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Frank Kameny, the longtime LGBT rights activist credited with spearheading the fight that eventually allowed LGBT people to work for the federal government, was inducted into the Labor Department’s Hall of Honor on June 23.
The Hall of Honor acknowledges those who make major contributions in the field of labor, and in fighting for quality-of-life issues such as better working conditions and higher wages for the American worker. That includes former Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), former Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, and openly gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, among others.
Kameny was a World War II veteran and former astronomer for the U.S. Army Map Service who saw himself unceremoniously fired in 1957 because of his sexual orientation. He was discharged from his post, but fought back. In 1961, the Supreme Court denied his petition, refusing to hear the case. Kameny then spent the next 5 decades until his death in 2011 fighting to end LGBT discrimination writ large, as well as employment discrimination in the federal government specifically.
A founder of the Gay Activist Alliance — predecessor to the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance — Kameny was known for the slogan “Gay is Good,” aimed at combating negative stereotypes of LGBT people. He led the first public demonstration in favor of LGBT rights in front of the White House in 1965, became the first openly gay candidate for Congress in 1971, and challenged the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of homosexuality as a mental disease. As a result of his initial efforts, attitudes toward LGBT people began to change, with the federal courts responsible for the bulk of positive developments. In 1975, the Civil Service Commission announced that gays and lesbians would no longer be excluded from government employment, and in 1992, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order allowing LGBT people to hold security clearances and high government positions.
“Frank Kameny was a groundbreaking leader in the LGBT civil rights movement,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said in a statement. “He fought tirelessly to live out his truth and to end workplace discrimination. At the Department of Labor we work every day to carry on his legacy and ensure that all workers, no matter who they are or who they love, have equal access to opportunity.”
Speaking at Kameny’s induction ceremony was Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the District’s non-voting representative to the U.S. Congress and a longtime friend of Kameny’s.
“Frank Kameny was a District of Columbia citizen to be reckoned with, and he led his own city and the nation to the better place of recognizing the humanity of the LGBT community,” Norton said in prepared remarks. “He did it with equal portions of wit and determination after being fired from the federal service because of his sexual orientation. Above all, Frank understood the universality of human rights. His pioneering work for the right to be free from discrimination because of one’s sexual orientation will now rightfully be honored alongside the nation’s labor and civil rights champions.”
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