to the Library of Congress. Now that those papers have been cataloged, they are available to the public:

Charles Francis, organizer of the Kameny Papers Project, said the 50,000 items were “organized to perfection” by library staff and would be an invaluable resource to people reviewing the earliest days of the gay civil rights movement.

“The Kameny Papers, documenting the evolution of the gay rights movement in the United States, are now available to study for many years to come,” he said.

Frank played a pivotal role in the gay rights movement since the 1960′s. He became involved when he was fired from his civilian job with the U.S. Army’s map service in 1957. Federal civil service rules at the time prohibited gays from federal employment, and security clearances were routinely denied to anyone who was found to be gay. He became the first to appeal a firing on the basis of homosexuality.

He lost those appeals, but went on to found the Washington, D.C. Mattachine Society. He also played a key role in getting the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973.

In 1968 Frank coined the phrase “Gay is Good,” inspired by the popular “Black is Beautiful” slogan. “Gay is Good” may appear rather simple today, but it was a particularly significant slogan for 1968 when homosexuality was still considered both a mental illness and a criminal act. Last year when some of Frank’s memorabilia was featured in a temporary display at the Smithsonian, he shared with me what the slogan meant to him:

I’ve said, for a long time, that if I’m remembered for only one thing, I would like it to be for having coined “Gay is Good.” But never did I expect that that would make its way to the Smithsonian. I feel deeply contented.

According to the Washington Blade, highlights of the Kameny Papers include papers related to the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 decision and the landmark 1974 federal decision to grant an openly gay man a Pentagon security clearance.

And by the way, in case you were wondering, Frank Kameny is still very much alive.

Today In History: The APA Says No

Jim Burroway

July 17th, 2008

One of the top goals of the early gay rights movement was to get the American Psychological Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. As long as homosexuality remained listed, governmental agencies and private companies had all the excuse they needed to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

In 1957, Psychologist Evelyn Hooker began publishing the results of a series of tests which demonstrated that gays and lesbians who weren’t patients of mental health professionals were indistinguishable from heterosexuals. Before then, the mental health community thought that gays were mentally deficient because all of the prior research had only studied people who were confined to mental hospitals or were seen in clinical settings.

Despite the strength of this new evidence, it would still take many years for it to sink in. In fact, it was forty-five years ago today that the American Psychological Association declined to discuss the matter in a letter to leading gay rights activist Frank Kameny and the Mattachine Society, saying  “it is not in the best interests of the APA to meet with you, nor to publicize your meetings.”

Another ten years would pass before Kameny appeared on a panel of the APA’s symposium on homosexuality with Dr. John E. Fryer as “Dr. H. Anonymous.” That was  a key moment leading to the APA’s elimination of homosexuality as a mental illness. That was quite a turnaround from a mere ten years earlier when the APA refused to meet with them.

Frank Kameny’s papers are now a part of the Smithsonian Institution, and at 83, he’s still kicking butt and naming names from his home in Washington, D.C.

Today In History: Eisenhower Signs Executive Order 10450

Jim Burroway

April 27th, 2008

Pres. Dwight D. EisenhowerFifty-five years ago today, on April 27, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, which mandated the firing of all federal employees who were determined to be guilty of “sexual perversion.” Over the next two decades, thousands of gays and lesbians would loose their jobs solely because of their sexual orientation.

This was the culmination of an anti-gay witch hunt which began three years earlier. In February of 1950, Undersecretary of State John Peurifoy, testifying before the US Senate Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Department, revealed that 91 employees “in the shady category” had resigned since 1947. Republican Senators took that admission to allege that President Harry Truman’s administration’s employment of “sexual deviants with police records” was recklessly endangering the country’s national security.

Joseph McCarthyIt just so happened that Joseph McCarthy was a member of that committee. He had just given give his famous Wheeling Speech a few weeks earlier, claiming to have “a list in my hand” of 205 communist employees at the State Department. The Homosexual Scare now joined the nascent Red Scare as twin threats to American liberties. By April, McCarthy pressured the Civil Service to begin rooting out gays and lesbians from federal offices. By June, he persuaded the Senate to authorize a full-range investigation of homosexuals “and other moral perverts” in the civil service. The Senate Appropriations Committee responded with a rushed report a few months later, saying “one homosexual can pollute an entire government office,” and “to pussyfoot or take half measures will allow some known perverts to remain in government.”

McCarthy and CohnBy the end of 1950, anti-homosexual hysteria was in full swing. The Republican Party’s national chairman sent a warning to 7,000 party members that, “Perhaps as dangerous as the actual Communists are the secret perverts who have infiltrated our government in recent years.” On Christmas Day of that year, Time magazine opined that all homosexuals should be fired from the federal government. The hysteria raged for the next three years as McCarthy presided over countless hearings on the imagined threat of homosexuals and communists in the government. Ironically, it would be McCarthy’s chief council, Roy Cohn, who would draw fire during the Army investigations of 1954 over rumors of his own homosexuality. (Cohn would later die of AIDS in 1986.) This played a small but key role in McCarthy’s eventual downfall.

Clamor over the twin menaces raged for the next three years, culminating in Eisenhower’s 1953 Executive Order which declared all homosexuals to be “security risks,” regardless of whether they were actually disloyal or not. It didn’t matter how low or innocuous their position was; their mere presence in a government office was deemed a threat. Following Eisenhower’s executive order, more than 640 federal employees would lose their job because of allegations of homosexuality over the next year and a half. Unknown numbers of others resigned quietly. State and local governments and government contractors followed suit, tossing countless more innocent Americans out of their jobs.

Unintended consequences are funny things though. In 1957, a young astronomer by the name of Dr. Franklin Kameny was fired from the Army Map service because of his homosexuality. After all of his court appeals were denied, he founded the Washington, D.C. Mattachine Society. He and Daughters of Billitis founder Barbara Gittings organized the first gay rights demonstrations in front of the White House, State Department and Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in 1965 to demand an end to the federal employment ban. This demand remained a key component of the whole gay rights movement from the 1950′s through the 1970′s. Much of today’s modern gay rights movement has its roots buried deep in the anti-gay and anti-red hysteria of the 1950′s and Executive order 10450.

White House Protest

The Civil Service ban on gays and lesbians would continue for the next two decades. In 1973, a federal judge ruled that a person’s sexual orientation alone could not be the sole reason for termination from federal employment. But even with that ruling, it wasn’t until July 3, 1975 when the Civil Service Commission finally announced that they would consider applications by gays and lesbians on a case by case basis.

Tom Brokaw: No Gays In His ’60′s

Jim Burroway

November 26th, 2007

Tom Brokaw’s new book, Boom! Voices of the Sixties is supposed to be a sweeping review of all of the highlights of that pivital decade for social change. Brokaw left virtually nothing untouched: civil rights, the war, feminism, the sexual revolution — all of it is right there in his exhastive review. Except for one thing: There are no gays in the Sixties.

No Stonewall, no protests in front of the White House or Independence Hall, no Civil Service expulsions, none of that is a part of Tom Brokaw’s “Sixties.” And that has 1960′s gay rights activist and icon Frank Kameny livid. Kameny, whose memorabilia was recently featured in a display at the Smithsonian Institution fired off a stirring rebuttal to Brokaw’s silence on a very important part of America in the 1960′s. Reminding Brokaw that “Gay is good” (Frank coined that phrase in 1968.) Kameny reminds Brokaw of the great sweep of history that Brokaw overlooked and demands an apology.

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Gay Is Good: Frank Kameny’s Memorabilia At The Smithsonian

Jim Burroway

August 31st, 2007

“Gay Is Good” buttonThe Smithsonian’s Museum of American History is closed and undergoing renovations, but that’s not stopping them from putting on ambitious and expansive shows at other venues. One such exhibit is the “Treasures of American History” at the National Air and Space Museum.

And one part of this exhibit is titled “Gay is Good” and features several items from Frank Kameny’s recently donated archives and memorabilia, includes picket signs from 1965 and “Gay is Good” buttons from around 1968. These items join Thomas Jefferson’s small, portable, folding desk upon which he wrote the Declaration and the inkwells Abraham Lincoln used to write the Emancipation Proclamation — all of which played key roles in the formation of our national values of freedom and equality for everyone.

Frank Kameny is a living hero of the American gay rights movement. It all began when he was dismissed in 1957 from his position as an astronomer in the Army Map Service because of his homosexuality. Federal civil service rules at the time prohibited gays from federal employment, and security clearances were routinely denied to anyone who was found to be gay. He became the first to appeal a firing on the basis of homosexuality. The ACLU represented him at the Court of Appeals, but they refused to go further when he lost. So he wrote his own appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, filing it on January 21, 1961. The Supreme Court took only two months to turn it down.

In 1961, Frank and Jack Nichols co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., aggressively pressing for equal treatment of gay employees in the federal government. They also began their work to overturn anti-sodomy laws across the country and to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders, both of which served as justifications for ongoing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The APA was not very receptive to working with the Society however, writing in 1963, “it is not in the best interests of the APA to meet with you, nor to publicize your meetings.” Meanwhile there was a move in Congress in 1963 to prevent the District of Columbia from registering the Mattachine Society as a nonprofit organization.

Picket sign from first White House protestBut that didn’t deter the nascent gay rights movement. Frank and other members of the Mattachine Society participated in the very first gay-rights picket in front of the White House in 1965. And in 1973, he was on a panel of the APA’s symposium on homosexuality when Dr. John E. Fryer appeared as “Dr. H. Anonymous.” This ended up being a key moment leading to the APA’s elimination of homosexuality as a mental illness. That was quite a turnaround from a mere ten years earlier when the APA refused to meet with him.

In 1968 Frank coined the phrase “Gay is Good,” inspired by the popular “Black is Beautiful” slogan. “Gay is Good” may appear rather simple today, but it was a particularly significant slogan for 1968 when homosexuality was still considered both a mental illness and a criminal act. Today, in a private message reprinted here with his kind permission, Frank reflects on his slogan:

I’ve said, for a long time, that if I’m remembered for only one thing, I would like it to be for having coined “Gay is Good.” But never did I expect that that would make its way to the Smithsonian. I feel deeply contented.

Frank Kameny with an original picketYou can find more information about Frank’s contribution to gay rights in America at his web site, the Kameny Papers. Not only was he a great gay rights leader, he also ended up being a great archivist. It seems as if he never threw anything away and we’re all the richer for it. Now his legacy is a part of our national patrimony. And as this video from The Kameny Papers website shows, his struggle — and ours — is part and parcel of the larger struggle to bring America’s promise of equality to fruition for everyone.

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Frank Kameny: “Not Dead”

Jim Burroway

May 17th, 2007

The legendary gay-rights leader Frank Kameny has released a statement in which he claims that he is “not dead.”

Next week’s issue of The Advocate, which will hit the newsstands Tuesday, reports that Frank Kameny is one of the leaders we’ve “lost to AIDS.” But Frank Kameny has come forward to deny that he has AIDS or that he is dead. He even says he will turn 82 on Monday, May 21.

Dr. Kameny was fired from his job as an astronomer at the Army Map Service in 1957 when they discovered he was gay. This began his twenty year fight against Civil Service regulations which barred gays from federal employment. He co-founded Washington’s Mattachine Society in 1961 and was part of the first picket line of gays and lesbians at the White House on April 17, 1965. And even though Frank is “not dead,” you can still read a fitting tribute by Jonathan Rauch. Kameny’s papers were recently donated to the Library of Congress.