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Frank Kameny, LGBT Pioneer, has passed.
October 12, 2011 5:46 PM   Subscribe

Pioneer and tireless activist for the LGBT civil rights movement, Frank Kameny was fired from his job as an astronomer for the US government in the late 1950s because he was gay. He co-organized the Mattachine Society of Washington, campaigned for equal treatment of gay employees in the Federal government, was the first openly gay candidate for Congress and worked to remove the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The Library of Congress holds his papers, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History includes in its collections Kameny's picket signs carried in front of the White House in 1965, his home has been made a DC Historic Landmark, and a street near Dupont Circle was declared Frank Kameny Way in 2010. In 2009, John Berry, Director of the Office of Personnel Management, formally apologized to Kameny on behalf of the United States government. Frank Kameny died on National Coming Out Day this October 11, 2011.

Somewhere, I have a vintage "Gay Is Good" button, a slogan which Frank Kameny coined. PreViousLy.
posted by Morrigan (56 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by robbyrobs at 5:49 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by fuzzypantalones at 5:50 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by Sphinx at 5:53 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:53 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by pointystick at 5:55 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by aerotive at 5:57 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by spiderskull at 6:07 PM on October 12, 2011


Thanks so much for posting this. I was worried he was going to go without a memorial on the blue, and that would have been a tragedy. He was a wonderful, pleasant man, the reason my ex (and now best friend) met 25 years ago, and a walking library of stories, wisdom, and goofy, lovable grace, close enough to where I live that I was able to enjoy his company a number of times in my life. I heard someone on the radio today suggest he may well have been the Martin Luther King, Jr. of our cause, and he'd get my vote. When the rest of the early gay movement was all quibbling over details and politics or hiding behind pseudonyms, he was in a starched white shirt and tie, holding up one of his impeccably lettered signs when that was just not done.

It's one thing to stand up now, or even ten or twenty years ago.

In 1965, it took a courageous warrior who knew what was right and knew it what was worth.

Those of us who enjoy the freedom he forged best remember, because freedoms can be lost.

Thanks, Frank, for all you did for me.
posted by sonascope at 6:09 PM on October 12, 2011 [23 favorites]


Thanks for this post, Morrigan. This was the first time I can remember where I actually caught news moments after it broke, and I thought about posting it here, but didn't have the time to do it justice, only having a basic grasp of GLBT history. I appreciate all the additional context.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 6:14 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by trip and a half at 6:18 PM on October 12, 2011


Not only brave on his own behalf, but leading on so many important dimensions of the movement over the years. I'm ashamed of having been oblivious to someone who put so much shape to the world that queers of my generation have been handed.

Thank you, Frank.

(On NCOD, no less. That detail makes me chuckle.)
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 6:27 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by sgrass at 6:29 PM on October 12, 2011


On the shoulders of giants.

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posted by theatro at 6:31 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by Blue Jello Elf at 6:32 PM on October 12, 2011


I spent quite a bit of time interviewing Frank for a book I wrote about the 60s, an oral history called "Generation on Fire." Here's a link to the chapter on Frank, who was one of the great, unsung heroes of the decade: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/3008887/kameny.pdf
posted by jeffisme at 6:32 PM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


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posted by wilful at 6:36 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by 4ster at 6:43 PM on October 12, 2011


I met him once a few years ago. I am glad he got to see the end of DADT before he died.
posted by aabbbiee at 6:44 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by Reverend John at 6:45 PM on October 12, 2011


I'm as cynical as the next person, but dude. This guy lived long enough to see many of the injustices done to him righted. He had to lie about who he was in order to serve in the military, and now people don't have to do that. He was fired from his job in the federal government for being gay, and now that policy has been overturned. He died in a city where he had the legal right to marry. I'm sorry he died, but I'm so glad he lived long enough to know that the movement he started was going to win.
posted by craichead at 6:45 PM on October 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


He's one of the handful of people -- uncelebrated and for the most part almost wholly unknown outside academic and activist circles -- who I would say made it possible for me to live my life as the person I am. He had the tireless determination to fight against all odds, to be the single man who wrote angry letters to federal officials at a time when they would just disdainfully stare at his letters and in one case ( a Missouri congressman) write back, "Please do not contaminate my mail with such filthy trash." That, to me, defines the word "hero."

And like I said, if if it weren't for his efforts and the efforts of Harry Hay and hundreds of other people whose names I'll never know, I would be living a lie to myself and to the world, just as most gay men did 50 years ago without complaint, or without even knowing there was anything to complain about -- because there was no other way to live. Kameny said no -- FUCK no -- and complained. And helped change history. What a concept.
posted by blucevalo at 6:47 PM on October 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


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posted by pemberkins at 6:48 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by ryanshepard at 6:56 PM on October 12, 2011


One of the true heroes.

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posted by hippybear at 7:01 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by MrBobaFett at 7:04 PM on October 12, 2011


Amazing, amazing person.
posted by Forktine at 7:05 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by brujita at 7:06 PM on October 12, 2011


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(And a footnote that seems worthy of note to me... last night, on the same day Mr. Kameny passed, a friend of mine proposed to his boyfriend, while surrounded by hundreds of drummers, fire-dancers, and assorted hipsters and hippies at the Chicago Full Moon Jam. So within Mr. Kameny's lifetime, we have grown from hiding, ostracism and oppression, to where we can openly propose marriage in front of a crowd of strangers - who now cheer for us.)
posted by dnash at 7:07 PM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


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The other day in the J. Edgar Hoover thread I posted, there was a (deleted) comment asking why gays were so special that they deserved all this concern and respect. What made them any more special than black people, or jewish people, blah blah.

The response I would've liked to have made is that there is nothing special about any of these groups -- except that they are all human beings. That's really it. And it's amazing and sad that in so many corners of the world, the determination to be treated like a human being seems like a radical intent, or like whining about your problems, or a desperation for attention.

All these years later, we're still working toward acceptance, and most of the time we'll even settle for tolerance. So, America, it's your choice: you can just accept us already and everyone can move on, OR we can spend several more decades protesting and lobbying and culture-jamming and making fun of you for being fascist Puritan freakazoids, and turning your children against you. Your call!
posted by hermitosis at 7:11 PM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


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posted by smoke at 7:20 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by Anitanola at 7:37 PM on October 12, 2011



posted by en forme de poire at 7:49 PM on October 12, 2011



posted by Twang at 7:52 PM on October 12, 2011


Kameny picketing the White House the first time ever, April 1965.

Daughters of Bilitis and Mattachine of New York followed up on July 4, 1965 picketing at Philadelphia's Independence Hall.
posted by Twang at 7:57 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hands down one of the great American heroes of the twentieth century. So glad, as craichead said, that he died knowing that the movement for LGBT liberation is winning. He dared believe what almost no one else did, just a few generations ago.
posted by scody at 8:14 PM on October 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


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posted by darkstar at 8:16 PM on October 12, 2011


. You did good, kid.
posted by LMGM at 8:26 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by runincircles at 8:30 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by dismas at 8:33 PM on October 12, 2011


This past June, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) sponsored a very special LGBT Pride event in DC:

Dr Frank Kameny tells The Story.
posted by Mike Mongo at 8:48 PM on October 12, 2011


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posted by ants at 8:49 PM on October 12, 2011


Also, this picture of Dr Kameny and President Obama taken in 2009 did it for me. Definitely fairy dust in my eyes...
posted by Mike Mongo at 8:55 PM on October 12, 2011


Directly because of his actions, and the actions of people he led and inspired, I have friends who lead safer, happier, normal lives in ways that wasn't possible fifty years ago. This is turning out to be a rough month for the world-changers.
posted by ardgedee at 9:35 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Having popped out of my closet WAY earlier than fair (to me!) or reasonable (age 13), in 1970, it was hugely fortunately that folks like Dr. Kameny had raised enough awareness that, once I had the word "homosexual" to describe my feelings, I was able to find the words of those who assured me, I wasn't bad or wrong, just different. That made plenty of difference.
posted by Goofyy at 9:38 PM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


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posted by heeeraldo at 1:10 AM on October 13, 2011


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posted by litleozy at 1:22 AM on October 13, 2011


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posted by Nerro at 2:06 AM on October 13, 2011


Thank you Frank.
posted by dprs75 at 2:23 AM on October 13, 2011


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posted by grrarrgh00 at 5:31 AM on October 13, 2011


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posted by drezdn at 6:18 AM on October 13, 2011


Rachel Maddow's show last night included a tribute to Frank Kameny. Wow! An out big butch dyke (as she calls herself) with a cable TV news show celebrating the life of a gay man. Wonderful!
posted by Carol Anne at 6:24 AM on October 13, 2011


It's been two years since my wife and I made a sign and went down to the DC Marriage Equality March. In the meantime, we've performed hundreds (yup, hundreds) of same-sex (and occasionally different-sex) marriages in DC. Marrying gay folks is now my wife's full-time job.

Kameny's work is what made it easy. The march was great fun, a bunch of people uniting for a common cause, a celebratory mood despite the seriousness of purpose. I mean, I never feared losing my job, or getting beat up or arrested (I ranted about that before).

Things are different from how they used to be because of him. The world--the whole world--is a better place because of what this one guy did.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:34 AM on October 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


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posted by robstercraw at 9:56 AM on October 14, 2011


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