So it appears to be the week for visionaries and pioneers to die. Last night, at age 86, Frank Kameny died at home. Kameny was the genuine article: a trailblazer in gay rights, suing the federal government -- in the 1950s -- for firing him for being a homosexual, back before we all graduated to being called "gay." From the Washington Blade's obituary:
Kameny, born and raised in New York City, served in combat as an Army soldier in World War II in Europe. After the war, Kameny obtained a doctorate degree in astronomy from Harvard University.
He went on to work as an astronomer for the U.S. Army map service in the 1950s and was fired after authorities discovered he was gay. He contested the firing and appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first known gay person to file a gay-related case before the high court.
In the 1950s, they were still raiding bars and jailing people for dancing with someone of the same sex. It was the height of McCarthyism, the terror obsession of half a century ago, when "Communist," "gay," "pervert," and "threat to civilization" were synonyms. I cannot even imagine having the viscera to sue the federal government for wrongful termination, way back before the Civil Rights Act. And when he lost, he started one of the first Mattachine Society chapters, the one in D.C., and spent his life advocating for gay rights.
The MetroWeekly obit mentions that Kameny finally got a letter of apology for his firing in 2009, and continues:
A year later, on June 10, 2010, a crowd gathered on 17th Street NW for the unveiling of the street sign naming the stretch of the street between R and Q Streets ''Frank Kameny Way NW.''
On Dec. 22, 2010, Kameny was present for another landmark moment -- the signing of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act. The World War II veteran told Metro Weekly he was overjoyed to be attending because, as he said, ''I didn't think I'd live to see it.''
Kameny had won: The federal government no longer fires anyone for being gay.
Here's a video HRC (Human Rights Campaign, not Hillary Rodham Clinton) put together when they honored him. It includes footage of the amazing 1965 protest Mattachine held in front of the White House, before Stonewall. The Washington Post has a slide show.
Fittingly enough for someone who worked so hard to enable lesbians and gay men to come out freely, Kameny died on National Coming Out Day. Thank you, Frank, for everything.
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