The former astronomer and veteran was a key figure in the LGBTQ movement in the US long before the nation had heard of Stonewall.
Wednesday’s Google Doodle kicks off the start of Pride month by honoring gay rights activist Frank Kameny, considered one of the most significant figures of the LGBTQ movement in the US. Long before the Stonewall uprising, Kameny was at the forefront of a movement to change the public’s perception of gay people.
Born in Queens, New York, in 1925, Kameny was a bright student and enrolled at Queens College at 16 to study physics. But his studies were interrupted when he was drafted by the US Army during World War II.
After serving in Europe throughout the war, he returned to Queens College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics before moving on to Harvard University, where he earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in astronomy.
He went on to take a job in 1957 at the US Army Map Service but was soon fired after his supervisors learned he was gay. At the time, under Executive Order 10450, «sexual perversion» was considered a security risk and thus grounds for dismissal from federal employment. Thousands of federal employees were fired because of the order, which was signed in 1953 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Kameny challenged his dismissal through legal channels before the Supreme Court refused to hear his case in 1961.
Coupled with the government’s dismissal, the court’s decision not to review his case radicalized Kameny, he told Eric Marcus, who interviewed him for the 1992 book Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945-1990.
«The government then put its disqualification of gays under the rubric of immoral conduct,» he said. «Morality is a matter of personal opinion and individual belief on which any American citizen may hold any view he wishes and upon which the government has no power or authority to have any view at all.
«It had to be said and nobody else had ever said it that I know of in any kind of a formal court pleading,» Kameny said.
After his loss, Kameny lobbied the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, which it finally did in 1973. He also helped spearhead a campaign to overturn sodomy laws in Washington, DC, personally drafting the bill that passed in 1993.
In 2009, more than a half century after his firing, Kameny received a formal apology from the US government. A year later, a portion of a Washington, DC, street was renamed Frank Kameny Way in his honor.
Kameny died at the age of 86 on Oct. 11, 2011 — National Coming Out Day. A marker in front of his Veterans Memorial headstone at Washington, DC’s Congressional Cemetery reads «Gay is good,» a phrase he coined.
«If I’m remembered for nothing else, I want to be remembered [for that],» he told a reporter in 2009.