Noted gay activist Frank Kameny, 86, has passed away peacefully in his sleep according to friends. I'd met Frank a couple of times (I just saw him at the HRC National Dinner last week) and it was always an honor to speak with someone I consider a personal hero. If he hadn't stepped out front during a time when it was dangerously radical to do so, I doubt this site would even exist; we build off the shoulders of his work every day.
Kameny's beginnings in advocacy work came after he was fired from his job as an astronomer for the Army Map Service in 1957. He challenged the firing, though, and took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the court declined to hear the case, an activist was born.
Kameny went on to become one of the leading advocates for lesbian and gay equality in the years before -- and since -- Stonewall. In 1961, he co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington. In 1965, he and others with the group famously picketed the White House in shirts and ties, sending a letter to the White House explaining their presence.
Kameny, along with Barbara Gittings, successfully worked with others to convince the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1973. The next year, he and Gittings served as counsel to Otis Fancis Tabler, Jr., successfully keeping the Defense Department employee from having his security clearance revoked due to being gay.
Despite that and many victories for equality since, it wasn't until 2009, that Kameny received a formal apology from the government for his firing. In a letter that called the firing ''a shameful action,'' the director of the Office of Personnel Management wrote to him, ''Please accept our apology for the consequences of the previous policy of the United States government, and please accept the gratitude and appreciation of the United States Office of Personnel Management for the work you have done to fight discrimination and protect the merit-based civil service system.''
Practically every LGBT organization in the United States has issued a release mourning the death of the beloved organizer. A sampling is after the jump.
(Photo courtesy of Metroweekly)
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese
"Frank Kameny led an extraordinary life marked by heroic activism that set a path for the modern LGBT civil rights movement. From his early days fighting institutionalized discrimination in the federal workforce, Dr. Kameny taught us all that 'Gay is Good.' As we say goodbye to this trailblazer on National Coming Out Day, we remember the remarkable power we all have to change the world by living our lives like Frank -- openly, honestly and authentically."
Federal GLOBE: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Employees of the Federal Government
Frank served his country his whole life. In the military, in government service, and in making the country a more perfect union when the government he fought for and toiled for fired him. Frank was fired just for being gay. He had done nothing untoward, not been a threat. Rather he was working on important technology which his removal from government service delayed for decades.
But Frank did not get bitter. He did what American's have done since our founding--he righted the wrong. It did not come quickly or easily. Frank fought his dismissal all of the way to the Supreme Court. Frank fought the Civil Service Commission. Frank fought for the rights of every American to lead a good life. Frank was a leader for the LGBT movement when leaders were hard to find and paid dearly. Frank paid dearly.
Frank was the reason for Federal GLOBE to get started. Frank was our inspiration and was our father. He was our mother. He was our fairy/angel/mentor/pathblazer/blinding light. Frank was our inspiration. His meticulous research and articulation paved the way for LGBT civil rights advancements over the last 25 years.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Acting President Mike Thompson
"Frank Kameny sparked national change and set the example for gay and lesbian Americans to live their lives openly and proudly. He taught us the power that our visibility and stories have in changing hearts and minds. Today on National Coming Out Day, we honor Frank's legacy not only by remembering this pioneer, but by continuing his work to speak out and share our own stories."
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey
"The death of Frank Kameny is a profound loss and he will be greatly missed. No Washington LGBT event or White House meeting was complete without Frank. I always appreciated that he gave the 50-plus-year perspective, the long view. While so many have been impatient about the pace of progress, there was Frank, insisting we recognize that, in the last two years, he was regularly invited as a guest of honor by the very government that fired him simply for being gay. Yet, he never slowed down in demanding what should be, showing us what was possible and pushing for the very equality and liberation we are still fighting for. As the history books are written on the LGBT movement, no doubt Frank's life will serve as an inspiration to those who will never have the honor of meeting him, but who embody the very future he knew would come true one day. Indeed, Frank, Gay is Good."
Sue Hyde, Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change
"Frank Kameny's life spanned the baddest old days of the McCarthy-style witch hunts to the elations of winning marriage equality in the District of Columbia and beyond. In 1957, Frank lost his job, but he never lost his fierce fighting spirit, his blunt and witty command of language, or his commitment to eradicating homophobia. Frank was equally confident and strategic on the streets in front of the White House in 1965 as he was attending a White House meeting in 1977 at which he and a dozen other members of our community briefed then-Public Liaison Midge Costanza on much-needed changes in federal laws and policies. As the LGBT movement began to win in legislatures, courtrooms, and in public opinion, Frank's papers, artifacts and memories gained value. Frank Kameny wasn't only a keeper of our history, Frank created our history. His life and legacy carry us into our future."
National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell
"Frank Kameny is among a small group of brave and uncompromising men and women without whom the modern civil rights movement for LGBT equality would have faltered. At a time when most lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals lived deeply shadowed and closeted lives, he stepped into the bright glare of public scrutiny and hostility and demanded respect and cultural evolution. It is fitting that his passing would happen on Coming Out Day. Were it not for his coming out, many of us would still be living a lie."
American Foundation for Equal Rights Board President Chad Griffin
"America has lost a hero today. Out and proud, Frank Kameny was fighting for equality long before the rest of us knew we could." He added, "Because there was one Frank Kameny, trailblazing and honest enough to speak out 50 years ago, there are now millions of Americans, coming out, speaking out and fighting for their basic civil rights. His is a legacy of bravery and tremendous impact and will live on in the hearts and minds of every American who values equality and justice."
Dr. Frank Kameny was a hero to the LGBT movement, and to generations of LGBT Americans. It was shocking to hear of his passing, though we know how happy he was to see "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal implemented last month. Just a few months ago we were deeply honored and humbled that Dr. Kameny agreed to share stories about his life, his work, and his commitment to full equality for LGBT people at GetEQUAL's one-year anniversary celebration. His assertion that "Gay is Good" was, and is, an iconic cornerstone of a shift in thinking that marked the first time LGBT people cut through historical hatred, and instead embraced their full dignity, worth, and equality.
In the past few days, we've lost many civil rights pioneers, giving us all some perspective about the pace and importance of our work. It is ironic that Frank left us on National Coming Out Day, after coming out decades ago, back in 1957, in his own act of civil disobedience. He lived a long life as an out and proud gay man, and we will honor Dr. Kameny by increasing our urgency for, deepening our commitment to, and renewing our passion for the fight for full equality for LGBT Americans.
Representative Barney Frank
"The death of Frank Kameny is a very sad day for those who believe that all people in this country should be treated fairly. No one in our history had a longer record of commitment to and leadership of the fight for civil rights for all. When he was himself the victim of discrimination decades ago, unlike almost every other victim of the homophobia that then pervaded the country, Frank Kameny fought back. His courageous, creative assault on bigotry is one of the rocks on which the movement for LGBT rights is founded, and the successes we have had in recent times owe a great deal to him."
"All of us who are continuing the fight will remain indebted to him, inspired by him, and regretful that we will no longer have the benefit of his advice, his encouragement, and perhaps most importantly, his impatience."
National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Michael Mitchell
Last night, we lost a hero and a champion for LGBT rights. Dr. Frank Kameny was a courageous and undeniable force in our movement. In 1957, he was fired from his US Government job for being gay. The peaceful demonstrations he spearheaded predated the Stonewall Riots by several years, and no doubt opened a door to wider acceptance that allowed the fateful nights of 1969 to grab hold. He lived his life as an example of what it is to be tenacious and fearless.
In 2009, John Berry, on behalf of the US Government, apologized to Dr. Kameny for his firing and awarded him the Office of Personell Management's highest honor for his service. National Stonewall Democrats honored him as one of our Capital Champions as well -- In 2010 -- on the day before his 85th birthday. His body was frail, but his voice was powerful as he contextualized how far we've come as a movement in his lifetime.
I am saddened beyond words at the loss of this courageous pioneer. He holds a very special place in our hearts not only as a long-time activist, but also as a co-founder of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which is a member of the Stonewall Democrats family. Frank Kameny's legacy lives on in the hearts of the many and diverse activists who continue in our collective fight for equality every day. He is already missed, but I am grateful for the time he spent with us.