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It was the “golden hour” of late afternoon on Nov. 3 during the viewing for gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny when I walked outside the Carnegie Library for some fresh air. I had been greeting people arriving to pay their respects. The sun hung low above the White House to the southwest, bathing the cars on New York Avenue in a golden light. Charles Francis, co-founder of the Kameny Papers Project, sat beside me as I searched for a WiFi signal for my new iPad. The first book I had downloaded was Frank’s 1961 petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, which Charles had published on Kindle. New tools, old struggle.
Two hours later, night had fallen when I walked behind Frank’s flag-draped casket. There at curbside under a half moon stood Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Vincent Gray, several D.C. Council members, and an honor guard of gay servicemembers. They were a testament to how far we’ve come since Frank first fought back. Inside earlier, the Rock Creek Singers of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington had sung three selections including a gorgeous a cappella “Star-Spangled Banner.”
Speaking at a memorial gathering for Kameny on Capitol Hill on Nov. 15, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) praised Kameny’s assertiveness, noting he was no “shrinking violet.” He drew laughter when he said he appreciated Kameny for proving that effective activism did not require being a neat dresser.
We are all Kameny’s legacy. That is one of the blessings I count this Thanksgiving. Other blessings include my partner Patrick and my family who welcomed him. I am thankful too for departed friends who enriched my life, and for remarkable new friends. One is Kadeem, a gay teen thrown out by his parents who built his own support network, finished high school, and has ambitious college plans. Sixty-seven years separate this natural leader from Kameny, whom he met in April.
I am grateful for other fighters in top form — not gripers and snipers, but smart, well-grounded change agents like these:
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who united squabbling marriage equality activists and new allies with a winning combination of commitment, leadership, savvy and guts.
Attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson, whose thoroughness in the Proposition 8 case gives reason for confidence, especially since a ruling last week puts it on a likely path to the U.S. Supreme Court.
President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, who on July 22 signed the certification that ended the military gay ban.
MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, architect of RomneyCare, who hit a bull’s-eye last week against Mitt Romney’s desperate, implausible critique of ObamaCare when he told Capital New York, “They’re the same fucking bill.”
I was helping sort through documents in Kameny’s office a few weeks ago, and found an old policy brief from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. I have had to work on the 2012 edition without his input. We continue the struggle through a new election with new issues. I will miss Kameny’s updates on the gay-hating obsessives of the radical right, whom he monitored avidly. They certainly haven’t let up.
Lies by our opponents are easily spread and require great talent and energy to refute. Five years ago I sat in a darkened room with Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, watching a focus group through a two-way mirror as part of the advance work for D.C.’s marriage-equality law. Historic breakthroughs do not happen without preparation. So I add to my thank-you list our dedicated voter researchers and political pitchmen. Finally I add campaign volunteers and donors. All are vital to our future victories. Now fuel up for the long fight ahead, and save a wishbone for me.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.