Gay Rights Movement Pioneer Frank Kameny Dies

Frank Kameny, a pioneer in the gay rights movement, died Tuesday at 86. In 1957, Kameny was fired from his job as an astronomer for the U.S. government because he was homosexual. He fought his dismissal in court for years and in the 1960s, began picketing outside the White House, calling for equal rights for gays and lesbians. In 2009, the government issued him a formal apology for his firing.

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Frank Kameny, a pioneer of the modern gay rights movement, has died. He was 86 years old. Kameney was revered in the gay community for speaking out as an openly gay man when many were too afraid to do so.

NPR's Alex Kellogg has this remembrance.

ALEX KELLOGG: Frank Kameny was always clear on what he felt the role of the federal government was.

FRANK KAMENY: An affirmative protector of the rights of its citizens, including its gay citizens.

KELLOGG: That's Kameny on NPR in 1995. For much of his life, Kameny pushed for the federal government to be that protector. He was born in Queens, New York. He earned a PhD in astronomy from Harvard and later took a job with the Army. But the Army fired him after discovering he'd been arrested for being gay. The year was 1957.

From that day forward, he fought for gay rights as an openly gay man. In the 1960s, he began picketing for gay rights in front of the White House, a first. Charles Francis is a founder of the Kameny Papers project and a close friend.

CHARLES FRANCIS: Frank Kameny was a revolutionary who lived to see the world change. He's an authentic pioneer of the modern gay civil rights movement, and he largely invented it.

KELLOGG: Kameny used the civil rights movement as a model. He coined the mantra - gay is good - after hearing the then-radical black catchphrase black is beautiful. He fought his dismissal from the Army for years in federal court. He taught himself the law and helped scores of gay and lesbian military personnel, civil servants and others in disputes with the federal government.

In 1973, he played a key roll in ending the categorization of homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder. Lou Chibbaro is a journalist who has covered the gay rights movement since the 1970s.

LOU CHIBBARO: He was a giant and he might be perhaps the closest comparison we might have to Martin Luther King in the African-American community in terms of his stature as a strategist and a leader who had a lasting impact.

KELLOGG: The government issued him a formal apology for his firing in 2009. And he lived just long enough to see the federal government allow gays to serve openly in the military. He even had a front row seat when President Obama signed the bill into law.

Alex Kellogg, NPR News, Washington.

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