A Canadian astronomer has named an asteroid he discovered after U.S. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, who died last year at age 86.
Astronomer Gary Billings discovered the celestial body, located in an asteroid belt, orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. Billings suggested to his colleague, Richard “Doc” Kinne, that they name it after Kameny, who had just died. ““I was utterly floored,” said Kinne, who is gay.
It’s a fitting tribute: Kameny earned a doctorate in astronomy at Harvard University and was an astronomer with the U.S. Army Map Service until he was fired for being a homosexual. It was his termination that sparked Kameny’s passion for justice, especially for the LGBT community.
The AP reports:
Billings told Kinne he was moved by hearing the story of how [Kinne] had met Kameny about three years ago in Washington and many passers-by stopped to thank him for his advocacy.
“I concluded he was a man I would have admired,” Billings wrote to Kinne. “Add that to the fact that I have many friends and acquaintances who are members of the LGBT community, and I felt it was something I wanted to do to honour Dr. Kameny — and my friends!”
The submission was eventually approved by the International Astronomical Union and the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts—and Minor Planet 40463 was officially christened “Frankkameny.” On July 3, a citation for the asteroid noted Kameny’s ground-breaking efforts on behalf of the LGBT community:
“Frank E. Kameny (1925-2011) trained as a variable star astronomer in the 1950s, but joined the Civil Rights struggle,” reads the citation in the Minor Planet Circular. “His contributions included removing homosexuality from being termed a mental disorder in 1973 and shepherding passage of the District of Columbia marriage equality law in 2009.”
Leave it to Frank to be the first activist to make his mark beyond the surly bonds of Earth.