In an echo of last week’s news, another American hero has passed, and my first intimation of both the heroism and the loss was the obituary.
Gay rights pioneer Franklin E. Kameny died of apparent natural causes at age 86 yesterday. And when I say “pioneer,” I really mean it. The Stonewall Riots, generally thought of as the launching pad of the modern gay rights movement, happened in 1969; Kameny was already fighting for the rights of gay Americans a decade earlier.
Oddly enough, he happens to have died on National Coming Out Day, a day that surely would not have been marked were it not for the work of courageous leaders like Kameny (indeed, Stonewall wouldn’t have happened if trailblazers like Kameny hadn’t already started blazing the trail).
From the obituary in The Washington Blade:
Born and raised in New York City, Kameny served in combat as an Army soldier in World War II in Europe. After the war, Kameny obtained a doctorate degree in astronomy from Harvard University.
He went on to work as an astronomer for the U.S. Army Map Service in the 1950s and was fired after authorities discovered he was gay. He contested the firing and appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first known gay person to file a gay-related case before the high court. The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling against Kameny and declined to hear the case, but Kameny’s decision to appeal the case through the court system motivated him to become a lifelong advocate on behalf of LGBT equality.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Kameny “led an extraordinary life marked by heroic activism that set a path for the modern LGBT civil rights movement.”
“From his early days fighting institutionalized discrimination in the federal workforce, Dr. Kameny taught us all that ‘Gay is Good,’” Solmonese said. “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.”
Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, 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.”
I would argue that all Americans are indebted to Dr. Kameny. My country is a better place for harboring less bigotry, my children — no matter their sexuality — are coming of age in a place of greater compassion and acceptance because of his work. I am grateful to him, and so glad to have learned of his courage and leadership. I hope his passing was easy, and that those who loved him know comfort and peace today.
May his memory be for a blessing. יהי זכרו ברוך
Another sure sign of the good work done by Franklin Kameny, Harvey Milk, Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon and other heroes like them is this story out of Harvard: “On National Coming Out Day, Athletes Come Out as Allies“:
Before their Tuesday afternoon practice, members of the Harvard varsity wrestling team posed for a picture on the steps in front of the Malkin Athletic Center. But instead of sporting their team uniforms in this photo, the athletes came in gay pride attire and rainbow pins that read “Proud Ally.”
In honor of National Coming Out Day, the men chose to wear the pins in solidarity with the BGLTQ community.
Harvard College Queer Students and Allies co-president Emma Q. Wang ’12 said that this year the student group wanted to emphasize the importance of coming out as an ally.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to be very vocal as an ally,” she said. “We want them to feel included because they play such an important role.”
According to wrestler David J. Lalo ’13, it was an [openly gay] non-resident tutor in Lowell House, Robert Joseph “R.J.” Jenkins, who inspired the team to participate in National Coming Out Day.
“[R.J.] has made a tremendous impact across our team,” Lalo said. “We wanted to show him we support the LGBT community.”
I mean honestly, check out the picture that accompanies the story:
There really is hope.