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More Honors for Frank Kameny
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 11/03/11
Last updated on: 11/04/11
 
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Frank Kameny.

A flag-draped coffin containing the remains of Dr. Frank Kameny lay in state in the atrium of the Carnegie Library Building in downtown Washington, D.C. between 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on November 3, 2011. In addition, the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History has displayed artifacts from their collection of Kameny documents and the National Park Service has designated Dr. Kameny's home in Washington, D.C. a national historic site.

The pioneering gay rights leader passed away at his home on October 11, 2011. One of the founding fathers of the American gay rights movement, he helped radicalize the homophile movement, preparing the way for the militancy that was initiated by the Stonewall Riots of 1969.

The public viewing of Dr. Kameny's remains on November 3 provided an opportunity for his friends and neighbors to remember and honor his life and legacy.

Although the viewing was not a funeral, informal remarks by civic leaders and choral presentations were made during the 5 hours set aside for viewing. Mayor Vincent Gray was among the dignitaries who honored Dr. Kameny.

Pallbearers at the service, which was organized by Bob Witeck and Charles Francis, included City Council members David Catania and Jim Graham, as well as Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, both known for their participation at White House protests last year during the repeal battle over "don't ask, don't tell."

At the viewing, Kameny's flag-draped casket was flanked by protest signs that were associated with the activist. One repeated the slogan "Gay is Good," which he coined; another read, "Homosexuals ask for the right to the pursuit of happiness."

Organizers of the Kameny viewing have offered advice to well wishers considering making a contribution to a cause in Kameny's honor in lieu of flowers.

"Many have asked whether Dr. Kameny expressed his wishes for donations in his memory to any worthy causes. To the best of our knowledge, he did not do so--however, in his life, he founded and supported many important LGBT and human rights causes including such organizations as the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, and Helping Our Brothers and Sisters."

"He was also a champion for statehood for Washington, D.C. among other priorities. In that light, your personal contribution, in his memory, to any cause aligned with Dr. Kameny's principles and lifelong battle for equality and justice would be very meaningful. In lieu of flowers or other floral tributes, we again suggest that contributions be made to a civil rights cause or nonprofit organization of your choice, consistent with Dr. Kameny's values," the statement said.

In recent years, Kameny received accolades for his heroic efforts to make America a more just nation. His house was designated an historic landmark by the D.C. Historic Preservation Board in 2009. In the same year, John Berry, Director of the Office of Personnel Management (formerly the Civil Service Commission), formally apologized to Kameny on behalf of the U.S. government for the "shameful action" of firing him in 1957. Berry also presented Kameny with the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the department's most prestigious honor.

The honors continue to accumulate.

The Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History announced this week that it has displayed additional artifacts from the papers that Kameny donated to the Smithsonian. Among the items the museum has already displayed is a picket sign Kameny used during the 1965 protest for gay rights in front of the White House, which Kameny and his colleagues with the Mattachine Society of Washington organized.

"Three of the most resonant picket signs are now on display in Flag Hall, just off the entrance from the National Mall and near the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the National Anthem, and the Civil Rights era Woolworth Lunch counter," said Smithsonian spokesperson Valeska Hilbig.

"The Kameny collection is part of the museum's longstanding commitment to preserve the history of American democracy and the struggles for individual and civil rights in the United States," Hilbig said.

On November 2, 2011, the National Park Service announced that the Service "has recognized the historic significance of gay rights activist Dr. Franklin E. Kameny, by listing his home in the National Register of Historic Places."

NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis remarked, "Dr. Kameny led a newly militant activism in the fledgling gay civil rights [movement] of the 1960s," said NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. "He was a landmark figure in articulating and achieving gay civil rights in federal employment and security clearance cases, and in reversing the medical community's view on homosexuality as a mental disorder."

As the NPS press release indicates, Kameny's residence at 5020 Cathedral Avenue, NW, in Washington, D.C. served as the headquarters of the Mattachine Society of Washington and as a meeting place, informal counseling center, and safe haven for visiting glbtq activists: "It was here that Dr. Franklin E. Kameny developed the civil rights strategies and tactics that have come to define the modern gay rights movement."

 
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