This past weekend, Patrick and I went and visited our friends in Washington DC for a performance of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC. The show was called “From Gay to Z!”, and it’s focus was the wide range of influential issues and individuals that are of importance to the LGBTQ community.
The highlight of the evening came when the chorus reached the letter “K”. It was at this moment that they introduced Dr. Franklin Kameny, one of the earliest leaders in the gay right movement. Who is Dr. Kameny you ask? It’s OK. I had never heard of him before either.
Dr. Franklin E. Kameny, both in Queens in 1925 has been considered one of the most significant figures in the American gay rights movement. Here’s a little history: In 1957, Dr. Kameny was dismissed from his position as an astronomer in the Army Map Service in Washington, D.C. because of his homosexuality, leading him to begin a herculean struggle with the American government that would kick-start the gay rights movement of the early 1960s.
In 1961, Kameny argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that a federal policy calling homosexuals a security risk was “no less odious than discrimination based upon religious or racial grounds.” It was the first civil rights claim in a U.S. court based on sexual orientation. Also in 1961, he and Jack Nichols co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, an organization that pressed aggressively for gay and lesbian civil rights.
Dr. Kameny is credited with bringing an aggressive new tone to the gay civil rights struggle. Dr. Kameny and the Mattachine Society of Washington pressed for fair and equal treatment of gay employees in the federal government by fighting security clearance denials, employment restrictions and dismissals, and working with other groups to press for equality for gay citizens. In 1968, Dr. Kameny, inspired by Stokely Carmichael’s creation of the phrase “Black is Beautiful”, created the slogan “Gay is Good” for the gay civil rights movement.
Kameny and Nichols launched the first public protests by gays and lesbians with a picket line at the White House on April 17, 1965. With support from New York’s Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society of Washington expanded the picketing to the Pentagon, the U.S. Civil Service Commission, and to Philadelphia’s Independence Hall for what became an Annual Reminder for gay rights.
In 1963, Dr. Kameny and Mattachine launched a campaign to overturn sodomy laws and to remove the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder from the American Psychiatric Association’s manual of mental disorders.
In 1971, Dr. Kameny became the first openly gay candidate for the U.S. Congress when he ran in the District of Columbia’s first election for a non-voting delegate to Congress. Following that election, Dr. Kameny and his campaign organization created the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Washington, D.C., an organization which continues to lobby government and press the case for equal rights today.
Dr. Kameny was a panel member when John E. Fryer appeared at a 1973 American Psychiatric Association symposium on homosexuality and psychiatry as Dr H. Anonymous, an event which influenced the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the organization’s list of mental illnesses.
Then in the 1970’s, Dr. Kameny was appointed as the first openly gay member of the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Commission.
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 first ever White House demonstration. The Library of Congress acquired in 2006 Dr. Kameny’s papers documenting his life and leadership, and 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.
Following an incredible slide show of images about Dr. Kameny’s life, something spectacular happened; the Gay Men’s Chorus introduced the now 80-something year old Dr. Kameny – who happened to be sitting in the audience! The entire auditorium of spectactors immediately came to their feet – offering Dr. Kameny a standing ovation for all that he has done for our community.
While Dr. Kameny may not be a resident of our Big Gay Hudson Valley, I felt as though his story was one that we all need to be aware of – after all, if it was not for the efforts of individuals like himself, the world would be a very different place for all of us today.
Thank you for all that you have done for the LGBTQ Community, Dr. Kameny!