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PFC Frank Kameny
1925 - 2011

Gay WWII Veteran

National Coming Out Day, 2011
 


Photo: AVER; Arlington, VA, 2010

"We have lost a giant," was the first understated early morning facebook posting alerting us to news that would become a crescendo of queer and mainstream media stories culminating in the rare mention of homosexuality on NBC's Nightly News, and a nearly full page obituary in The New York Times two days later.  Gay Pioneer Franklin Kameny PhD, the father of modern gay rights and WWII Combat Veteran had passed away at the age of 86, on October 11th, 2011, National Coming Out Day.  Frank Kameny was very Out.

How does one say farewell to a hero?  Frank Kameny was a forceful speaker for our rights for well over fifty years; yet in person he was a very humble man. As a teenager, he had fought his way across the face of Europe with the 58th Armored Infantry Battalion of the the 8th Armored Division, from Normandy to Cadier En Keer, Holland; through the Rhineland beneath hails of antiaircraft artillery fire; across the heart of Germany; to liberating Czechoslovakia.  For all that, he preferred to wear his simple Combat Infantryman's Badge pinned to his lapel, and nothing else. 

The full story of his WWII combat service, is at http://www.gaymilitarysignal.com/061107Kameny.html.

He humbly began telling me the whole story of his heroic WWII adventure by saying, "I was just and ordinary soldier."  Indeed, just as so many members of our Greatest Generation were.  A decade later, after completing his PhD in astronomy at Harvard, he got a job with the Army Map Service.  One fine evening in 1957 he went cruising in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, and was busted and labeled as "a sexual pervert," which promptly got him fired from his job.  Imagine if that incident had never happened!  Would he have spent a quite career making celestial maps and retired years later in obscurity?  Fifty two years later, after over a half century as one of the most formidable voices for LGBT rights, he was invited into the White House, across from where all the trouble began in Lafayette Park, and in the presence of the President, the openly gay director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management apologized to him for the discrimination of his having been fired!  It doesn't get much better than that.

But, of course, there's much more.  The protest posters he made on his living room floor in the early 1960s, with magic markers, are now in the Smithsonian Institute along with his papers.  The house he made them in is an official  Historic site.  And many of the rights he demanded for so long have become laws that he lived to see signed.

Franklin Kameny spent the better part of his long life advocating for our rights, demonstrating in Washington and Philadelphia, organizing, and "being Out" publicly long before most of us could even imagine doing that.  He was loud, forceful, and cantankerous, but always urbane in a tidy but somewhat rumpled suit and tie, and speaking in educated Harvard English with a slight New England twang.

In the battle to repeal DADT in March of 2005, Dr. Kameny came to New York to testify in the august ancient chambers of the New York City Council regarding a resolution urging the President and Congress to repeal the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy.  After much tiresome testimony from dreary lawyers and others, he brought down the house by loudly bellowing, "Denying our military of the services of people who have much to offer, clearly gives aid and comfort to our enemies.  But under Section 3 of Article 3 of the constitution, giving aid and comfort to the enemy is one of the definitions of treason.  Therefore, anyone who supports the military gay ban whether by direct act or by mere word of mouth is constitutionally defined as a traitor and should be indicted, prosecuted, tried, convicted and hanged for treason.  I will gladly provide the cost of the hangman's rope out of my own pocket."

How does one say farewell to a hero?  For me, as a gay veteran, it is the honor of saluting his memory.

-Denny Meyer, Gay Veteran

  2011 Gay Military Signal