BREAKING: Legendary Gay-Rights Activist Frank Kameny Dies at 86

Leave it to longtime gay-rights activist Frank Kameny to pass away on National Coming Out Day. A staunch advocate since before Stonewall, Kameny, 86, was never one to miss a chance to seize the moment or make himself heard. He was after all, the man who coined the phrase “Gay is Good.”

The government really brought it on itself.

When Kameny was fired him from his position with the U.S. Army Map Service in 1957 for being a homosexual, it lit a fire under him. “My dismissal amounted to a declaration against me by the government,” he once said. Kameny, a veteran of WWII, sued for his job back. He lost, but appealed—again and again—until finally the Supreme Court denied his petition in 1961.

That was the beginning.

Kameny spent the next 50 years on the front lines of the LGBT movement. Co-founding the Washington, DC branch of the Mattachine Society, he worked tirelessly to push the government to remove sexual orientation as a barrier for employment in the civil service, for the granting of security clearance and for serving in the Armed Forces. (The U.S. Civil Service Commission finally changed its policies to allow out gays and lesbians to be hired for government jobs in 1975.)

He led Mattachine Society pickets of the Capital and other government offices, was appointed to Washington’s Human Rights Commission and even ran for Congress—the first openly gay man to do so. In 1963, the Mattachine Society started pushing the District to overturn its sodomy laws. (They succeeded, finally, in 1993.)


Images via DC Virago and Outlines Toledo

In 1971, Kameny, a Harvard Phd, addressed the American Psychiatric Association’s annual conference, where he objected to the prevalent “scientific” thought that homosexuality was a mental illness and explained how such specious reasoning was harmful to thousands, if not millions of LGBT Americans. In 1973, the APA declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.

Throughout the 1970s, Kameny (carrying the sign at left) helped found key LGBT rights groups, including the National Gay Rights Lobby, the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. He was still active in the fight for equality both nationally and in the District of Columbia at the time of his death.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund’s Chuck Wolfe said Kameny’s death marked the “loss of a hero and a founding father of the fight to end discrimination against LGBT people.”

“Dr. Kameny stood up for this community when doing so was considered unthinkable and even shocking, and he continued to do so throughout his life,” Wolfe said. “He spoke with a clear voice and firm conviction about the humanity and dignity of people who were gay, long before it was safe for him to do so. All of us who today endeavor to complete the work he began a half century ago are indebted to Dr. Kameny and his remarkable bravery and commitment.”

Chad Griffin, the president of Americans for Equal Rights, commented on Kameny’s legacy of hope and optimism.

“Out and proud, Frank Kameny was fighting for equality long before the rest of us knew we could. Because there was one Frank Kameny, trailblazing and honest enough to speak out 50 years ago, there are now millions of Americans, coming out, speaking out and fighting for their basic civil rights. His is a legacy of bravery and tremendous impact and will live on in the hearts and minds of every American who values equality and justice.”

Perhaps Kameny’s greatest victory was a personal one: On June 29, 2009, John Berry, the openly gay director of the Office of Personnel Management, formally apologized to Kameny on behalf of the United States government for his wrongful termination and presented him with the prestigous Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Civil Service.

Thank you, Dr. Kameny, for your decades of tireless service for us and future generations of LGBT Americans.


Don't forget to share:

Help make sure LGBTQ+ stories are being told...

We can't rely on mainstream media to tell our stories. That's why we don't lock Queerty articles behind a paywall. Will you support our mission with a contribution today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated