In a fitting tribute to a former government astrologer turned gay rights pioneer, an amateur astronomer has named an asteroid he discovered "Frankkameny." Kameny was fired from his job as a government employee because of his sexuality. His outrage led him to lead the first pro-gay protest at the White House and Pentagon and he contested his firing all the way to the Supreme Court.
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.
While comets are often named for their discoverers, those who discover asteroids have 10 years to suggest a name once the discovery is verified. The submission is subject to review by a 15-member international panel, said astronomy historian David DeVorkin at the National Air and Space Museum. Astronomers often use the names as an acknowledgement of someone's contributions to science or culture.
"Frank E. Kameny (1925-2011) trained as a variable star astronomer in the 1950s, but joined the Civil Rights struggle. His contributions included removing homosexuality from being termed a mental disorder in 1973 and shepherding passage of the District of Columbia marriage equality law in 2009," the citation reads in the Minor Planet Circular.
Billings, by the way, is straight and says ""I concluded he was a man I would have admired. Add that to the fact that I have many friends and acquaintances who are members of the LGBT community, and I felt it was something I wanted to do to honour Dr. Kameny - and my friends!"
I can't think of a better tribute to a gentleman who blazed a trail across America than allowing his memory to live on and continue charting his own course through the heavens.