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June 29: An Apology for Government Homophobia

June 29, 2013

fran_kamenyFrank Kameny (1925-2011), a key gay rights activist who coined the expression, “Gay is Good,” received a formal apology from the Obama Administration on this date in 2009 for the U.S. government’s firing of him from the civil service (he was an astronomer with the Maps Service) in 1957 for being gay. John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, described the firing as a “shameful action” and presented Kameny with the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the department’s most prestigious prize. A co-founder of the National Gay Task Force and the Gay Rights National Lobby, Kameny was the first openly gay person to run for Congress (in 1971) and wrote the bill that repealed Washington, D.C.‘s sodomy statute in 1993. In April, 1965, Kameny led the Mattachine Society of Washington, which he had co-founded, in the first gay demonstration at the White House, where people carried signs demanding “First Class Treament for Homosexuals.” Only months later, the U.S. Court of Appeals held that “homosexual conduct” was too vague a criterion for firing people from federal employment.

“My dismissal amounted to a declaration of war against me by the government, and I tend not to lose my wars.” —Frank Kameny

Watch a half-hour profile of Frank Kameny, a “story of science, scandal, and struggle,” narrated by astronomer Jane Rigby: