Social movements are made up of many kinds of people working together for a common goal. But sometimes movements are encapsulated by a few very special people who crystallize and symbolize the set of ideals they espouse.
Such a figure was Frank Kameny. He was a World War II veteran and federal employee, an astronomer for the Army Map Service, when he was fired in 1957 simply for being gay – such firings were normal practice at the time. What wasn’t normal practice was speaking out and fighting back – which is exactly what Kameny did for years, both on his own behalf and for others.
Kameny was an early activist in the Mattachine Society, an early gay-rights organization that named itself after a French medieval and renaissance group that would conduct masked dance rituals as protests against oppression.
But Kameny didn’t fight bigotry with a mask on. He took it on openly – and suffered because of it. Frank formally appealed his firing to the U.S. Civil Service Commission, a precursor to the Office of Personnel Management and the Merit Systems Protection Board, and although unsuccessful, it is one of the first known civil rights claims based on sexual orientation. Despite his struggles, he fought on, speaking truth to power, challenging authority to fight for protections for the LGBT community. Kameny’s persistence was astounding – he led pickets of the White House in the 1960s, worked to overturn discriminatory laws, fought the military ban on homosexuals, and was appointed as the first openly gay member of DC’s Human Rights Commission in the 1970s - and the dedication to his cause was eventually realized.
We at the EEOC can appreciate Kameny’s courage in many ways. He was a tireless promoter of LGBT rights in America and continues to serve as a role model for our daily pursuit of justice for everyone who has suffered discrimination in the workplace. The EEOC takes pride in being a champion for the rights of all workers, just as Frank Kameny was.