Frank Kameny, gay leader

Posted: October 13, 2011

WASHINGTON - Frank Kameny was out and proud before people knew what being "gay" meant.

Fired from his job as a government astronomer in 1957 for being gay, he refused to go away quietly. He took his case to the Supreme Court in 1961 and helped stage the first gay rights march in front of the White House and Independence Hall in 1965.

Mr. Kameny, 86, died Tuesday, leaving behind a 50-year legacy as an advocate who chipped away at countless other barriers for gay people in America.

"Frank Kameny was the Rosa Parks and the Martin Luther King and the Thurgood Marshall of the gay rights movement," Yale law professor William Eskridge told the Associated Press in May when Mr. Kameny's papers became part of a Library of Congress exhibit on U.S. constitutional history.

In recent years, Mr. Kameny saw changes in society that he never thought possible. Gay marriage became legal in a handful of states and his adopted city of Washington. In 2009, he stood in the Oval Office as President Obama signed a directive extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. Most recently he celebrated the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

Gay rights groups said it was Mr. Kameny's work that helped make life better for gay Americans, and called him a pioneer and an inspiration in statements after his death. He died on what is celebrated as National Coming Out Day, when many gay people celebrate coming out and encourage others to have the courage to do the same.

Mr. Kameny cofounded the Mattachine Society of Washington, which advocated for equal rights for gays and lesbians.

In 1965, Mr. Kameny and 10 others became the first to stage a gay rights protest in front of the White House and later at the Pentagon and in Philadelphia.

"First class citizenship for homosexuals," their signs read, along with "Homosexuals ask for the right to the pursuit of happiness." They wore suits and dresses at Mr. Kameny's insistence.

Mr. Kameny's early activism and advocacy for soldiers and federal workers who faced discrimination provided a model for the civil rights group Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union's agenda on gay rights.

In 2009, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management issued a formal apology to him for being fired solely based on his sexual orientation. The office is headed by John Berry, who is gay.

When gay marriage became legal in the nation's capital in 2010, Mr. Kameny attended the first weddings. That year, the District of Columbia designated a portion of 17th Street as "Frank Kameny Way."

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