By GAIL FINEBERG
Banned from federal employment in 1957 solely because he was homosexual, Franklin Edward Kameny became an angry archivist.
Not only did the Harvard Ph.D. astronomer protest his firing from the U.S. Army Map Service, but he also became the central figure in the confrontation against the federal government's policies barring the employment of gays and lesbians, particularly in positions linked to national security. And Kameny saved every piece of paper documenting that struggle.
A self-described "pack rat," Kameny collected thousands of pages of letters, government correspondence, testimony, photographs and other memorabilia. The collection is perhaps the most complete record of the gay-rights movement in America. Selected items may be viewed at www.kamenypapers.org.
Those archives, which now contain more than 70,000 items, passed to the Library's ownership on Oct. 6 during a Whittall Pavilion ceremony attended by Kameny's friends and supporters. Kameny's associates had organized the Kameny Papers Project to purchase the papers and donate them to the Library. Project supporters included Charles Francis and Michael Huffington, who served as a member of Congress from Santa Barbara, Calif., from 1992 to 1994, when he ran for the Senate.
"The Kameny Papers are a rich and valuable resource for researchers seeking to understand the gay-rights movement's evolution into a significant social and political force and its impact on American life," said Associate Librarian for Library Services Deanna Marcum.
Standing in front of an old picket sign, "First Class Citizenship for Homosexuals" (Kameny's collection of protest signs will go to the Smithsonian Institution), Marcum presented an instrument of gift signed by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington to Francis, who headed the Kameny Papers Project.
"This is the real deal, Frank," Francis said as he accepted the document. "This means that the papers are going from Frank's attic to the nation's attic."
Acknowledging a standing ovation for his efforts, Kameny said, "I have become something of a walking history book.
"Things have changed," he added. "How they have changed. I am honored and proud that that is so."
Marcum said that the Kameny Papers will join the Manuscript Division's holdings of nearly 60 million items, including more than 15,000 collections of personal papers that document the course of American history.
She noted that Kameny's archives document his own biography and his struggle to retain his civil service status after federal personnel officials found out he was gay; Kameny's assistance to other individuals in similar situations; the early decades of the Mattachine Society of Washington, an early gay-rights organization; and the broader gay-rights movement, such as a national campaign to modify the American Psychiatric Association's view that homosexuality was a manifestation of mental illness.
"Further, the personal detail provided by the material on Mr. Kameny himself and those he assisted in similar circumstances is of unusual value," Marcum said. "Abstraction is often the enemy of historical understanding. A comprehensive understanding of history requires that historians, and those who read history, see how government policies and public attitudes affected real individuals and how individuals reacted, adjusted and grappled with their position. The Kameny Papers give this individual context for Mr. Kameny himself and for others."
Kameny's friends and supporters briefly recalled some of the highpoints of his activist life in Washington. It began with his firing, which happened in response to his 1957 arrest on charges of homosexuality and in compliance with a 1953 executive order banning homosexuals from the U.S. Army. His dossier entered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's files for "sexual deviants."
"The animosity this man faced was startling, even in 1957," Francis said. "That this man stood up to this is astounding."
Because the federal government had cost him his job, Kameny sued the government in federal court. He lost and appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1961 refused to hear his case.
So Kameny formed the Mattachine Society of Washington, and began an organized campaign against federal employment laws he believed were unfair to gay men and lesbians. He stated his views in newsletters he sent to members of Congress and to the president, in position papers and in testimony before Congress. "He was hoping to achieve full equality with U.S. citizens, nothing more, nothing less," Huffington said.
Kameny waged a long campaign to get the American Psychiatric Association to change its equation of homosexuality with mental illness. Dudley Clendinen, a former New York Times columnist and co-author of "Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America," told a story about a 1971 spring meeting of the association in the Shoreham Hotel off Connecticut Avenue. Thirty men ran up the aisle and hustled the guest speaker off the stage. Kameny, who was sitting in the front row, grabbed the microphone. "Psychiatry is the enemy incarnate," roared the small man with the deep, booming voice.
"He kept insisting that homosexuality was not abnormal," Huffington said. Eventually, the association changed its position.
Kameny carried picket signs in front of the White House and various federal agencies, ran for public office, and corresponded regularly with the U.S. Civil Service Commission.
On Feb. 25, 1966, U.S. Civil Service Commission Chairman John W. Macy Jr. responded in a letter addressed to the Mattachine Society. He made clear the commission's position: "Persons about whom there is evidence that they have engaged in or solicited others to engage in homosexual or sexually perverted acts with them, without evidence of rehabilitation, are not suitable for Federal employment."
Ever-persistent in his effort to have the rules changed, Kameny prevailed. One day in June 1975 he received a phone call from the Office of General Counsel at the Civil Service Commission: "The government has decided to change its policy to suit you," Kameny was informed.
Kameny was subsequently invited to the commission to review its employment policy.
The Kameny Papers also include black-and-white photographs of gay men and lesbians picketing the White House in the 1960s, testimonies by Kameny in defense of numerous individuals denied security clearances and fired from their government jobs, documents tracing the formation and advocacy of the Mattachine Society, documents concerning the American Psychiatric Association and the fight to "de-list" homosexuality as a mental illness, and documentation of debates within the gay-rights movement over appropriate tactics and Kameny's own role as a leading strategist.
"It is the great luck of American historians that he was fired early and that he was angry," Clendinen said.
Gail Fineberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newsletter.