Frank Kameny, a prominent leader in the
early gay rights movement, died Tuesday at 86, gay weekly the
Kameny reportedly died of natural
causes in his District of Columbia home. He was found unconscious
and unresponsive shortly after 5PM by a tenant, who called emergency
services. Officials believe Kameny died in his sleep.
After receiving a doctorate in
astronomy from Harvard University and teaching for a year at
Georgetown University, Kameny, an army veteran, was hired by the U.S.
Army Map Service in 1957. But less than six months later, he was
dismissed after a late night run-in with police in Lafayette Park, a
traditional cruising area for gay men in the District of Columbia.
Kameny legally challenged his firing in federal court – the first
gay person to do so – but the Supreme Court refused to hear his
petition and allowed a lower court's ruling against Kameny to stand.
In 2009, the United States Government formally apologized to Kameny.
The firing prompted Kameny to become a
gay rights activist. By 1961, he and Jack Nichols had co-founded the
Mattachine Society of Washington, one of America's earliest gay
The group asked for fair and equal
treatment for gay federal employees, campaigned to overturn sodomy
laws, and worked to remove the classification of homosexuality as a
mental disorder in the manuals of professional medical associations.
In 1971, Kameny became the first openly
gay person to run for Congress. He later served as the first openly
gay member of the District of Columbia's Human Rights Commission.
In 2006, Kameny said: “I have tended
not to adjust myself to society but with considerable success have
adjusted society to me and society is much the better off for the
adjustments that I have administered.”
Chad Griffin, president of AFER's board
of directors, called Kamery an American hero.
“America has lost a hero today,”
Griffin said in a statement. “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.”