Wednesday, October 12, 2011

RIP Frank Kameny: Gay Rights Activist, Fired for Being Gay, the First to Sue

FrankkamenyFrank Kameny died yesterday, on National Coming Out Day. I don't know if that's fitting or ironic for an icon in the gay rights movement. Kameny was one of  thousands of men and women fired from military and government jobs in the mid-twentieth century, but he did not go quietly. He sued to get his job back. Kameny was a specialized astronomer, employed by the U.S. Army Map Service. While he did not win in court, he nonetheless helped start the Gay Rights Movement.

Kameny joined Jack Nichols, and together, they launched the Washington, D.C. Mattachine Society, one of the first and loudest Gay Rights Groups in the country. Kameny fought to get the federal government to change its policy, and in 1975, the federal government stopped excluding homosexuals from government employment. Kameny also fought the Pentagon on security clearance denials on the basis of homosexuality, a policy that was changed in 1995. And he fought the American Psychiatric Association for listing homosexuality as a mental disorder; they agreed in 1973. For more on Kameny, check out this interview with him from last year in the Washingtonian.

That makes three important figures in equality movements to have passed away in the last week--the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, one of the most influential figures in the Civil Rights movement, and Derrick Bell, one of the most influential critical race theorists. I hope that the next few years see some excellent memorial symposia in their individual and collective honor.


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Make that four. Last Friday Paula Ettelbrick passed away. She was a staff attorney and Legal Director of Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, then held significant positions with Empire State Pride Agenda (the NY State LGBT lobbying group), National Center for Lesbians Rights, Human Rights Campaign, and was for several years early in this century Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. She gave a quarter-century to important and influential LGBT movement work.

Posted by: Art Leonard | Oct 13, 2011 7:53:49 AM

Thanks for the update, Art. What sad news.

Posted by: Marcia | Oct 21, 2011 12:28:48 PM

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