Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Frank Kameny: Pioneer Fighter for Gay Rights

I've had to honor of meeting Mr. Kameny on only 2 occasions and they were some 20 years apart. First when I was 22 and in DC for a rally/march, as I remember.  The second was again in DC, but this trip was as volunteer for the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt display weekend and I was an emotional basket case.  Mr. K had been a thorn is the side of the Pentagon for many years, with a voice that could be irritating if you weren't willing to hear him out. His persistence finally paid off about a half century later.  Nice that he was still around to see it happen. So, hats off to this grand old fighter. This is from CNN, of all places.
 (The week) President Barack Obama signed into law the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," which banned gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces, a seat at the front of the audience was reserved for 85-year-old Frank Kameny, who attended wearing the Combat Infantryman Badge that he was awarded for his service in World War II. Kameny recalls his service fighting in the wake of the Battle of the Bulge by saying, "I dug my way across Europe slit trench by slit trench, practically."
But Kameny was not invited because of any heroism he demonstrated in World War II, but rather for a much greater act of courage than even that conflict had demanded of him. He was invited because it was Kameny who began the assault on the military policy of discharging homosexuals by leading a demonstration at the Pentagon in 1965.
Indeed, it was Kameny who called upon the minuscule pre-Stonewall gay rights movement -- known then as the homophile movement -- to model itself upon the civil rights movement.
This may not sound radical today, but in the mid-1960s homosexuality was seen as the ultimate taboo. As the homophile movement stated, homosexuals were triply condemned: The medical establishment deemed them mentally ill, the law made them criminals, and religions branded them sinners.
At a time when lesbians and gay men were so totally ostracized, the homophile movement had decided its best tactic was to embrace the label of sickness: at least that seemed a half-step up from being criminals. But Kameny felt that such an approach was counterproductive, and that rather than begging for crumbs, gay people should demand equality with heterosexuals. To gain equality, he argued, the movement should renounce the sickness theory and embrace militant tactics.
Kameny succeeded to an astonishing degree. He led the fight for tactics such as public demonstrations, went on the attack against the Civil Service Commission for its policy of firing homosexuals and spearheaded an effort to get the homophile movement to take the position that homosexuality was not only not a mental illness but was on a par with heterosexuality. In 1968, he got the only existing national association of gay rights organizations to adopt as its slogan a phrase that Kameny had coined, "Gay Is Good." Kameny himself had been discharged from the Army Map Service in 1957 for being gay.
 This is a 2 page story.  Read the rest HERE.

As a side note, following the Stonewall Riots a year later, my friend Craig Rodwell (with a little help from his friends!) - owner of the Oscar Wilde Book Store on Christopher Street - plastered the Village with Gay is Good banners, cards, pins, buttons, you name it.  That bit of history courtesy of, and an hommage to, Frank Kameny.

And so it goes.

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