Dr. Franklin E. Kameny, one of the lions of the gay rights movement, has died on National Coming Out Day. Kameny, who held a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard, was fired from his Department of the Army position in 1957, once his arrest as a gay man was uncovered. Unlike many queers of that era, Kameny sued the US government. He did lose in court, but his efforts set the precedent for future litigation.
And from 1957 until yesterday, Kameny was a ferocious advocate for queer Americans. Besides leading the first gay rights protest in front of the White House in 1965, founding the DC chapter of the Mattachine Society, and coining the slogan “gay is good,” Kameny was “in your face” at a time when many AIDS and queer activists (including yours truly) were in elementary school. Here’s a bit of history the mainstream press will NOT mention:
Dr. Franklin E. Kameny, a long-time gay rights activist, put an end to the solicitation charges in Washington, DC in 1972 by writing to the top three law enforcement officials: The US Attorney, The Corporation Counsel (equivalent to a City Attorney), and the Chief of Police. He solicited all three for the act of sodomy of their choice as defined in the DC law.
He pointed out that “if (1) they chose to prosecute me, the prosecution would be utilized to mount a challenge to the DC sodomy law; if (2) they chose not to prosecute, then that would be used as a precedent in future prosecutions for such solicitations, since if, with impunity and without arrest or prosecution, I could solicit the three top law enforcement authorities of the District, then obviously anyone could solicit anyone, and this would be made widely known and utilized. They did not prosecute. The effects were highly salutory, both immediately and in the long term right up to the present.”
In December of 1998, in response to the arrest of 18 men on solicitation charges in Roanoke, Virginia, Dr. Kameny “solicited for sodomy the entire adult population of the state of Virginia, with particular emphasis on judges, prosecutors, and chiefs of police, especially in Roanoke and Charlottesville” on radio station WZHF.
He also sent a letter to the judges in the case, the prosecutor and the Roanoke Chief of Police stating:
…I hereby solicit, urge, entreat and invite each of you individually to engage with me in an act or acts of sodomy of your choice and as defined by Section 18.2-361 of the Virginia Code, in some indisputably private place in the state of Virginia, at a time of our mutual convenience.
…This letter will be published and publicized, with intent to embarrass each of you individually and by name, and to bring you into public contempt and ridicule nationally, as well as to make a contemptible laughingstock of your benighted, barbaric, backward state of Virginia — and, most importantly, to provide impetus for reconsideration and reform of Virginia’s antiquated laws on relevant sexual offenses implemented judicially through the disposition of these 18 cases.
The four who have received letters have decided not to comment, but to continue the case against the men who have been arrested. At least eight of the men plan to appeal their cases and seek to have the sodomy law ruled unconstitutional.
Dr. Kameny, you were one of a kind. Godspeed to you, your friends, your colleagues, and your family.