‘Gay is good’ pioneer Frank Kameny dies

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

Dr. Frank Kameny, who died Oct. 11 at the age of 86, had a saying. “Gay is good” became Kameny’s trademark slogan at a time when to be gay was classified as a sickness and to engage in gay relations was a crime in most states.

The gay civil rights pioneer died of heart failure on National Coming Out Day and in the midst of LGBT History Month. Both of the ceremonious celebrations owed a debt to Kameny’s activism, which spanned seven decades and more than 50 years.

“Frank Kameny led an extraordinary life marked by heroic activism that set a path for the modern LGBT civil rights movement,” said Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “Dr. Kameny taught us all that ‘Gay is good.’ As we say goodbye to this trailblazer on National Coming Out Day, we remember the remarkable power we all have to change the world by living our lives like Frank – openly, honestly and authentically.”

Kameny “taught us the power that our visibility and stories have in changing hearts and minds,” said Mike Thompson of GLAAD.

The record of Kameny’s activism dates to the late 1950s, when he was an astronomer with the federal government. He had been on the job for five months when he was fired for being gay. Kameny did not leave without protest. He challenged his dismissal, filing a complaint with the U.S. Civil Service Commission, writing to Congress and the White House and suing in court.

Kameny lost the case and soon co-founded an early gay civil rights group, the Mattachine Society of Washington. In 1965, Kameny and 10 others were the first to demonstrate for gay civil rights at the White House and later at the Pentagon.

Kameny, described by allies and adversaries as feisty and combative, continued a career of activism until his death. His last year was busy with speeches and award receptions, attendance at D.C. same-sex weddings, and advocacy for the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring gays from serving openly in the Armed Forces.

In 2010, Kameny attended a ceremony during which John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, apologized for Kameny’s firing in 1957 and presented the former astronomer with the Theodore Roosevelt Award.

“I am grateful for his life, his service to his nation in WWII and his passion and persistence in helping build a more perfect union,” Berry said. “He was a great man, and I will sorely miss him.”