Gay Rights Leader Dies On National Coming Out Day

Frank Kameny sued the government in 1957 for firing him as a government astronomer because he was gay. His case is believed to be the first civil rights claim based on sexual orientation that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Kameny then became a vocal gay rights advocate. He died Tuesday at age 86. Michel Martin looks at his legacy.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: But first, we want to take a moment to remember one of the founding fathers of the modern gay rights movement. Friends and activists are mourning the death of Frank Kameny today. In 1957, he was fired from his government job, evidently because of his sexual orientation. Here he is in an interview with NPR in 1995.

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FRANK KAMENY: At that point, being gay without more was sufficient to disqualify you. It meant that the jobs I could get were only with a series of second rate companies which were on shaky ground and which, in several instances, went out from under me.

MARTIN: Kameny is believed to have been the first person to sue the federal government to challenge discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. He did not prevail, but his activism did not end there. A few years later, he joined with other activists to take the gay rights movement to the streets.

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KAMENY: We initiated picketing and demonstrating by gay people in April of 1965 and a little band of 10 rather uncertain people, and those days that kind of demonstration - I mean actually picketing in front of the White House - was the ultimate in protest in 1965.

MARTIN: In 2009, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management officially apologized to Kameny for firing him years earlier. In a statement, the head of the Washington based human rights campaign says Kameny, quote, "set a path for the modern LGBT civil rights movement," unquote.

Frank Kameny was 86 years old. He died yesterday on National Coming Out Day.

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