Frank Kameny Gay Rights Items Join ‘Treasures of American History’

Several artifacts from pioneering gay activist Frank Kameny’s collection have gone on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (a temporary location) in the “Treasures of American History” exhibit, the Washington Post reports:

Frank_kameny“[Protest signs], plus three campaign buttons, are now in the same case as Joe Louis’s boxing gloves, near the glass closet that holds Jackie Kennedy’s inaugural gown and in the same shrinelike exhibit…that also has Thomas Jefferson’s writing desk and the ruby-red slippers that Dorothy wore on her way to meet the Wizard.”

Kameny recently donated over 70,000 papers to the Library of Congress. The Library’s acceptance of the papers inspired a spate of unsuccessful protests from “pro-family” groups.

The placement of the gay rights items in a somewhat eclectic and essentially “mainstream” exhibit serves only to accentuate their power, Kameny’s purpose, and America’s progress on the issue, the paper notes:

“But look around the display, at Rosie the Riveter, an early Teddy Bear, a pair of Keds sneakers and a Barbie doll, and gay rights signs seem like rather different objects. People may object to whether the museum gets the history of the labor movement right, or whether toys and pop icons are worthy to be seen next to Gen. George Washington’s uniform. But gay stuff, whether it’s a photograph in a newspaper or an exhibition in a museum, elicits a more visceral negative response. Rather than argue with the message, or the truth of the image or display, people tend to say, ‘I shouldn’t have to see that.’ Or rather, ‘My kids shouldn’t have to see it.’ That reaction, if it comes, only reinforces the potency of Kameny’s half-century-old strategy. It is still all about visibility. In that sense, the old picket signs that Kameny, a self-confessed ‘pack rat,’ stored all these years are still working (even in a museum) in their original way. Their presence there is the message.”

And Kameny is still active. He recently threw his support behind Gay American Heroes, the recently announced effort to create a national memorial for victims of anti-gay hate crimes.

You may have missed…
Wingnuts Gear Up for Hate Campaign Against Library of Congress for Accepting Papers of Pioneering Gay Activist Frank Kameny [tr]
Franklin Kameny: Activism Honored [tr]


  1. Derrick from Philly says

    I recently bought a DVD of “Before Stonewall” and yes, Frank Kameny was one of those pioneers without whom we’d all be trying to stay in the damn closet…well, y’all regular acting gay men would still be in the closet, us queens can’t be in any closet no matter what. Along with Harry Hay, Bayard Rustin, Bruce Nugent, Barbara Gittings, Quentin Crisp (Yes, I said Quentin Crisp, dammit!), he helped us to be able to live without either being forced to hide, or be second class citizens.

  2. Leland Frances says

    One hopes he is wrong, but it appears from the online image of the cover of “The Advocate’s” 40th anniversary issue, that its editors do not have the same degree of respect for or understanding of Frank’s importance in LGBT history as the Library of Congress. While the magazine polled the public for votes on 40 heroes among 100 names they suggested and gave them the opportunity to suggest other names, they said their editors would reserve the right to declare the winners.

    I was pleased to see Bayard Rustin and Audre Lorde and Troy Perry and Pedro Zamora and Matthew Shepard, among others, as well as Barbara Gittings and Leonard Matlovich. But at least the latter two are spinning in their graves for the insult to their friend Kameny. Gittings and Kameny were among those who first picketed the White House in 1965, and reading about Kameny and a telephone conversation with him led to Matlovich’s challenge to the US Air Force in 1975.

    I’ll leave it to others to suggest which of those who made the cut deserved it less than Frank Kameny, but assure you there’s more than one. Shameful. Simply shameful.

  3. Zeke says

    Every time I hear someone say that the gay community needs its own Martin Luther King Jr. I remind them that we already have one and his name is Frank Kameny.

    I can’t believe how many gay people know nothing about this man and his 40+ years of courageously and tirelessly challenging the human rights and civil rights abuses of GLBT people in this country.

    In my opinion Kameny is a gay hero without equal. He was picketing for “equal rights for homosexuals” more than a decade before the Stonewall riots.

    Forget Stonewall, Frank Kameny was THE birth of the gay rights movement.

    If you don’t know who he is PLEASE Google him and find out. You’ll be amazed

  4. Leland Frances says

    Not quite as bad as the Advocate insult, but still exploding with assininity is this passage from the otherwise often on-point Post article, proving, yet again, that being gay and a “professional writer,” as the author is, doesn’t make you smart or relevant:

    “If this had happened 10 or 20 years ago, one might have said that perhaps the open display of a “Gay Is Good” button (Kameny coined the phrase) in the nation’s premier museum would help some confused or questioning youth to know that he or she is not alone. But that’s just pablum now. Youth use the Internet, and except for gay kids from very conservative and isolated families, they don’t lack access to information about sexuality. The genie that Kameny and others let out of the bottle will never go back in, and now people who object to (or hate) homosexuals are forced to fight tactical delaying wars on peripheral issues (keeping them out of the military, denying them marriage rights).”

    1. “except for gay kids from very conservative and isolated families, they don’t lack access to information about sexuality” Those, Ms. Kennicott, amount to millions of kids. In an Associated Press poll just last month, 36% of Americans identified themselves as “conservative.” In any case, “access to information about sexuality” is not the same think as access to POSITIVE information about sexuality.

    2. From your dweeb W Post Fag-In-Residence privileged seat inside the Beltway, “keeping [gays] out of the military, denying them marriage rights” may be “peripheral issues” to you but not me, fuck you very much!

  5. anon ( says

    The proposed memorial sounds a bit confused: what is the definition of “hero” going to be? How to incorporate victims of crime with people who were key gay rights protesters and organizers? How do we match those with gays who were heroes in the larger str8 world, such as 9-11 gay firemen or Iraq war veterans? And do we toss in str8 people who were strong supporters of the community or who died because someone thought they were gay? It’s going to be a mess otherwise.

  6. says

    Derrick from Philly…

    I’m putting my head on the block here: I admit I don’t know a single one of those names you mentioned. This is my fault, right? In this day and age of Google/wikipedia how can I not know these people? But how can I look up a name I don’t know…?

    Sometimes people ask me negatively, “why do yo read blogs?!” and, well, this is one illustration why. Exchange of ideas.

    I do remember Pedro Zamora. While I was no diaper-wearer, I unfortunately was too young to know what I was watching, really. All I remember was that it was just like, “wow” at how he came across on The Real World (back when it was a show of real substance). I feel like it was one of the last moments when MTV really stood as a socio-cultural force of impact. I mean, how many of us never would’ve seen that otherwise?

    Just as, how many people my age know who any of those people are that you mentioned Derrick?

    These people may complain about their kids seeing this exhibit, but I can’t help wonder how many questioning kids might see something like this and feel ignited to google some of these people and be impacted the way that I felt when I watched Pedro?