Political Pavement [video]

D.C. honors Frank Kameny with a stretch of 17th Street

by Will O'Bryan
Published on June 11, 2010, 5:57pm | Comments

As Eliza Doolittle's suitor Freddy sings in My Fair Lady, ''I have often walked down this street before....'' It's the one where Eliza lives and he would never see it quite the same once he fell for her. Now, the same might be said for the stretch of 17th Street NW between R and Q Streets -- at least for the LGBT community.

On Thursday morning, June 10, a crowd gathered for the unveiling of the street sign naming this particular stretch ''Frank Kameny Way NW.''

As Mayor Adrian Fenty led the fanfare, grassroots politicos jostled in the background, one holding a sign promoting Council Chair Vincent Gray's mayoral campaign above his head, another touting Fenty's campaign. While the jockeying for position was completely characteristic of the city's politics, Frank Kameny was also true to form Thursday: sincere and succinct.

''I'm not going to go on at any great length,'' Kameny told the crowd of about 50 people gathered on the southeast corner of 17th and R Streets that sunny, late-spring morning. ''Thank you very, very much for being here. I'm honored. This, along with several other things that have happened create a sort of storybook kind of an ending or closing for what time I still have left. And I feel more gratified than I can possibly express. Thank you very much.''

With that, and to much applause, Fenty and Kameny pulled the strings unveiling his street sign.

Joining Fenty and Kameny at the lectern to mark the occasion were Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans (D); Dupont neighborhood Commissioner Mike Silverstein (who successfully rallied the crowd to sing a belated ''Happy Birthday'' to Kameny, 85 on May 21); Gabe Klein, director of D.C.'s Department of Transportation; and, most powerfully, John Berry, director of the federal Office of Personnel Management.

Berry thanked Kameny for his many contributions to LGBT equality, noting the irony that while his office fired Kameny from his position as an astronomer with the Army Map Service in 1957 for being gay, he, as a gay man, now ran it.

''Homosexuality is no longer regarded as a pathology -- that's thanks to Dr. Frank Kameny,'' Berry proclaimed. ''Civil servants cannot be fired for being gay -- that's thanks to Dr. Frank Kameny. Security clearances cannot be denied on the basis of sexual orientation -- that is thanks to Dr. Frank Kameny. And invasive laws against consensual sex acts have now finally, finally been ruled unconstitutional, thanks again to Dr. Frank Kameny. Frank, for every one of us who walk this street – and I walk it daily – your name up here is going to remind us of the power of one person, the power of persistence.''

Among the familiar faces in the crowd were Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Mitchell Gold, Rick Rosendall, José Gutierrez, Lane Hudson, Mario Acosta-Vélez, Paul Kuntzler, Brian Bond and Charles Francis, the benefactor who helped secure Kameny's archive of documents in the Library of Congress.

Bob Summersgill, a longtime friend of Kameny's, was also among those who spent the morning honoring this pioneer of the modern gay-rights movement.

''All our successes today can date back to something Frank did,'' Summersgill said following the unveiling. ''Frank Kameny is the reason I got involved in gay and lesbian rights activism. His methods and the lessons he taught me from meeting after meeting are what made me as successful as I've been. Everyone in the country can look to Frank as someone who made the differences that allowed us to go forward. We're all standing on his shoulders.''

And now, many will be walking on his street.