Home State Activists Frank Kameny

Frank Kameny

Frank Kameny : biography

21 May 1925 – 11 October 2011

On March 26, 1977, Kameny and a dozen other members of the gay and lesbian community, under the leadership of the then-National Gay Rights Task Force, briefed then-Public Liaison Midge Costanza on much-needed changes in federal laws and policies. This was the first time that gay rights were officially discussed at the White House

Kameny was appointed as the first openly gay member of the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Commission in the 1970s. He served 20 years on the Selective Service board.

2000-2011

In 2007, Kameny’s death was mistakenly reported by The Advocate in its May 22 "Pride issue", alongside a mistaken report of his infection by AIDS/HIV, which never occurred. The report was retracted with an apology, and Kameny asked The Advocate, "Did you give a date of death?"

In 2007, Kameny wrote a letter to the conservative, anti-gay publication WorldNetDaily in defense of Larry Craig regarding Craig’s arrest for solicitation of sex in a Minneapolis airport bathroom; he ended it with the following: "I am no admirer of Larry Craig and hold out no brief for him. He is a self-deluding hypocritical homophobic bigot. But fair is fair. He committed no crime in Minneapolis and should not suffer as if he did." The New York Times’ Frank Rich joined Kameny in calling for Craig’s pardon.

In November 2007, Kameny wrote an open letter of protest to NBC journalist Tom Brokaw (and his publisher Random House), who wrote Boom!: Voices of the Sixties Personal Reflections on the ’60s and Today, over the total lack of mention of gay and lesbian rights activism during the 1960s and upbraiding Brokaw for having "’de-gayed’ an entire generation". The letter was co-signed by former Washington Post editor Howard Kurtz, Harry Rubinstein (curator, National Museum of American History), John Earl Haynes, Dudley Clendinen and Stephen Bottum. Brokaw appeared on Kurtz’s CNN show Reliable Sources to defend the exclusion, saying that "the gay rights movement came slightly later. It lifted off during that time and I had to make some choices about what I was going to concentrate on. The big issues were the anti-war movement, the counterculture."

Kameny suffered from heart disease in his last years, but maintained a full schedule of public appearances, his last being a speech to a LGBT group in Washington DC on September 30, 2011.

Frank Kameny was found dead in his Washington DC home on October 11, 2011. The medical examiner determined the cause of death to be natural causes due to arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Early life and firing

Kameny was born to Ashkenazi Jewish parentage in New York City on May 21, 1925. He attended Richmond Hill High School and graduated in 1941. In 1941, at age 16, Kameny went to Queens College to learn physics and at age 17 he told his parents that he was an atheist.De Leon, David. Leaders from the 1960s: A Biographical Sourcebook of American Activism. Greenwood Press (June 30, 1994). p. 253 He was drafted into the United States Army before completion. He served in the Army throughout World War II in Europe and served 20 years on the Selective Service board. After leaving the Army, he returned to Queens College and graduated with a baccalaureate in physics in 1948. Kameny then enrolled at Harvard University; while a teaching fellow at Harvard, he refused to sign a loyalty oath without attaching qualifiers, and exhibited a skepticism against accepted orthodoxies. He graduated with both a masters’ degree (1949) and doctorate (1956) in astronomy. His doctoral thesis was entitled A Photoelectric Study of Some RV Tauri and Yellow Semiregular Variables and was written under the supervision of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.

While on a cross-country return trip from Tucson, where he had just completed his research for his Ph.D. thesis, he was arrested in San Francisco by plainclothes police officers after a stranger had approached and groped him at the bus terminal. He was promised that his criminal record would be expunged after serving three years’ probation, relieving him from worrying about his employment prospects and any attempt at fighting the charges.Carter, David. Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. St. Martin’s Press; 1st edition (June 1, 2004)