World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Frank Kameny

Frank Kameny
Frank Kameny attending Pride on 12 June 2010
Born Franklin Edward Kameny
(1925-05-21)May 21, 1925
New York City, New York, US
Died October 11, 2011(2011-10-11) (aged 86)
Washington, D.C., US
Nationality American
Alma mater Queens College, Harvard University
Known for Fired by US government in 1957 for being gay
Co-founder of Mattachine Society, Washington D.C.

Franklin Edward "Frank" Kameny (May 21, 1925 – October 11, 2011[1]) was an American gay rights activist.

In 1957, Kameny was dismissed from his position as an astronomer in the U.S. Army's Army Map Service in Washington, D.C. because of his homosexuality,[2] leading him to begin "a Herculean struggle with the American establishment" that would "spearhead a new period of militancy in the homosexual rights movement of the early 1960s".[3]

Kameny formally appealed his firing by the U.S. Civil Service Commission due to homosexuality.[4] Although unsuccessful, the proceeding was notable as the first known civil rights claim based on sexual orientation pursued in a U.S. court.[5] He has been referred to as "one of the most significant figures" in the American gay rights movement.[6]


  • Early life and firing 1
  • Gay rights activism 2
    • 1970-2000 2.1
    • 2000-2011 2.2
  • Awards and honors 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Early life and firing

Kameny was born to Ashkenazi Jewish parents in New York City. He attended Richmond Hill High School and graduated in 1941. In 1941, at age 16, Kameny went to Queens College to learn physics and at age 17 he told his parents that he was an atheist.[7][8] He was drafted into the United States Army before completion. He served in the Army throughout World War II in Europe, and later served 20 years on the Selective Service board.[9] After leaving the Army, he returned to Queens College and graduated with a baccalaureate in physics in 1948. Kameny then enrolled at Harvard University; while a teaching fellow at Harvard, he refused to sign a loyalty oath without attaching qualifiers, and exhibited a skepticism against accepted orthodoxies.[7] He graduated with both a master's degree (1949) and doctorate (1956) in astronomy. His doctoral thesis was entitled A Photoelectric Study of Some RV Tauri and Yellow Semiregular Variables[10] and was written under the supervision of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.

While on a cross-country return trip from Tucson, where he had just completed his research for his Ph.D. thesis, he was arrested by plainclothes police officers at a San Francisco bus terminal after a stranger had approached and groped him. He was promised that his criminal record would be expunged after serving three years' probation, relieving him from worrying about his employment prospects and any attempt at fighting the charges.[11]

Relocating to Washington, D.C., Kameny taught for a year in the Astronomy Department of Douglass Shand-Tucci later wrote,

"Kameny was the most conventional of men, focused utterly on his work, at Harvard and at Georgetown... He was thus all the more rudely shocked when the same fate befell him as we've seen befall Prescott Townsend, class of 1918, decades before... He was arrested. Later he would be fired. And, like Townsend, Kameny was radicalized."[12]

Kameny appealed his firing through the judicial system, losing twice before seeking review from the United States Supreme Court, which turned down his petition for certiorari.[4] After devoting himself to activism, Kameny never held a paid job again and was supported by friends and family for the rest of his life. Despite his outspoken activism, he rarely discussed his personal life and never had any long-term relationships with other men, stating merely that he had no time for them.

Kameny eschewed conventional racial designations; throughout his life, he consistently cited his race as "human."[13]

Gay rights activism

In 1961 Kameny and Jack Nichols, fellow co-founder of the Washington, D.C., branch of the Mattachine Society, launched some of the earliest public protests by gays and lesbians with a picket line at the White House on April 17, 1965.[14][15] In coalition with New York's Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, the picketing expanded to target the United Nations, the Pentagon, the United States Civil Service Commission, and Philadelphia's Independence Hall for what became known as the Annual Reminder for gay rights.

In 1963, Kameny and Mattachine launched a campaign to overturn D.C. sodomy laws; he personally drafted a bill that finally passed in 1993.[14] He also worked to remove the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.[14]


Kameny in front of signs used during protests. June 2009

In 1971, Kameny became the first openly gay candidate for the

  • "Signs of Progress" Washington Post, July 23, 2005
  • "Gay Is Good: How Frank Kameny Changed the Face of America" Metro Weekly, October 5, 2006
  • "A Pariah's Triumph—and America's" Jonathan Rauch, December 7, 2006
  • "The Man Who Invented Gay Rights" CNN, December 24, 2010
  • "Frank Kameny Debates Same-Sex Marriage in 1974 on 'The Advocates' (VIDEO) Huffington Post, October 11, 2012


  • Kameny on Race Questionnaires The Straight Dope, November 22, 1991
  • Interview by Jack Nichols April 28, 1997
  • Frank Kameny on The 7th Avenue Project Radio show, July 4, 2010


  • Amending District of Columbia Charitable Solicitation Act, August 8, 1963, pp. 22-93, 118-9

Congressional testimony

  • Frank Kameny GLBTQ, an Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Culture
  • Kameny Papers collection Smithsonian Institution
  • The Kameny Pages
  • Biography of Kameny


External links

  • Bianco, David. Gay Essentials: Facts For Your Queer Brain. Los Angeles, Alyson Books, 1999. ISBN 1-55583-508-2.
  • Gambone, Philip. Travels in a Gay Nation: Portraits of LGBTQ Americans. University of Wisconsin Press, 2010.
  • Kisseloff, Jeff. Generation on Fire: Voices of Protest from the 1960s. University Press of Kentucky, 2007.
  • Murdoch, Joyce and Deb Price. Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. The Supreme Court. New York, Basic Books, 2001.


  1. ^ David W. Dunlap (October 12, 2011). "Franklin Kameny, Gay Rights Pioneer, Dies at 86".  
  2. ^ Chibbaro Jr., Lou (2006-10-04). "Kameny's work finds new home" (PDF).  
  3. ^ Johnson, David K. (2002), "Franklin E. Kameny (1925-)", in  
  4. ^ a b "Gay rights epicenter named landmark". USA Today. 2009-02-27. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  5. ^ Gaynair, Gillian (2009-06-08). "DC pride festival honors gay rights pioneer Kameny". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  6. ^  
  7. ^ a b De Leon, David. Leaders from the 1960s: A Biographical Sourcebook of American Activism. Greenwood Press (June 30, 1994). p. 253
  8. ^ Jon Rowe (February 14, 2008). "Frank Kameny on Atheism, Theism, & Gays". 
  9. ^ a b "'"HRC, 'Franklin E. Kameny. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  10. ^ "A Photoelectric Study of Some RV Tauri and Yellow Semiregular Variables" (PDF).  
  11. ^ Carter, David. Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (June 1, 2004)
  12. ^ Shand-Tucci, Douglas. The Crimson Letter: Harvard, Homosexuality, and the Shaping of American Culture. St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (May 19, 2003). p. 268.
  13. ^ Cecil Adams (1991-11-22). "What percentage of black parentage do you need to be considered black?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 2013-11-02. 
  14. ^ a b c d e "Kameny, Frank (b. 1925)". glbtq, Inc. Retrieved 9 January 2011. 
  15. ^ "The Gay Civil Rights Movement Turns to Public Picketing". The Rainbow History Project. Retrieved 9 January 2011. 
  16. ^ Slavin, Sarah (1995). U.S. women's interest groups: Institutional Profiles. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 645.  
  17. ^ Philip Kennicott (September 8, 2007). "At Smithsonian, Gay Rights Is Out of the Closet, Into the Attic". Washington Post. 
  18. ^ "Task Force mourns the death of pioneering gay activist and founding board member Frank Kameny". National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. October 11, 2011. Retrieved July 9, 2014. he and a dozen other members of our community briefed then-Public Liaison Midge Costanza 
  19. ^ "LGBT Advocate White House Aide Costanza Dies". March 24, 2010. Retrieved July 9, 2014. Costanza met with gay activists including Frank Kameny, Troy Perry, Elaine Noble, and Task Force co–executive directors Bruce Voeller and Jean O’Leary. 
  20. ^ "Frank Kameny: Alive and laughing". The Advocate. May 16, 2007. 
  21. ^ Franklin E. Kameny, Ph.D. (September 10, 2007). "'"Gay activist: 'Craig did nothing wrong. WorldNetDaily. Archived from the original on 2007-09-14. 
  22. ^ Frank Rich (September 23, 2007). "Pardon Poor Larry Craig". The New York Times. 
  23. ^ "Frank Kameny Writes Tom Brokaw". 2007-11-26. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  24. ^ "Interview With Tom Brokaw; Clinton, Obama Make Headlines With Reaction to Robert Novak's Column". CNN. November 25, 2007. 
  25. ^ Chibbaro, Lou (2011-10-11). "Longtime gay activist Frank Kameny passes on". Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  26. ^ Chibbaro, Lou (2011-10-26). "Medical Examiner says Kameny died of heart disease". Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  27. ^ Bianco, p. 167
  28. ^ "Gay Civil Rights Pioneer Frank Kameny Presents Lifetime Papers and Historic Artifacts to the Nation" (Press release). Smithsonian National Museum of American History. 2006-10-06. Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  29. ^ Petula Dvorak (February 27, 2009). "NW Home of Activist Made Historic Site". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-02-28. 
  30. ^ Noel Brinkerhoff (June 30, 2009). "U.S. Government Formally Apologizes for 1957 Firing of Gay Astronomer". Retrieved 9 January 2011. 
  31. ^ Kevin Naff (June 29, 2009). "Gov't apologizes to Kameny".  
  32. ^ Chibarro, Jr., Lou (2010-06-08). "‘Kameny Way’ ceremony highlights Capital Pride events". The Washington Blade. Retrieved 2010-06-10. 
  33. ^ Peter Rosenstein (Dec 10, 2010). "Kameny honored on Capitol Hill". Retrieved 9 January 2011. 
  34. ^ "Triangle Foundation". 
  35. ^ Roehr, Bob. "–"Gay Pioneer Frank Kameny Dies" by Bob Roehr—Obituary in the ''Bay Area Reporter'' October 13, 2011". Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  36. ^ "National Register to Accept Kameny House". 2011-10-31. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  37. ^ Mark Meinke (July 22, 2006). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Dr. Franklin E. Kameny Residence" (PDF).   (__ pages, with __ figures and __ photos)
  38. ^ "Minor Planets Circular 79711" (PDF).  
  39. ^ US: Gay rights campaigner Frank Kameny has asteroid named for him, Pink News, 10 July 2012
  40. ^ Asteroid between Mars, Jupiter named for US gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, The Washington Post, July 10, 2012
  41. ^ Brett Zongker, Asteroid named for gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, Business Week, July 10, 2012
  42. ^ Andrew Davis, Canadian names asteroid for Kameny; Anderson Cooper inspires Chinese, Windy City Times, 2012-07-10
  43. ^ Freya Petersen, Canadian astronomer names asteroid after gay rights activist, Alaska Dispatch, July 11, 2012
  44. ^


In 2013 Kameny was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display in Chicago which celebrates LGBT history and people.[44]

On 3 July 2012, Minor Planet (40463) Frankkameny was named in Kameny's honor by the International Astronomical Union and the Minor Planet Center.[38][39][40][41][42][43]

On November 2, 2011, Kameny's house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[36][37]

Following Kameny's death, the giant rainbow flag on the tall flagpole at the corner of Market Street and Castro Street in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco was flown at half-staff for 24 hours beginning on the afternoon of October 12, 2011 at the request of the creator of the rainbow flag, Gilbert Baker.[35]

Kameny was seated at the front row of the gathering where President Barack Obama signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. Kameny was a member of Triangle Foundation's Board of Advisors.[34]

On June 10, 2010, following a unanimous vote by the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, Washington, D. C. mayor Adrian Fenty unveiled new street signs designating 17th Street between P and R streets, N.W., as "Frank Kameny Way" in Kameny's honor.[32] At a luncheon on December 10, 2010 in the Caucus room of the Cannon House Office Building, Kameny was honored with the 2010 Cornelius R. “Neil” Alexander Humanitarian Award.[33]

On June 29, 2009, John Berry (Director of the Office of Personnel Management) formally apologized to Kameny on behalf of the United States government.[14][30] Berry, who is openly gay, presented Kameny with the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the department’s most prestigious award.[31]

In February 2009, Kameny’s home in Washington was designated as a D.C. Historic Landmark by the District of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Review Board.[29]

Frank Kameny Way as seen on June 12, 2010 in Washington, D. C.

In 2007, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History included Kameny's picket signs carried in front of the White House in 1965 in the Smithsonian exhibit "Treasures of American History". The Smithsonian now has 12 of the original picket signs carried by gay and lesbian Americans at this, the first ever White House demonstration for gay rights.[27] The Library of Congress acquired Kameny's papers in 2006, documenting his life and leadership.[28]

Awards and honors

Frank Kameny was found dead in his Washington home on October 11, 2011 (National Coming Out Day).[25] The medical examiner determined the cause of death to be natural causes due to arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease.[26]

Kameny suffered from heart disease in his last years, but maintained a full schedule of public appearances, his last being a speech to an LGBT group in Washington DC on September 30, 2011.

In November 2007, Kameny wrote an open letter of protest to NBC journalist Tom Brokaw (and his publisher Random House), who wrote Boom!: Voices of the Sixties Personal Reflections on the '60s and Today, over the total lack of mention of gay and lesbian rights activism during the 1960s and upbraiding Brokaw for having "'de-gayed' an entire generation".[23] The letter was co-signed by former Washington Post editor Howard Kurtz, Harry Rubinstein (curator, National Museum of American History), John Earl Haynes, Dudley Clendinen and Stephen Bottum. Brokaw appeared on Kurtz's CNN show Reliable Sources to defend the exclusion, saying that "the gay rights movement came slightly later. It lifted off during that time and I had to make some choices about what I was going to concentrate on. The big issues were the anti-war movement, the counterculture."[24]

In 2007, Kameny wrote a letter to the conservative, anti-gay publication WorldNetDaily in defense of Larry Craig regarding Craig's arrest for solicitation of sex in a Minneapolis airport bathroom;[21] he ended it with the following: "I am no admirer of Larry Craig and hold out no brief for him. He is a self-deluding hypocritical homophobic bigot. But fair is fair. He committed no crime in Minneapolis and should not suffer as if he did." The New York Times' Frank Rich joined Kameny in calling for Craig's pardon.[22]

In 2007, Kameny's death was mistakenly reported by The Advocate in its May 22 "Pride issue", alongside a mistaken report that he had HIV. The report was retracted with an apology, and Kameny asked The Advocate, "Did you give a date of death?"[20]


Kameny was appointed as the first openly gay member of the District of Columbia's Human Rights Commission in the 1970s.[9]

On March 26, 1977, Kameny and a dozen other members of the gay and lesbian community, under the leadership of the then-National Gay Task Force, briefed then-Public Liaison Midge Costanza on much-needed changes in federal laws and policies. This was the first time that gay rights were officially discussed at the White House[18][19]

Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the US Military from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf author Randy Shilts documented Kameny's work in advising several service members in their attempts to receive honorable discharges after being discovered to be gay. For 18-year-old Marine Jeffrey Dunbar, "Kameny lined up gay ex-Marines to testify at the young man’s hearing. The Washington Post ran an editorial supporting an upgraded discharge, noting that Dunbar 'was involved in no scandal and had brought no shame on the Marine Corps', and called the undesirable discharge 'strange and, we think, pointless way of pursuing military "justice".’" In 1975, his long search for a gay service member with an impeccable record to initiate a challenge to the military's ban on homosexuals culminated in protege Leonard Matlovich, a Technical Sergeant in the United States Air Force with 11 years of unblemished service and a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, purposely outing himself to his commanding officer on March 6, 1975. Matlovich had first read about Kameny's goal in an interview in the Air Force Times. Talking first by telephone, they eventually met and, along with ACLU attorney David Addlestone, planned the legal challenge. Discharged in October 1975, Matlovich was ordered reinstated by a federal district court in 1980 in a ruling that, technically, would only have applied to him. Convinced the Air Force would create another excuse to discharge him again, Matlovich accepted a financial settlement instead, and continued his gay activism work until his death from AIDS complications in June 1988. Kameny was an honorary pallbearer at his funeral and spoke at graveside services in Washington DC's Congressional Cemetery.

[17] He described the day - December 15, 1973, when the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from its manual of mental disorders - as the day "we were cured en masse by the psychiatrists."[16]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.