Last night, we learned that we lost one of the most crucial figures in the history of the movement for LGBT equality, Frank Kameny.
Kameny died at his home in Washington, D.C., apparently of natural causes. While his loss will be mourned deeply by all people who support LGBT equality, the impact Frank Kameny had on our culture will live on forever. Kameny was one of our nation's first prominent LGBT rights advocates. Despite his having served in World War II, in 1957 the Army fired Kameny after finding out he was gay. Kameny began what is believed to be the first civil rights claim ever filed in a U.S. court based on sexual orientation - and argued his case up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
He did not walk away from that hearing with a victory. But Kameny didn't stop moving forward even when the courts denied him. The movement started by Kameny (who had co-founded the Mattachine Society in the 1950s and incorporated it in 1961) would last for decades after the courts turned him down.. And it will last for decades more. We are a part of it. I am a part of it. You, reading this blog, are a part of it. And while there is still a lot of work yet to be done, Kameny did live long enough to claim victory. From the Kameny Papers website:
In 2009, Kameny received a formal apology for the "shameful action" of being fired solely based on his sexual orientation from the successor to the Civil Service Commission, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
"So in a sense, it took 50 years, but I won my case," Kameny said.
Kameny lived to see marriage equality become law in six states and our nation's capitol. He was at the White House when President Obama extended benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. He lived long enough to not only get a formal apology for his firing, but to see the end of the policies and laws that had kept LGB people from serving openly in the U.S. military.
"Frank Kameny sparked national change and set the example for gay and lesbian Americans to live their lives openly and proudly," said Mike Thompson, Acting President of GLAAD. "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."
While we are deeply saddened by his loss, it is fitting that he passed away during LGBT History Month - having personally contributed so much to that history. We will honor Kameny's memory for years to come - on National Coming Out Day, on Spirit Day, every day throughout LGBT History Month and more.
And those of us who are still advocating for full equality for LGBT people should remember him every time we tell our stories. Today, if you are a user of Twitter, please tweet the phrase #GayIsGood in Kameny's memory.
"Gay is Good."
- Frank Kameny