Frank Kameny, Washington DC, November 3, 1978.
Introduction: Frank Kameny can rightly be considered one of the most important pre-Stonewall homophile activists. He pushed the movement and its organizations to go beyond the limitations they had set for themselves. In this interview he discusses the events in his own life that propelled him into activism in the early 1960s, the work of the Mattachine Society of Washington and its collaboration with the National Capital Area Civil Liberties Union, and the profound impact that Stonewall and the radicalism of the 1960s had on LGBT activism.
Born 1925. PhD from Harvard, astronomy, June 1956. Came to Washington, Sept. 1956, working at Georgetown, stayed the academic year. Gets job at Army Map Service, July 1957, until end of 1957 when dismissed
Mattachine Society Washington [MSW] formed, 11/15/1961. Vaguely aware of Mattachine and ONE. In San Francisco on Army business trip, late 1957. Stopped at Mattachine San Francisco office. After losing job, in contact with ONE, NY and SF Mattchine. NY Matt contributes $50 to him.
NY Matt interested in founding new groups: “empire-building.” Had extensive mailing list. Circa summer 61 sent out mailing to all DC area names about a proposed organizational meeting. September or October – NY Matt reps come down. About a dozen turn out. From that, schedule a November 15, 1961 meeting.
November 8, 1961 – Washington ACLU holds its formative meeting.
Philadelphia approach very different from New York Mattachine from start. Dewees and [?] in charge – not sure about sickness. Sexual freedom approach.
November 61 to August 62: series of monthly meetings. Organizational. Interim officers, constitution, bylaws, p.o. box, etc. Then decide on a program and what to do. Federal government as major area of endeavor
August 62: news release about existence and purposes. Sent to all members of Congress, Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, President, Cabinet, and some other high ranking officials.
ACLU-DC: “a lot of work needed to be done . . . They were very, very queasy about the subject.”
Kameny an ACLU member since 1950. Attended DC organizational meetings. Anguishing over membership involvement. Set up committee to bring in the membership. A committee on discrimination, circa end of 1962. Kameny asks what forms? Answer, race, anti-Semitism. Kameny asks what about homosexuality. Quite hesitant response.
Goes to committee meeting. Kameny says he’s involved in discrimination against homosexuals. They decide to investigate further on homosexuality since so many organizations working on blacks. Kameny prepares paper on discrimination. Starts things moving. Set up special committee. Prepares white paper. Approved. Then goes through national office. Meanwhile, things happening in southern California. Eventually, national ACLU policy statement
Bruce Scott case and NCA-CLU.
Kameny took his own case through normal administrative procedures to Civil Service Commission. Then up to White House. Correspondence with Sherman Adams, House and Senate Civil Service Commission; then to court with lawyer. District court, then Court of Appeals. Kameny on his own does petition for writ of certiorari with Supreme Court. Gets instructions from them; files January 1961; denied March 61. For first time, hits the papers. Washington Star summary of Supreme Court decisions.
Bruce Scott – just denied his job as an applicant. Contacts Kameny. Gets active in MSW
Scott Case: Kameny refers to Civil Liberties Union. Carliner, chairman, and a founder, took the case [an immigration/naturalization lawyer]. Went through Court of Appeals twice, 1965 and 1968. Scott won both times. First time – gave rights to applicants. Required greater specificity in charges re denial of employment. Usual procedure was a simple letter stating “immoral conduct.” Thereafter, specific charges, allegations, and evidence
After decision, grant him eligibility. Six weeks later, suspend Scott and supply him with lengthy allegations. Court of Appeals accuses Civil Service Commission of contradictions. Claim one, charge another. CSC simply decides not to go on. Scott reinstated, but no general precedent about eligibility of homosexuals, validity of CSC regulations
Initiates many cases. Norton v. Macy a key case. Government has to show connection between job performance and off-duty homosexual activity. By 72-73, clear to CSC that its position untenable. Kameny works with CSC general counsel to come up with proposed changes, c. 1973. July 3, 1975 – finally changes
Anti-Sickness: “extremely fundamental and absolutely necessary.” Some in MSW uncomfortable. MSW has no procedures for adopting policy. That has to be done. Lengthy debates, finally adopted
Julian Hodges: resigns. Absconding with funds, confronted with it, resigns and leaves, c. 11/65. Dick Leitsch takes over NY Matt: “simply found it impossible to work with anybody.”
“He looked about the NY area as his empire.”
“Everybody universally found it impossible to work with him.” Unreliable
Daughters of Bilitis: Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin “very much in the avant-garde of the movement at that time.
Kansas City meeting, February 1966. A starter toward creating a national structure.
“not terribly much progress” made through NACHO. At Kansas City, put forward anti-sickness, but voted down. “I got some utterly irrational opposition to it and some ranting and raving particularly from Bill Beardemphl of SIR which just didn’t make any sense at all.”
Still opposition to picketing. “very timid kind of movement, more than I was comfortable with.” Much fear about organizational autonomy. Intended for conference to adopt resolutions and make plans for the movement as a movement. Also sets up regional conference – some work well, helpful
Stonewall: “a turning point”
“What happened at Stonewall was very much in keeping with the spirit of the times. It was an era of tremendous ferment, of activism and militancy that hadn’t occurred in recent historical memory . . . Riots were becoming commonplace in every part of the country . . . When we started picketing in 1965, a public demonstration, not only by gays, but by anybody, was considered a very radical thing. It was the last step. There was nothing beyond it. That was as far as one went because that was as far as you could go . . .
“And then you had the whole very active and pervasive radical community and radical philosophy of that period which was setting a tone for everything that went on. Stonewall happened at the right moment and it happened because it was the right moment.
“What Stonewall did was to accomplish what we had been trying to do for years and years and years and had never been able to do and what we had anguished over endlessly – that the gay movement had never been a grassroots movement. It had never fired up the general gay community. Stonewall made the movement a grassroots movement.”