Rosendall toasts Kameny on upcoming 80th birthday


GLAA Vice President for Political Affairs Richard J. Rosendall

GLAA 34th Anniversary Reception
Radisson Barcelo Hotel
Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The day before the election for D.C. Delegate to Congress in March 1971, the Kameny for Congress campaign received a check for $500 from Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. At that point it was too late to spend the money on the campaign, so it was used afterward to send the leading organizers to New York City to meet with members of that city's Gay Activists Alliance. That led to the founding of a Washington group by the same name, 34 years ago today. I have this from GAA co-founder and Kameny campaign manager Paul Kuntzler, who informs me that they never got around to sending a thank-you letter. So do us a favor and buy a bottle of Newman's Own Salad Dressing, to help us say a belated thank you.

On May 1 in Philadelphia, at the National Celebration of the 40th anniversary of the first gay rights demonstration at Independence Hall, Frank Kameny will be honored with other pioneers of the gay rights movement. GLAA is participating in the events that weekend, including a reception for statewide groups on Saturday, April 30.

Next month, Frank will turn 80. As those who attended the community meeting at Ziegfeld's last week can attest, Frank has lost none of his lung power. In fact, Jim Graham may have suffered a temporary hearing loss, because Frank was screaming right into his left ear. But it was not decibels that made Frank such a crucial figure of the early gay rights movement more than 40 years ago -- it was his brainpower, persistence, outspoken articulateness, and courage. This Harvard-trained astronomer nearly starved after losing his government job as an alleged security risk. But he did not starve. He considered his government's treatment of him to be a declaration of war, and as a veteran of front-line combat in World War II he was used to winning his wars.

Prior to Frank, homosexual activists tended to be conservative, cautious, and quiet. Frank was loud, fearless, and direct. He said that his homosexuality was a God-given blessing, and insisted that gay people must speak for themselves and reject the pathologizing of their lives and loves by so-called experts in the psychiatric field. He used his real name, at a time when his colleagues hid behind pseudonyms.

All these years later, Frank has won most of his battles. Homosexuality is no longer regarded as a psychopathology. Civil servants can no longer be fired for being gay. Security clearances can no longer be denied merely on the basis of sexual orientation. Laws against consensual sodomy have been ruled unconstitutional. Frank's last remaining goal is to end the prohibition against openly gay people serving in the military. Long before the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, he provided legal assistance to countless gay servicemen and women, urging all who would listen to say nothing, sign nothing, and get a lawyer. He is rightly outraged at the harm done to our nation's military readiness by discharging patriotic gay servicemembers, including desperately-needed linguists in Arabic and Farsi. He declares that those discharging authorities are committing high treason, and he is prepared to pay the cost of the hangman's rope out of his own pocket.

I have known Frank since I invited him to speak to the Villanova University Political Union in March 1978. Afterwards, I asked his advice on getting involved in the gay community in Washington, and indeed he had a listing in the phone book under "Gay information and assistance," by which he gave much-needed help and encouragement to many others like me. He remains a regular fixture at GLAA a quarter century after I attended my first meeting, and it has been a privilege working alongside, and learning from, this pioneer.

So please join me in an early toast to Frank's 80th birthday. To our own Frank Kameny -- still raising hell after all these years.