Bil Browning

US Government apologizes to Frank Kameny

Filed By Bil Browning | June 24, 2009 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Politics
Tags: Frank Kameny, John Berry, make an apology, Office of Personnel Management, OPM

One of the skills I don't practice often enough is the ability to apologize. But how often does a government apologize for anything? The US Government apologized to Dr. Frank Kameny today for dismissing him from his job 52 years ago today because he's gay. (Complete apology and photos after the jump.)

Kameny_apology3.jpgAnd by virtue of the authority vested in me as Director of the Office Of Personnel Management... I am adding my support, along with that of many other past Directors, for the repudiation of the reasoning of the 1957 finding by the United States Civil Service Commission to dismiss you from your job solely on the basis of your sexual orientation. Please accept our apology for the consequences of the previous policy of the United States government...

Kameny went on to lead the original gay rights protest marches demanding our right to employment over a decade before Stonewall. The activist's home was recently named an official historic landmark. ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect the LGBT community from employment discrimination, was introduced into the House of Representatives today by openly gay Congressman Barney Frank.

The event was hosted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the successor to the USCSC. Openly gay OPM Director, John Berry, wrote the apology. Kameny also received the OPM's highest award, the Theodore Roosevelt Award, but wasn't aware he would be getting an apology. In a tearful moment, Kameny yelled, "Apology accepted!" when the government officially recognized the error.

I can't imagine being Frank Kameny today - the justification, the closure, and the surprise would overwhelm me too. Wouldn't it you?

June 24, 2009

Franklin E. Kameny, PhD
5020 Cathedral Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016-2646

Dear Dr. Kameny:

In what we know today was a shameful action, the United States Civil Service Commission in 1957 upheld your dismissal from your job solely on the basis of your sexual orientation. In one letter to you, an agency official wrote that the Government "does not hire homosexuals and will not permit their employment..." He went on to say that "the homosexual is automatically a security risk" and that he "frequently becomes a disruptive personnel factor within any organization."

With the fervent passion of a true patriot, you did not resign yourself to your fate or quietly endure this wrong. With courage and strength, you fought back. And so today, I am writing to advise you that this policy, which was at odds with the bedrock principles underlying the merit-based civil service, has been repudiated by the United States Government, due in large part to your determination and life's work, and to the thousands of Americans whose advocacy your words have inspired.

Thus, the civil service laws, rules and regulations now provide that it is illegal to discriminate against federal employees or applicants based on matters not related to their ability to perform their jobs, including their sexual orientation. Furthermore, I am happy to inform you that the Memorandum signed by President Obama on June 17, 2009 directs the Office of Personnel Management--the successor to the CSC--to issue guidance to all executive departments and agencies regarding their obligations to comply with these laws, rules, and regulations.

And by virtue of the authority vested in me as Director of the Office Of Personnel Management, it is my duty and great pleasure to inform you that I am adding my support, along with that of many other past Directors, for the repudiation of the reasoning of the 1957 finding by the United States Civil Service Commission to dismiss you from your job solely on the basis of your sexual orientation. 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.

Sincerely yours,

John Berry




(Photo credit: Office of Personnel Management)

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

California Panda | June 24, 2009 7:17 PM

Excuse me but this apology is a bunch of crap. The government is still doing the same thing with DADT and DOMA and pretty much just as openly. An apology should not only consist of words but also actions that redress the wrong and correct the original offense. What about the years of "stigma" associated with being fired for being gay back then. What about the loss of income? What about what's happening now with the military and with immigration. I don't believe a word of it -- except as a bone-throw and a chance at a photo op. Words don't matter when not accompanied by substantial change.

My 2cents

Simply put, I agree. The apology will mean something when the government stops discriminating against us, be it through DADT or vile, off-point legal moves like the DOMA brief.

Then, an apology will mean something.
Til then, it is just another move to take off heat while the government continues to discriminate.

As for ENDA, well, I will reconsider my opionion of the government when it uses its political clout and access to the media to help to pass this bill, in the fashion that the President did when he wanted the stimulus bill passed.

Thanks, Bil, for giving this the prominent recognition Dr. Kameny so richly deserves. In celebration of the contributions of one of the greatest equal rights pioneers, I would hope our community would welcome this news for his sake. No, we don't think these baby steps are enough, but I for one believe this administration is sincerely trying to drag itself into the 21st century. And, huzzahs for Dr. Frank!

This is so wonderful. Good for Berry--he's really doing everything he can to effect change.

His name is President Barack Hussein Obama, not "Berry". Only the right-wing liars and anti-gay hacks call him "Berry". The same ones who challenge his birth certificate from Hawaii -- the fundamentalist freaks and anti-Americans attacking the morale of the people of the U.S. in order to further the political goals of our enemies. Is that who you are?

Embarrassing | June 25, 2009 9:00 PM

I'm pretty sure Berry refers to John Berry. Read the article.

I think you owe Emily an apology for your rather foolish comment.

Anyway, I find (John) Berry's apology truly touching....and hurray for, and thank you to, Frank!!

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 26, 2009 3:07 AM

You're kidding. You mean that wasn't an over the top parody of McCarthyism.

Is that really the way Democrats think about non-Democrats?

If it's for real then it's not embarassing. It's scary. Especially since Guantanamo's still in business.

Dr. Kameny deserves this award and the apology. He was marching for gay civil rights in front of the White House and in Philadelphia on Constitution Square beginning in 1964-1965, when NO other person or group was doing so. (I am not counting bar riots and suchlike). He had many financially lean years, and never got to work in his scholarly discipline (astronomy) at a time when there was great excitement in the field (Sputnik in 1957 raised the profile, and funding, of "space", including science). He had the courage to direct his brain and energies to gay activism, rather than try to recloset himself. I am glad that he has lived to see this moment. I would like to have him see the passage of inclusive ENDA and other legislation.

Thank you to Dr. Kameny for his determination and work. Many Federal employees are familiar with his story and for the protections that his life ensured.

As a Federal employee, I am grateful that the Office of Personnel Management took this action. I think we should recognize Dr. Kameny's emotion reaction and enthusiastic acceptance of the apology as more than just a symbol, but as a personal triumph for him and an indication of the steps that the government is taking to right a wrong.

I'm sad that another commenter dismissed this apology as "a bunch of crap." Obviously, Dr. Kameny doesn't see it that way and neither do thousands of openly-LGBT Federal employees. While I share the commenter's passion, such a flippant reaction is not fitting tribute to Dr. Kameny and the changes in policy he helped secure.

Thank you Dr. Kameny.

Many in the LGBT community have forgotten Dr. Kameny's pivotal role in the history of removing same-sex orientation from the classification of mental disorders. A few years ago, I was honored to interview Frank at the Creating Change conference and hear his narrative of the events.

From the Introduction of my book Gender Madness in American Psychiatry:

    At the 1971 Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric
    Association, Dr. Frank Kameny, an astronomer and WWII combat veteran, took the stage and seized the microphone to denounce the classification of gay and lesbian people as mentally ill. ... At a planned time in the APA’s convocation ceremony, antiwar and gay rights protestors burst into the auditorium and attempted to take the stage but remarkably were fought back by elderly psychiatrists. In the mayhem, Dr. Kameny climbed the stage and told the moderator, “I’m seizing the microphone from you.” The moderator responded, “Well, tell me your name and I’ll introduce you.” Kameny’s impromptu speech to the APA that day marked an inflection point in the history of gay and lesbian civil rights... The subsequent removal of homosexuality from the DSM in 1973 through 1987 was instrumental in mitigating false stereotypes of mental illness and sexual deviance for gay and lesbian individuals and in enabling further gains in civil justice.

Congratulations, Dr. Kameny, with gratitude for your courage and inspiration in blazing the trail.

I'm glad Frank lived to see this day.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 25, 2009 7:26 AM

An apology well deserved. One down, millions to go.

Too bad it had to come from the Obama administration challenged on all sides (except for hard line party loyalists) for it’s openly hostile attitude towards the LGBT agenda for equality.

Equality is what Frank Kameny, Barbara Gettings and others fought for in an often lonely, decade’s long struggle. Coming in these circumstances and from an Obot like Berry, another tired Clinton rerun, it’s a lot less lustrous than it could have been. Still, it’s well deserved.

The reactions of people like Bill Purdue are really shameful. His reliance on name-calling demonstrates that some individuals are more concerned with smugly patting themselves on the back than actually putting forward sound arguments.

Let's just call Frank Kameny a traitor to the movement while we're at it. After all, he was at the White House signing ceremony and more than too happily engages with the Obama Administration.

Get real, and get an ounce of respect. That response wasn't worth the level of a second grade taunt. People like Frank Kameny and John Berry are the types of people who are actually working to make both the Government and society better for LGBT Americans.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 25, 2009 9:39 AM

The reactions of people like James and other defenders of Obama’s now open bigotry are quite instructive.

James is simply lying when he equates with criticism of Obama, Berry and the rest of that crew with criticism of Kameny.. The only shame here is that of Obots and Democrats who voted for Obama or urged others to vote for him, putting their party partisanship ahead of the needs of the movement. Their votes and support endorse Obama’s wars, his welfare for the looter class and his 'gawd's in the mix. There is no way to spin that support into anything but shameful.

I don't expect them to agree with me or others critics and I do expect them to continue to distort what critics of Obama have to say. What else can they do?

Let's just call Frank Kameny a traitor to the movement while we're at it. After all, he was at the White House signing ceremony and more than too happily engages with the Obama Administration.

LOL! I'm surprised Aravosis hasn't already gone there.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 25, 2009 8:26 AM

May I suggest

People forget today that Dr. Kameny was financially ruined by what the government did to him in the wake of McCarthyism. He became near to a street person with a PhD even forced to depend upon the Salvation Army that he hated. His fury at injustice, his unrelenting determination, guts and organizational skills are exactly what the community needs to learn from today.

In 1975 at Indiana University Bloomington in a speech I attended Dr. Kameny relished the reinstatement of an openly Gay postal worker that he had helped to accomplish. Imagine, one man who fought for someone so far beneath his former "pay grade" in the government. Learn from this and you will have learned everything. You never stand taller than when you help someone else.

Think about we need more "fundraisers" or do we need more commitment? Are we as willing as we should be to seek equality for everyone or are we only interested in "people like us." The man is a walking Gay saint! Organize, unify and speak with a strong solid voice.

You want an MLK? Dr. Kameny would be a man worth trusting to balance our groups into cohesion.

I do hope this "apology" came with a pension.

Bill Perdue... you are spot ON! Of course he deserved the apology.
He deserves more than that.

...and it says nothing about 'Federal Employees' still being denied dignity, honesty, faith, and their careers under DADT.

Just Thinking | June 26, 2009 12:32 AM

What would prove that the OPM is sincere about its position and words used in dedication to gay matters is to have the "Equal Employment" Opportunity Commission hear federal cases on sexual orientation. Many cases are being filed by postal workers, the second largest employer of the federal government, thus the second largest employer of LGBT workers, with EEOC claims of discrimination of ones sexual orientation and language used on the workroom floor such as fag etc that are dimissed because simply put by the administative judges that the EEOC does not hear cases related to sexual orientation. In other words we continue to get screwed and not equally.

I am happy for Frank Kameny. Gay workers are discriminated against every day. We need stronger laws to protect everyone at work including gay workers. There are many gay workers who are not security risks. We need more gay people employed in the FBI, CIA, Secret Service and the police. The United States government is on the right track.