1. kit says

    One of the (many, many) things to love about Frank Kemany is the slogan “Gay is Good” — not “Gay is to be tolerated” or “Gay is unfortunate but we should really put up with it” or “Gay is something we just have to get used to gradually”. None of that. Gay is GOOD! What a powerful message. I only wish that message was more prevalent in our society today — half a century down the road.

  2. Jay says

    Frank Kameny did incredible things for gay civil rights but he did not found the Mattachine Society. The Society was founded by Harry Hay and several of his friends in Los Angeles in 1950, many years before Kameny began his crusade.This does not detract from Kameny’s courage or his many accomplishments. My hope is that we all stop a minute to reflect on the guts it took to stand up and demand respect gay people in the very dark days of the 1950s and 60s. Then go online; read a book; do something to learn about the history of gays in America.

  3. says

    @Jay is correct. Frank Kameny was a founding member of the Mattachine Society of Washington in 1961. The first was in Los Angeles about a decade earlier. There were others as well, but each was independent.

    Tonight there is an event marking the founding of the DC Mattachine Society 50 years ago. Dr. Kameny was scheduled to be one of the speakers but the event will go on as planned with two other founding members Lilli Vincenz, and Paul Kuntzler. Tickets are still available at

  4. Hank says

    Second what Jay said.

    And I’m a little surprised and disappointed Maddow wasn’t more careful with her facts. She seems to want to present Kameny as the sole founding father, maybe for political or rhetorical convenience, but that’s not historically accurate.

  5. Hank says

    OK I’m still on this.

    Frank Kameny was an immensely important and courageous pioneer, and it’s great to see him appropriately honored.

    But an uninformed viewer of this piece- and there will be many , due to Maddows’ prestige and high profile- would come away thinking that the story of the struggle for gay civil rights is basically that first there was Kameny and then there was Stonewall. And that’s completely innaccurate, and does a huge disservice to the depth and richness of our history.

    In her wrap-up, Maddow seems invested in making Kameny an example of the lesson that one man with an idea can change the world.

    But, in fact, the beginnings of the struggle for gay civil rights in this country were born in multiple places, out of growing networks of friends and lovers emerging a little bit from the shadows, coming out to one another, building community, and beginning to honor and value one another, and themselves, in the new world of slightly more safety, freedom, and mobility that emerged after World War II.

    It’s unfortunate that such an influential spokesperson as Rachel Maddow is overlooking a history which holds such important lessons about community as the cradle of effective social change.

  6. Michael Bedwell says

    Sorry, but some of you are almost as only half-informed as Rachel for you write as if Mattachine DC and Mattachine LA were similar, and, therefore, it’s just a matter of “which came first,” when, in fact, they had little in common beyond being organized by gays and the name. If ever there was an example of the difference between apples and oranges, though both are fruits, this was it.

    While it and he gradually became more public, the Mattachine that Hay and others founded initially met secretly, literally behind closed blinds, involved many pseudonyms [his was “Eann MacDonald”] and a secret oath. Kameny and most of his Mattachine group were out and proud from the start.

    Simultaneously, it’s important to understand the different contexts which led to that difference which extend beyond the LA of 1950 being considerably different from the DC of 1961. Hay was imitating the Communist Party cell structure of which he’d been a member—and got off on the idea of a “secret brotherhood” of gay men. The former led to his being driven out of his organization just three years later, and LA Mattachine collapsed entirely in 1961, the same year Kameny was appealing to the Supremes and founding Mattachine DC, patterned after black civil rights organizations.

    Still, the kind of militancy [for its day]that Kameny believed in was possible earlier in LA as the 1953 unprecedented public fight against his entrapment and lewd conduct arrest by Mattachine LA cofounder Dale Jennings. Ironically, while it was the publicity for his courage that rapidly built membership in Mattachine, Jennings himself broke off and cofound another group built around a magazine for gays, ONE, Inc., in ……. “We were young and tired of whispering to each other. We were tired of locking the doors and pulling down the shades whenever we wanted to talk about who we were. So we just decided, ‘What the hell?’ and decided to take a different course of action.” – Jennings in “Pre-Gay L.A.: A Social History of the Movement for Homosexual Rights” by White.

    And, from that grew the apparent first “gay rights” related lawsuit. Filed in 1955, it challenged the confiscation as “obscene” by the Post Office of copies of “ONE.” The 1958 “freedom of expression” ruling in the group’s favor by the Supremes was a major victory for the Movement which depended, pre-Internet, pre gay newspapers, for sharing information that mainstream media ignored.

    But Kameny’s legal challenge was a first, too, in that it was about antigay job discrimination. As for his larger place in history, Rachel is right in effect if short on facts. While, as noted, there was important activism going on earlier in LA which then picked up steam in San Francisco, the ONGOING public protests that he and his cohorts first started in DC were the fertile ground in which the seeds of the first post-Stonewall groups sprouted. While some of the organizers of those groups faded rather rapidly, Frank continued carrying on, traveling the country inspiring the creation of new groups, and the greater militancy of existing ones by saying the kind of things he had been FIVE YEARS BEFORE STONEWALL:

    “We are dealing with an opposition which manifests itself—not always, but not infrequently—as a ruthless, unscrupulous foe who will give no quarter and to whom any standards of fair play are meaningless. Let us respond realistically. We are not playing a gentlemanly game of tiddly-winks or croquet or chess.” And in his Supreme Court brief EIGHT years before Stonewall:

    “The government’s policies…are a stench in the nostrils of decent people, an offense against morality, an abandonment of reason, an affront to human dignity, an improper restraint upon proper freedom and liberty, a disgrace to any civilized society, and a violation of all that this nation stands for.”

    Yes, DO read about gay history, but don’t rely on only one book or article or, Goddess help us, Wikipedia. Those woods are FULL of misstakes, selective perception, and faulty conclusions. Here’s a test: if you believe that Harvey Milk was “the first openly gay elected official” you’re already miles behind gay history reality.

    While books can be no more perfect than their human authors, in addition to the one above, might I respectfully suggest:

    “The Myth of the Modern Homosexual” by Rictor Norton.
    “Before Stonewall: Trailblazers and Founders of the Gay and Lesbian Movement” by Vern L. Bullough.

  7. FreddyMertz says

    Being a huge fan of history I have to thank the people who have left comments correcting Maddow’s piece. Love it! That said let me defend Maddow for a minute, who I find incredibly intelligent, having been in front of the camera I know what it’s like to drop a word or two. If she really was implying that Dr. Kameny founded the Mattachine Society then bad on her, but I’m sure if she becomes aware of the facts she will correct it. Her time is limited and quite honestly this man deserves more than just these few minutes to fully convey the struggles and accomplishments he had to live threw. This is just a simple hat tip. I hope to see more on this man’s life.

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