Frank Kameny bigraphy, stories - American gay-rights activist

Frank Kameny : biography

21 May 1925 - 11 October 2011

Franklin Edward "Frank" Kameny (May 21, 1925 – October 11, 2011) was "one of the most significant figures" in the American gay rights movement. 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, 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".

Kameny protested his firing by the U.S. Civil Service Commission due to his homosexuality, and argued this case to the United States Supreme Court in 1961. Although the court denied his petition, it is notable as the first civil rights claim based on sexual orientation.

Decades of D.C. activism

In August 1961, Kameny and Jack Nichols co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, an organization that pressed aggressively for gay and lesbian civil rights. In 1963 the group was the subject of Congressional hearings initiated by Congressman John Dowdy over its right to solicit funds.

Kameny is credited with bringing an aggressive new tone to the gay civil rights struggle. 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, 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 some of the earliest public protests by gays and lesbians with a picket line at the White House on April 17, 1965. 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 to 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. 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.

1970-2000

In 1971, Kameny became the first openly gay candidate for the United States Congress when he ran in the District of Columbia's first election for a non-voting Congressional delegate. Following that election, 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. 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."

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.

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