Kameny Estate Trademarks ''Gay is Good''

Local LGBT activist told to stop using the phrase made famous by late gay rights leader

By John Riley
Published on October 31, 2012, 7:36pm | Comments

Though gay-rights pioneer Frank Kameny has been dead for a year, his affirmation that ''gay is good'' is finding a life of its own.

Christopher Dyer, an LGBT activist who served as head of the Office of GLBT Affairs under Mayor Adrian Fenty, was thinking of ways he could honor the District's ''father of the gay rights movement,'' whom he had considered a friend.

Initially, Dyer says, he approached the lawyer for Kameny's estate, Glen Ackerman, at a local meet-and-greet event last spring to try and set something up in Kameny's memory.

Frank Kameny

Frank Kameny (Oct. 2006)

Photo by Todd Franson

As time passed, Dyer did not hear back from Ackerman and assumed that Ackerman was busy on behalf of the estate and Kameny's sole heir, Tim Clark, lodging four lawsuits against people who had been close to Kameny: Richard J. Rosendall, Bob Witeck, Charles Francis and Marvin Carter. The lawsuits, since dropped, asked the four defendants to return personal papers and artifacts belonging to Kameny that the estate claimed were ''wrongfully taken'' by the defendants after Kameny's death.

''I never heard back from Glen,'' Dyer said Oct. 29. ''I just assumed he was busy, and, after a while, I figured it was okay to move along with the project.''

Dyer remembered how Kameny coined the phrase ''Gay is Good,'' encouraging members of the LGBT community to embrace their sexual orientation and gender identity, rather than be ashamed of it. Building on Kameny's catch phrase, Dyer created a Facebook page, ''Gay is Good, Make LGBT Great,'' that was intended to highlight the stories of LGBT people and their allies around the District. That page launched Oct. 11, the one-year anniversary of Kameny's death.

But Dyer received a letter from Ackerman Oct. 24, advising him that Kameny's estate had secured a trademark on the phrase ''Gay is Good'' and that Dyer needed to stop using it for anything that might benefit him personally.

Dyer said Ackerman told him the estate is reserving use of the phrase to ensure that people do not overuse or abuse it. As a result, Dyer agreed to stop using the phrase and created a new page, ''Make LGBT Great.'' Dyer has since used his new page to highlight the work of several LGBT activists, such as Maryland transgender activist Dr. Dana Beyer.

Christopher Dyer

Christopher Dyer

(Photo by Julian Vankim)

Although Dyer agreed to comply with the estate's demand, he did question whether the phrase ''Gay is Good'' should be trademarked, telling Ackerman in one email that he didn't believe Kameny would have wanted its use limited.

''The question that remains is: How can organizations use that phrase?'' Dyer said. ''I'm hoping that they will be able to use it as loose and as liberally as possible. I'd like to see it used widely. It would be a tribute to Frank.''

In the meantime, Dyer said he hopes the LGBT community can work together to find a way to best honor Kameny's legacy, particularly in resolving the legal disputes surrounding a memorial service that had been planned for Kameny, but that was never carried out due to legal wrangling over ownership of the cemetery plot where Kameny's ashes were to be interred.

Calls to Ackerman were not immediately returned.