1925 - 2011

"The person who really needs the psychotherapy (...) is not the homosexual youngster who gets dragged to the psychiatrist's office by his mother, but the mother, to relieve her anxieties about his homosexuality."

- Frank Kameny

Institutionalized anti-gay bigotry during the McCarthy-Era drove astronomer Frank Kameny from his job at the U.S. Army Map Service and into the pantheon of modern LGBT activism. He single-handedly took on the U.S. government – using his own name and face in an era when most gay people could not risk being photographed – to petition the Supreme Court in 1961 in a futile attempt to overturn his job dismissal. Effectively unemployable in his chosen field, he struggled in poverty while an aggressive, pro-active, politically-driven crusade – fueled by his uncompromising belief that “Gay is Good” – took shape in his mind. An apostate of the early Homophile Movement, Kameny rejected characterizing homosexuality as a border-line mental illness in order to win sympathy, if not approval, from straight people. Arguing that “gays must not be a mere passive battlefield across which conflicting ‘authorities’ fight their intellectual battles” – and that they should play an active role in determining their own fate – he co-founded an independent chapter of the Mattachine Society in Washington DC to focus on changing laws and challenging institutions whose policies forced people to remain closeted. Along with Barbara Gittings, he led the successful effort to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders in 1973. A veteran of World War II, Kameny deliberately orchestrated Vietnam War hero Sgt. Leonard Matlovich’s public admission of homosexuality in order to bring the issue of gay people serving openly in the military into the national consciousness. 35 years later he was seated in the front row when President Barack Obama signed the repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” into law – ending the battle he had helped to start. Kameny’s tactical instincts – though heretical in his time – foreshadowed political victories which are taken for granted today. In 2009 he received a formal apology from the U.S. government for the original job dismissal that catalyzed his resolve to transform the way gay people were treated in society. His numerous accomplishments have made him one of the most influential LGBT activists in history. He passed away at the age of 86 on October 11, 2011 – “National Coming-Out Day.”

Plaque Sponsor

National LGBTQ Task Force, Chip Arndt, John Barabino, Robby Browne, Tim Gill and Scott Miller, Michael Goff, James G. Pepper, Andrew Tobias and others grateful to stand on Frank Kameny's shoulders

Lesson Plan


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Faith Construct Aethist

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) Cold War (1945-1991) Information Age (1970-present) Post-Stonewall Era (1974-1980) Stonewall Era (1969-1974) World War II (1939-1945)

Field(s) of Contribution

Advocacy & Activism

Civics, Government, Politics, & Law

Media & Communications



Social Justice

Social Sciences

US History

Commemorations & Honors

First John E. Fryer Award From the American Psychiatric Association Alongside Barbara Gittings (2006)

Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History Picket Signs Designated Treasures of American History (2007)

Kameny’s Washington Home Designated a D.C. Historic Landmark by D.C's Historic Preservation Review Board (2009)

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry Issued a Formal Apology to Kameny and he Received the Theodore Roosevelt Award (2009)

Obama Administration Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry Issues Formal Apology to Kameny on Behalf of U.S. Government (2009)

Obama Administration Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry Presented Kameny with the Theodore Roosevelt Award (2009)

Frank Kameny Way Dedicated in Washington D.C. (2010)

Cornelius R. "Neil" Alexander Humanitarian Awardee (2010)

Special Invitee to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 White House Bill-Signing Ceremony (2010)

Kameny's House Listed on the National Register of Historic Places (2011)

International Astronomical Union and the Minor Planet Center Named Minor Planet 40463 Frankkameny After Him (2012)

U.S. Veterans Administration Memorial Headstone at the Congressional Cemetary (2015)

National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall National Monument Inductee (2019)

Google Doodle Commemorating Pride Month (2021)


Related Videos


Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo and Kay Tobin Lahusen
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Biography Vetted, Edited, and Certified By
Dr. Nancy Unger
Santa Clara University
Image Rights Usage Granted By
New York Public Library | Gittings - Lahusen Collection
Image Source for Bronze Casting
New York Public Library | Gittings - Lahusen Collection
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell