Event: Frank Kameny, father of the LGBTQ Rights Movement
Overview: Frank Kameny was released from government service in 1957 because he was gay. He spent the rest of his life fighting for gay rights and is known as the father of the LGBT rights movement.
Question: Why was Frank Kameny released from government service? What were some of the actions that Kameny took in response to being released from government action? Why do some people call Kameny the “father” of the LGBTQ rights movement?
Frank Kameny (1925-2011) was an astronomer for the U.S. Army Map Service. He was released from government service in 1957 because of his homosexuality. This time period of the 1950s is known as the Lavender Scare because of the persecution of gay and lesbian people, and coincided with the Red Scare or “McCarthyism” that persecuted people who were thought to be Communists. In addition, President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 which stated that any person who was dishonest, immoral or had sexual perversion was a security risk and should be released from government service. Frank Kameny had earned his doctorate in astronomy from Harvard University and was a professor of astronomy at Georgetown University before taking a government position as an astronomer in the U.S. Army Map Service in 1956 and was then released from government service in 1957. Kameny appealed this decision to the Supreme Court but was rejected – his appeal to the Supreme Court was the first court case filed in history regarding civil rights and became one of the foundational documents of the LGBTQ rights movement. He spent the rest of his life fighting for LGBTQ rights. His many accomplishments included:
- 1961: Organized a chapter of the Mattachine Society in Washington D.C.
- 1965: Organized the first gay rights protest outside the White House. Was the first one to create and use the phrase “Gay is Good.”
- 1971: First openly gay candidate for U.S. Congress running for office in Washington D.C.
- 1973: Lobbied the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality as a disease that could be treated.
- 2006: Library of Congress accepted the Frank Kameny’s archives that he had stored in his house. Establishes the “Kameny Papers” for gay rights.
- 2010: Present at the signing of the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in the White House by President Obama
- Kameny Papers: Frank’s lifelong documents and archives, which are all primary sources, have been organized by the Library of Congress. Read about Frank’s instructions for picketing or see his button collection.
- Read this historical paper written by Annette Quinn about Frank Kameny for the National History Day contest.
- Listen to Frank Kameny tell part of his story (4:29)
- Rachel Maddow Show. Short Bio of Frank Kameny (3:24)