Pioneering Gay Activist Frank Kameny Honored By U.S. Labor Department

OPA20151265

On June 23, the U.S. Labor Department inducted Frank Kameny, considered the father of the modern LGBT rights movement, into the agency’s Hall of Honor.

Kameny, who died in 2011, was fired from his job as an astronomer at the Army Map Service in 1958 for being a homosexual, and banned from any future employment with the federal government.

frank-kameny-c-19070

Unlike other gays and lesbians, who quietly accepted the injustice, the Harvard educated astronomer sued the government for discrimination. He took his case all the way to the Supreme Court , which ultimately declined to hear his 1961 appeal.

Sparked by this defeat, Kameny and Barbara Gittings formed the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., an early activist group.

Related: Philadelphia Honoring Early Gay Rights Pioneers Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings

In 1965, four years before Stonewall, Kameny and Gittings led the first organized picket for homosexual rights, on the Fourth of July in front of Independence Hall. (The 50th anniversary of their pioneering demonstration will be celebrated in Philadelphia on Independence Day.)

Frank_Kameny

For the next four decades, Kameny advocated tirelessly for LGBT visibility and equality: In 1971, Kameny became the first openly gay candidate for Congress, and two years later, he helped convince the American Psychiatric Society to remove homosexuality as a mental illness.

He also fought the ban on gays in the military and was invited to the White House to see President Obama strike down Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

“There’s no question Frank was a strong personality, just a little bit opinionated and self-assured,” remarked Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez at a dedication ceremony. “But that’s what made him an amazing activist. He would not lay down for injustice — because, he would say, ’I was right and they were wrong.'”

Kameny joins other workplace advocates in the Labor Department’s Hall of Honor including Cesar Chavez, Samuel Gompers, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, and Helen Keller.

 

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery