Before Stonewall: Meet the Man Behind the Modern Gay Rights Movement

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a profile of early LGBT activist Frank Kameny and the beginning of the modern gay rights movement in the years leading up to the Stonewall Uprising.

Frank Kameny attending Pride on June 12, 2010. CC BY 2.0

The WSJ said:

The “Lavender Scare” of the 1950s and ’60s attracted less notice than the concurrent Red one, in large part due to the fact that none of its targets had been willing to fight back. There was no gay equivalent of the Hollywood Ten, no high-stakes gay version of the Army-McCarthy congressional hearings to enrapture the nation. People who were fired due to their sexual orientation were nameless and faceless, appearing only as statistics in occasional newspaper items detailing the latest cull of “sexual deviants” from government ranks. 

That is, until Frank Kameny came along. He was an eloquent World War II veteran, a Harvard Ph.D. astronomer and a former employee of the Army Map Service who had been fired in 1957 because of his sexual orientation. Now, when Americans were told about the supposed homosexual menace, they would have to reconcile those hair-raising accounts with the reality of this impressive patriot.

As co-founder of Mattachine’s Washington, D.C. chapter, Kameny was unafraid to put himself forward as an advocate for a nascent gay community. “Most of our members hide behind phoney names and stay so deep in the closet they are a pitiful joke to those who know them,” one of Kameny’s Mattachine colleagues once wrote. Simply by acknowledging himself publicly as gay, “A man like Frank is the most valuable single item the homophile movement possesses.”

Kameny could claim many firsts. He was the first federal employee to challenge his dismissal on the grounds of sexual orientation, the first openly gay person to testify in front of (and run for) Congress and the first individual to petition the Supreme Court on the grounds of anti-gay discrimination.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *