Monday, February 7, 2011

Doing Right By Our Pioneers

John Corvino has, as usual, written a column worth pilfering from. But I don't think he'll mind my thieving, since it's in a good cause.

In his piece called "Help a Hero," Corvino writes about Frank Kameny, one of the most important figures in the gay movement. If you haven't heard of him, that's no surprise. We often think our history began in 1969 when drag queens got testy with cops outside a Greenwich Village bar.

But Kameny was an activist before Stonewall. And after it. And still. He's the Energizer Bunny of gay activists.

Corvino writes, "A Harvard-trained Ph.D. and World War II veteran, Frank was fired in 1957 from his job as an Army Map Service astronomer for being a homosexual. Unsure of his future employability and outraged by the injustice, he fought back, petitioning his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1961. (They declined to hear it.)"

Over the years Kameny did loads more for the cause, as Corvino describes. My favorite Kameny actions? In 1965 he picketed in front of the White House for gay rights—President Lyndon Johnson probably thought this civil rights thing has gotten out of hand­­­—and in 1968 he coined the slogan "Gay is Good."

Kameny also fought for the notion that Gay isn't Nuts, and he saw that battle won in 1973 when the American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental illness.

"In 2009, when President Obama signed a memorandum extending certain benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, he handed his pen to Kameny," Corvino notes. "That same year, the Federal Office of Personnel Management issued an apology to Kameny on behalf of the U.S. government. Without missing a beat, Kameny promptly sent a letter stating that he was expecting five decades of back pay. (He received no reply.)"

He could've used it. The 85-year-old is strapped. "His modest Social Security check—his only income—is inadequate to cover his needs. An organization called Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS) has intervened on his behalf."

You can read how HOBS is financially aiding the man it calls "our greatest living gay rights activist" at

Corvino writes, "All donations to HOBS this month go to Frank. Meanwhile, a Facebook page has launched in conjunction with this effort, entitled 'Buy Frank a Drink.' The idea is not literally to buy him drinks, but to spare $10 (or whatever you can afford) for him."

Oh hell, go ahead and buy him a drink if you want to. Kameny deserves it—and lots more.