Cathy Renna

Driving Mr. Kameny

Filed By Cathy Renna | June 03, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Frank Kameny, gay history, gay icons, Mattachine Society, Stonewall

Last night we kicked off Capital Pride week here in Washington, DC. The opening event is one that I love for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is held inside (gotta love the humidity here). The "Heroes" reception honors people in the DC area who have contributed to the LGBT movement and last night there was an exceptional group. In fact, in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, the organizers named a few "super Heroes." One was Dr. Frank Kameny.

Frank and me June 2009.jpgIf you do not know who he is you are in serious need of a history lesson. Frank is one of the principal founders of the modern LGBT rights movement, founder the Mattachine Society in DC and has been a vital part of so many historic moments in our movement - from removing homosexuality as a mental illness in the DSM to our fight for equal treatment in the Federal government workforce. I have always taken as an omen (a good one) that his first protest in front of the White House was held the month I was born (April, 1965, do the math).

And while the event was amazing - Frank's speech was a highlight - the most fun and fabulous part for me was volunteering to pick Frank up and take him home after. It's the least I could do for someone on whose shoulders we all stand.

We have been doing some great Stonewall 40 related work at Renna Communications and a lot of it has been about contextualizing our history. From helping the media understand that there was a lot of pre-Stonewall work happening (as Frank vocally pointed out last night) to explaining how those who did stand up so bravely to the police were from parts of our community that are still marginalized and most subject to discrimination to simply making sure that they take notice of how far we have come and how far we still need to go, it has been fun and exciting. The tragedy is that our history will not be known unless we make it known.

When I came out I was like a sponge - I read all I could find (not easy pre-Internet) since my father taught me well that knowing your history is an important thing. He grew up in Italy when Mussolini was in power - 'nuff said. So I did my gay homework and the names of Frank Kameny, Lilli Vincenz, Barbara Gittings, Sylvia Rivera, Audre Lorde and so many others were with me from the beginning of my journey, like a new family and set of ancestors.

As we approach Stonewall's 40th anniversary, I will be sure and post about the work we are doing with groups like SAGE, the Ali Forney Center, Velvet Foundation, Capital Pride and others. I know last night's car ride, which included a bit of a civics lesson, a lot of history, a great discussion on how to move marriage equality forward in the District (Frank is sooo not in any kind of activist retirement in his 80's) and the knowledge that Frank and I both grew up in Queens and went to NYC public schools, just made my month and we are only in the first week.

As I drove home after watching this superhero and icon let himself into his modest home (now officially a historical site in the District) I knew what pride really means - and what it feels like, too.


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Rick Sours | June 3, 2009 1:21 PM

Having lived in the Washington DC area, I have met
Frank Kameny. He was employed as an Astronomer by the then Army Map Service. He was fired simply because he was Gay.

Frank Kameny is a giant in Gay History. From once being fired by the Feds, his personal archives and picket signs are now housed in the Library of Congress collections. It is great that he saw this in his lifetime. I think that one of the areas in which we need lots of resources is Gay History, and making sure that it is well-circulated.
I am half Frank's age, and I still remember the chill anytime I would read in the Washington Post about gay firings in the government, which continued throughout my time in high school. This was a most difficult atmosphere in which to "come-out". Too many younger gays and lesbians take the present legal rights for granted, and are not as active or as financially supportive as the work ahead still requires. Although it is early in the Obama administration to judge what his support and results will ultimately be, at least he and Secretary of State Clinton issued Gay Pride Proclamations. Can anyone imagine that happening just a few years ago under Bush?
Our goal is full equality, not simply living tolerably. Gay History is necessary to let people remember that the gains have been most recent, and that as we saw in California with Proposition 8, they can also disappear if we let our guard down.
Let's salute our Gay pioneers as we re-commit ourselves to the work ahead.

Frank Kameny is a giant in Gay History. From once being fired by the Feds, his personal archives and picket signs are now housed in the Library of Congress collections. It is great that he saw this in his lifetime. I think that one of the areas in which we need lots of resources is Gay History, and making sure that it is well-circulated.
I am half Frank's age, and I still remember the chill anytime I would read in the Washington Post about gay firings in the government, which continued throughout my time in high school. This was a most difficult atmosphere in which to "come-out". Too many younger gays and lesbians take the present legal rights for granted, and are not as active or as financially supportive as the work ahead still requires. Although it is early in the Obama administration to judge what his support and results will ultimately be, at least he and Secretary of State Clinton issued Gay Pride Proclamations. Can anyone imagine that happening just a few years ago under Bush?
Our goal is full equality, not simply living tolerably. Gay History is necessary to let people remember that the gains have been most recent, and that as we saw in California with Proposition 8, they can also disappear if we let our guard down.
Let's salute our Gay pioneers as we re-commit ourselves to the work ahead.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 3, 2009 11:53 PM

Cathy, When you were a ten year old in Queens I was floored by a speech given by Kameny at Indiana University.

May I point out that you left out his iconic phrase:

"Gay is Good!"

Oops, just found it in your link to Wicki... I envy you that car ride.

Mitch Wood | June 4, 2009 2:03 PM

I'm pleased, but not surprised, to hear that Dr. Kameny's speech was a hit and highlight of the event.

DC residents seeking to become active in GLBT advocacy may be interested in knowing that Frank continues to be a regular attendee at meetings of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) which meets twice a month. (See www.glaa.org for meeting dates & locations.)

Frank's passion and dedication is truly remarkable, and our meetings are so much the richer and informative, thanks to his participation and support.

Frank Kameny did NOT have the courage to come out to his family. He left his sister to do it, and suffer the immense fallout from his Victorian mother. Instead of gratitude, his sister has suffered his insults, neglect, total lack of responsibility for the last 46 yrs.

Since he succeeded in removing the ban on g ov't employment, why then did he not ever again look for a job? How did he buy his house? Most people would be thrilled at a similar inheritance, and the constant financial assistance from his mo. and his sis. His mo. lived in heartbreak to 101; his sis. is widowed and disabled,has suffered 3 cancers. He is totally unconcerned and extremely nasty. He lives for fame and glory and has succeeded in hiding his dark side.