Frank Kameny

(Not about language.)

“Franklin Kameny, Gay Rights Pioneer, Dies at 86” by David W. Dunlap in the NYT of October 13th (and in many other places):

… A half-century ago, Mr. Kameny was either first or foremost — often both — in publicly advocating the propositions that there were homosexuals throughout the population, that they were not mentally ill, and that there was neither reason nor justification for the many forms of discrimination prevalent against them.

… Dudley Clendinen and Adam Nagourney in their 1999 book “Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America.”:

“Franklin Kameny had the confidence of an intellectual autocrat, the manner of a snapping turtle, a voice like a foghorn, and the habit of expressing himself in thunderous bursts of precise and formal language,” the authors wrote. “He talked in italics and exclamation points and he cultivated the self-righteous arrogance of a visionary who knew his cause was just when no one else did.”

After service in the Army, Kameny got a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard in 1956 and then went to work for the Army Map Service. In 1957 he was arrested on morals charges — cruising — in Lafayette Park in Washington (across from the White House) and was consequently dismissed from his job.

After that he relentlessly and unapologetically defended himself, failing however to find any recourse from the courts, while publicly demonstrating on behalf of himself and other gay people (well before the Stonewall days).

He received a public apology for his treatment a few years ago. (As in other cases, I struggle with the idea of such institutional apologies so long after the offense — statements of official regret not backed up by the making of amends.)

All the stories I’ve read about Kameny tell the stirring story of his (prickly) heroism — so much greater than mine — but don’t explain how he made a living from 1957 through 2011. It would be nice to know something about the texture of his life, outside the courts and the picketing.


3 Responses to “Frank Kameny”

  1. the ridger Says:

    Wikipedia says: After devoting himself to activism, Kameny never held a paid job again and was supported by friends and family for the rest of his life.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Jocelyn Limpert sends links to three Washington Blade stories about Kameny: the obit, reminiscences of him, and an appeal for donations to cover his funeral.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    On Facebook, Michael Palmer notes that Kameny was known to sometimes be arrogant,

    But so were Harry Hay, Morris Kight, Dorr Legg, Don Slater, and many of the other pioneer activists: to do what they did *required* outsized egos. (On the other hand, I never heard anyone diss Barbara Gittings.)

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