I’ve never been brave. My general rule? If it’s not paved, it’s not safe. I’m keen to help save the rain forest — but from the safety of the donation page.
Frank Kameny was brave. Nearly a decade before I wrote about being gay — under a pen name — astronomer Frank Kameny was picketing the White House, demanding First Class Citizenship For Homosexuals.
That took less physical courage than traveling to Mississippi in 1963 and 1964 to do voter registration, as these gravestones attest. There wasn’t much risk Frank Kameny would be killed outside the White House.
But the picketing, arguably, took even more psychological courage because, where much of the country and certainly most of their peers were admiring of those brave black and white students in Mississippi, the stigma of homosexuality was all but universal.
No black kid was ever kicked out of the house once it was “discovered” he or she was black, but it happened to gay kids all the time. (Still too often does.) No black kid ever committed suicide upon coming to “the realization” that she or he was black, but LGBT kids took their lives with alarming frequency. (Some still do.)
The Brooklyn Dodgers put Jackie Robinson at first base in 1947, 18 years before the bloody march in Selma. It was not until last month — 2014 — 49 years after Frank Kameny and his crew picketed the White House, that Major League Baseball could boast its first openly gay man.
None of which is by any means to try to compare the injustices suffered by gay Americans with the injustices suffered by black — it’s not a competition! (and few would dispute black Americans had it much worse) — but all of which came to mind when my copy of GAY IS GOOD: The Life and Letters of Gay Rights Pioneer Franklin Kameny arrived today. In a letter to his mother in 1972, he wrote:
Some 32 years ago [1940, aged 15 or so] I told you that if society and I differ on anything, I will give society a second chance to convince me. If it fails, then I am right and society is wrong, and if society gets in my way, it will be society which will change, not I. That was so alien to your entire approach to life that you responded with disdain. It has been a guiding principle of my life. Society was wrong. I am making society change.
And change it has. Here is Frank in the Oval Office a year or two before he died, being handed a ceremonial pen by the President of the United States.
And changing it still is. Even in Alabama.
Is this a great country, or what?
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Individual commitment to a group effort. That's what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.~Vince Lombardi
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