Pioneering gay rights activist honored in Philly

A group of LGBT activists gathered at the Gay Pioneers historical marker across from Independence Mall Friday to honor the late gay rights leader Frank Kameny.

Kameny, who died this month at the age of 86, marched on Independence Hall in the 1960s to call for equality after he was fired from his government job as an astronomer for being gay.

Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum, explains the impact of Kameny’s fight for equality.

“Frank literally changed the landscape,” Lazin said. “It was literally 45 years ago, and look how much has changed. He’s not only impacted my life, but the lives of every lesbian, gay, transgender bisexual person in this country–and helped us form a more perfect union.”

Gloria Casarez, director of LGBT affairs for the City of Philadelphia, said Kameny’s influence remains strong.

“The work I do every day is how our government sees and treats our LGBT residents and so there is a real connection with how Frank initially became engaged in the fight and struggle for equality,” she said.

Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, had fond memories of first meeting Kameny.

“I met Frank in 1970 and when we first met, we didn’t agree with each other. He taught me how to fight and to stand my ground and to go with my gut,” Segal said. “I didn’t know it at the time, but I was going to need that fight in order to win the battles for this community that I was gonna have for the next 41 years.”

Chris Bartlett, the executive director of William Way Community Center, said he has felt Kameny’s impact through his literary works.

“When I was an 18-year-old gay man, I used to go to a bookstore called the Book Trader at Fifth and South Street. I used to read the old gay history books that were on the shelves there and there were quite a few books and articles by Frank Kameny,” Bartlett recalled.

“He had this great idea that ‘gay is good,’ and he got the idea from the Black Power movement which at the same time said ‘black is beautiful.’ He felt that it was important reminding people that the LGBT community were key influencers and contributors to society in every level whether that’s arts, culture, history, politics,” Bartlett said.

Kameny fought for equality for the LGBT community into the 1970s and even ran for Congress in 1971. Kameny’s leadership helped push the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

The Philadelphia memorial is one of many planned to mark Kameny’s pioneering advocacy.

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