Full Circle

Five decades later, the government that fired Frank Kameny now honors him

Frank Kameny in the 2009 Capital Pride Parade
Frank Kameny in the 2009 Capital Pride Parade

Fifty-two years after being fired from the federal government for being gay, Frank Kameny has now being honored by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for his accomplishments as a gay-rights pioneer.

”I would not have been able to accomplish what I have in my career without all of Frank’s work,” said OPM Director John Berry, the highest-ranking openly gay appointee in the Obama administration, at the June 24 ceremony. Berry’s agency is the successor to the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the agency whose policy against gays in the federal government resulted in Kameny’s termination.

Berry presented Kameny with a letter officially apologizing for the firing.

Leonard Hirsch, director of the GLBT federal employee group GLOBE, said that Kameny was outed when another gay employee listed Kameny’s name rather than be fired. Kameny was also given the option of naming other gay employees, but chose not to.

”The only names Frank gave were the kind we can’t publish in a newspaper,” Hirsch told the audience of about 100 people in the OPM auditorium.

Kameny opted instead to be one of the few employees fired for his sexual orientation to request a hearing before the Civil Service Commission board. When his hearing was unsuccessful, he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

His unsuccessful appeal began a life’s work of advocacy that included holding the first public protests for gay rights, lobbying the American Medical Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, and launching the phrase, ”Gay is good.”

”If I’m remembered for nothing else, I want to be remembered as the person who coined, ‘Gay is good,”’ said Kameny, who turned 84 in May.

Kameny was also a founder of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

After decades of helping fired employees sue the Civil Service Commission and lobbying the government, Kameny’s efforts helped result in 1975 in the change of policy that allowed gays to serve in the federal government.

Said Kameny: ”In 1975 I received a call saying, ‘The federal government has decided to change its policy to suit you.”’

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