Editors' note: Jaime Grant is the director of the Policy Institute at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She holds a Ph.D. in Women's Studies from the Union Institute and has offered a course in social movements at Georgetown University and workshops on gender expression and sexuality at the Task Force's National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change.
Today, I brought my ten-year-old son to see Franklin Kameny, a Godfather of the gay movement, receive a long-awaited public apology from the federal government for firing him in 1952 for "sexual perversion." The 80-plus year old Kameny, as witty and engaging as ever, shook openly gay Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry's hand and shouted: "Apology accepted!"
I cried through most of the ceremony.
Frank Kameny is about my father's age, and like him, served this country in World War II. He returned to the U.S. to get a Ph.D. in astronomy at Harvard University and worked for the Army maps division. When the civil service interrogated him behind a closed door about his sexual activities and associates, Frank refused to give up the names of his gay friends, or be cowed by the threat of loss of his livelihood. He was fired, and instead of serving as a government astronomer, he spent his lifetime helping other targeted gay federal employees keep their jobs.
He also spearheaded some of the most important activism of his generation, serving as a co-founder of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 1973, and driving the effort to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders. The success of Frank's lobbying of the APA led the government to stop firing civilian employees on the basis of sexual orientation. Frank told the crowd today that in 1975, he got a phone call from a government official who said: "The government has decided to change things to suit you."
After Frank received his letter of apology from director Berry, and a bust of Teddy Roosevelt (!), he mingled with the crowd a bit and I pushed my son, Reilly, to the front of the line. I said, "This is Frank Kameny, a true freedom fighter." They shook hands.
In the cab on the way back to the office, I was enumerating all of the sacrifices that men like Frank, and women like the recently deceased Del Martin, made so that our family could be safe and happy. I asked him to imagine what it must have been like for Frank to give up what he loved to do, for life, just for being gay.
Reilly said: "But Mom, then Frank might not have done all that work that he did for all of us. Think about that!"
And I am. Thinking about that, as a gender identity-inclusive ENDA is introduced on the Hill yesterday, as the Task Force celebrates its recent victory with the U.S. Census Bureau on counting same-sex married couples, and as we anticipate much, much more change within the many federal agencies who now welcome our input on policy-making -- I am thinking about Franklin Kameny's great sacrifice and true grit.
Thanks, Frank. Thanks from all of us.