When we think about gay rights, we cannot forget about Franklin Edward Kameny, the American gay rights revolutionary, activist and astronomer. As a prominent figure in the American gay rights movement, Frank Kameny transformed the legal landscape for the gay community in America. Did you know that in 1961, Kameny filed the first gay rights appeal to the US Supreme Court after he was fired from the USA government for identifying as a member of the LGBTQ community? As pride month has just begun, let’s honour an exemplary figure who has challenged the status quo and paved the path for equal rights for the gay community!
Early Life & Education
Frank Kameny was born in New York City in 1925 to Jewish parents. He studied at Richmond Hill High School and completed his education in 1941. Kameny went to Queens College to study physics at the mere age of 15. Without completing his degree in physics, he decided to enrol in the US Army and served in the army during World War II in Europe. After leaving the army, he came back to Queens College and graduated with a baccalaureate in physics in 1948. As a gifted scientist and astronomer, he joined Harvard University to study master’s and a doctorate in astronomy and graduated from the university with honours! In 1957, Frank Kameny joined the Army Map Service and in mere months he was fired from his position as an astronomer because of his sexual orientation.
Gay Rights Activism
The person who really needs the psychotherapy (…) is not the homosexual youngster who gets dragged to the psychiatrist’s office by his mother, but the mother, to relieve her anxieties about his homosexuality.
The year 1957 was a watershed moment in the life of young gay activist, Frank Kameny. He was removed from his position as an astronomer in Washington, D.C., because of his homosexuality and decided to fight against this injustice. Kameny formally appealed his firing in the U.S. Supreme Court and sued the U.S Civil Service Commission. Although he lost the court cases, the proceedings were noted as the first known civil rights claim based on sexual orientation that was pursued in a U.S. court. Despite losing the battle, Kameny did not give up, he wrote to then-President Kennedy asking him to change the discriminatory rules on homosexuals being removed from the federal positions and challenged the secondary treatment of homsexuals across the country.
After this unfair treatment, Frank Kameny organised several public gatherings and protests in the USA in the 1960s. Kameny argued that homosexuals were far more repressed and faced severe discrimination in the country. He argued against the systemic discrimination against the LGBTQ community and urged everyone to fight for basic civil rights. On March 26, 1977, Kameny along with other members of the gay and lesbian community, under the leadership of the National Gay Task Force at that time, briefed the Public Liaison on changes in federal laws and policies for inclusivity. It was the first time that gay rights were officially discussed at the White House.
Frank Kameny served as the first openly gay member of the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Commission in the 1970s. Another notable achievement was his campaign for the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, which it did in 1973. The gay activist, war veteran and accomplished astronomer, Kameny fought against the ban on LGBTQ employees, appealed against Washington DC’s sodomy laws as well as sought to transform the prejudices and stereotypes that alienated homosexuals in the USA.
Awards and Glory
‘We are interested in obtaining rights for our respective minorities‘
- In 2006, Frank Kameny was awarded the first John E. Fryer, MD Award from the American Psychiatric Association.
- In February 2009, Kameny’s home in Washington was designated as a Washington, D.C. historic landmark.
- On June 29, 2009, John Berry formally apologized to Kameny on behalf of the government of the United States. Berry, who is openly gay, gave Kameny the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the OPM’s most prestigious award.
- In 2009, the US government issued a formal apology to Kameny for removing him on the grounds of wrongful dismissal.
- A stretch of 17th Street NW near Dupont Circle in Washington DC was renamed Frank Kameny Way in his honour.
- Frank Kameny’s dissertation on Semi-Regular Variable Stars was recognised by the American Association of Variable Star Observers and his observations were added to the group’s database in 2009.
- Following Kameny’s death, a rainbow flag was flown at half-mast for 24 hours beginning on the afternoon of October 12, 2011.
- In January 2012, during the national meeting of the American Astronomical Society, they presented a posthumous certificate of appreciation to Kameny, recognizing “his lifelong commitment to promoting equal rights for homosexual men and women” and how his “activism removed discriminatory barriers”. The award was received by his close friend.
Frank Kameny revolutionized the era for the LGBTQ+ community and helped them to gain the recognition they needed. His accomplishments, courage and fierce personality continue to inspire young gay activists and advocates around the world. While it is a pity that Kameny is no longer with us, his spirit and actions continue to influence the LGBTQ community. If you find inspiration in learning about historical figures then follow Leverage Edu on Facebook, Youtube, Instagram.