Today in history: First openly gay candidate runs for Congress

Frank Kameny (May 21, 1925 – Oct. 11, 2011) ran for U.S. Congress on this date in 1971, albeit for a non-voting seat representing the District of Columbia. Following his defeat by Democrat Walter E. Fauntroy, Kameny and his campaign organization created the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Washington, D.C., an organization which continues to lobby government and press the case for equal rights.

Kameny went to Queens College to learn physics and at age 17 declared himself an atheist. Drafted into the Army, he served throughout World War II in Europe, then returned to Queens College, earning a physics degree in 1948. He then enrolled at Harvard University; while a teaching fellow there, he refused to sign a loyalty oath without attaching qualifiers. He received a master’s degree (1949) and doctorate (1956) in astronomy, with a thesis entitled “A Photoelectric Study of Some RV Tauri and Yellow Semiregular Variables.”

In 1957, Kameny was dismissed from his position as an astronomer in the U.S. Army Map Service in Washington, D.C., because of his homosexuality, and subsequently barred from future employment by the federal government, leading him to begin a lifelong campaign against the American establishment for homosexual rights. He protested his firing and argued his case to the Supreme Court in 1961. Although the court denied his petition, it is notable as the first civil rights claim based on sexual orientation. Kameny was an early significant figure in the emerging American LGBTQ movement.

Radicalized by now, Kameny co-founded the Washington, D.C., branch of the Mattachine Society, the organization launched by Communist Harry Hay. Kameny’s group sponsored some of the earliest public protests by gays and lesbians with a picket line at the White House on April 17, 1965, the same day, coincidentally, as the first major march in the nation’s capital against the war in Vietnam.

In his later years, Kameny never worked a steady job again, but devoted his entire life to LGBTQ activism, becoming a revered elder of the movement. To date, 19 men and women openly identifying with the LGBTQ community have served in Congress – and no doubt many more in the closet.

Photo and source: Wikipedia (CC)  | Frank Kameny in June 2009, in front of signs used during protests.


Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

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