Frank Kameny, gay rights activist dies

He was "out and proud" before most Americans knew what that meant. Gay rights activist Frank Kameny died at his home in the District's Palisades neighborhood last night.

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Friends say Kameny died from heart failure. He was 86years old.

In 1957, the Harvard-educated astronomer was fired from his government job for being gay. At that time, homosexuality was still taboo, many even considered it a mental disorder.

“Rather than being afraid and cowering in the corner, he was outraged, he had fought in frontline combat in World War 2 and it never occurred to him there was the slightest thing wrong with him,” said gay activist Rick Rosendall.

In 1961, Kameny took his case to the Supreme Court, and in 1965, he helped stage the first gay rights march at the White House.

“That's someone who I don't think can be replaced. But so many have benefited and will continue to benefit because of Frank,” D.C. council member Kwame Brown said.

Ben Carver counts himself as a beneficiary. “To think about his life, everything he's done to fight oppression, to make my life better, to make my life more free, that's a debt I can never repay,” Carver said.

Carver learned Kameny was struggling to pay his bills and buy groceries last winter, so he created a Facebook page encouraging the gay community to donate what they might spend on a cocktail.

The two men later became friends. Carver says even in the final weeks of his life, Kameny was fighting for gay rights.

“Anything he could do to fight that's how he would spend his day and i think it's a testament to how you get things done,” he said.

Kameny’s day of death also happened to be national coming out day, a day in which gays and lesbians across the country are encouraged to live their lives honestly and openly. That's a message Kameny had promoted through his activism as well.

“He was determined, he was no-nonsense. He had a point of view, he would express it whether it be 8 a.m. or midnight,” said Jim Graham.

Kameny's friends say he lived long enough to see his work bear fruit. Gay marriage become legal in a handful of states and Washington D.C. 17th Street Northwest bears his name. The military ended its don't ask don't tell policy.

“He did the same thing dr. king did which was to refer back to the principles this country was built on and he knew that he would ultimately prevail and I'm so glad he lived to see it,” activist Rosendall said.

A memorial service is planned.

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