The Shmooze

Gay Rights Pioneer Franklin Kameny Dies

By Michael Kaminer

  • Print
  • Share Share
Wikimedia Commons

Franklin Kameny, the pioneering gay rights leader whose Jewish identity inspired some of his historic activism, has died at age 86, the Washington Post reports.

As the Forward wrote last year in an 85th-birthday profile, Kameny “became a vocal activist at a time when other downtrodden and discriminated-against gay people scarcely dared to show their faces in public.” Rather than shrink from revealing his sexual orientation, Kameny “made it plain,” the Washington Post wrote.

Kameny’s death, on National Coming Out Day, occurred in a year in which gay men and lesbians were accorded the right to serve openly in the armed forces, as gay D.C. Council member David A. Catania told the Post last night. Through his efforts over the years, Kameny deserved to be known as one of the fathers of that shift from the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Catania told the Post.

Franklin Edward Kameny was born in 1925 into a “New York middle-class Jewish family,” according to gay site GLBTQ. A prodigy who had taught himself to read by the age of four, he entered Queens College at the age of 15 to study physics. He interrupted his education to serve in the armed forces during World War II. After the war he returned to his studies, and in 1956 he received a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard University.

Kameny’s “radicalization” was sparked in 1957 — a dozen years before Stonewall — after losing his job as a U.S. Army astronomer because he was gay. Three years later, Kameny protested his firing all the way up to the Supreme Court, marking the first civil rights claim based on sexual orientation.

As a Jew, the Forward noted, Kameny wrote that the U.S. government’s anti-gay policies were “no less illegal and no less odious than discrimination based upon religious or racial grounds.” Kameny lost his Supreme Court case, but soon co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, a pioneering gay/lesbian civil rights organization which organized the first gay demonstration at the White House.

A few months after that demonstration, the U. S. Court of Appeals issued a groundbreaking decision, according to GLBTQ. The court held that rejection of an application for federal employment on the grounds of “homosexual conduct” was “too vague.”

Among the other victories for gay rights with which Kameny was associated was an executive order signed by President Bill Clinton permitting gays to be given security clearances, the Post said. Kameny himself also considered the District of Columbia’s repeal of an anti-sodomy law in early 1990s to be another achievement, according to the Post.

The federal government, “which had cast him aside, issued a formal apology in 2009 for letting him go,” the Post wrote. And the story of his struggle, chronicled in 77,000 pages of papers and memorabilia, was accepted in 2006 by the Library of Congress. Living into his 80s, he was able to recognize and revel in the turnaround of American actions and attitudes toward the gay community. Although he was aware that obstacles remained, he told a reporter last year that “it’s like a storybook ending.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Franklin Kameny, Gay Rights

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.