4. Frank Kameny

Frank Kameny and Joe Kapp in June 2009 via Wikimedia Commons via DCVirago

Frank Kameny, often referred to as the father of the LGBTQ Rights Movement, was born in New York City in 1925. Kameny, who began fighting for gay rights over a decade before the Stonewall Riots, focused on a nonviolent approach to protesting and fighting for rights as he was strongly influenced by Civil Rights leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin.

In 1957, after serving years in the army, Frank Kemeny was fired as an astronomer from the U.S. Army’s Map Service because he was gay. He contested his firing, which ultimately failed, but it was the first ever court petition brought forward on the grounds of discrimination of sexual orientation. This sparked Kameny’s 50-year battle against government discrimination and the firing of LGBTQ people. In 2009, he finally received an apology from the government for firing him and the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Repeal Act was passed one year later.

Kameny was at the forefront of a lot of firsts for the Gay Rights Movement, which has since been elaborated to the LGBTQ Rights Movement to encompass all people on the spectrum. Frank Kameny started the first Gay Civil Liberties Organization in 1961 called the Mattachine Society, in addition to other organizations that later became the Human Rights Campaign and the National LGBTQ Task Force. He also organized the Annual Reminders, the first gay rights demonstrations, which promoted the phrase, “Gay is Good” (motivated by Stokely Carmichael’s “Black is Beautiful.”)

Kameny’s legacy is still celebrated in the LGBTQ community, and he was featured on the CBS documentary, “Gay Pioneers.” The Library of Congress is home to thousands of letters from Kameny’s archives and his handmade protest signs can be viewed at The National Museum of American History in the Smithsonian. Kameny died in 2011 shortly after he was honored at the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Repeal Act, thus living to see all of his work come to fruition.