WASHINGTON, D. C. — An inconspicuous, two-story brick home with a screened porch in northwest Washington has been listed as a historic landmark for its role as the epicenter of the gay-rights movement in the nation’s capital.
It’s the home of Franklin E. Kameny, 83, whom many historians consider the “father of gay activism,” according to the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board. Even before Harvey Milk had moved to San Francisco, Kameny was leading a fight against federal policies that discriminated against gays.
Milk was the nation’s first openly gay man to hold a prominent political office when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.
“If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and you get a job in government, it’s because of Dr. Kameny. If you need security clearance for a job and you get it, it’s because of Dr. Kameny,” said Mark Meinke, chairman of the Rainbow History Project.
He advocated for the landmark status and credits Kameny with more than just rolling back employment policies that targeted gays.
“If you’re not referred for electric-shock therapy when you tell people you’re gay, it’s because of Dr. Kameny,” Meinke said.
Kameny fought in World War II, earned a doctorate at Harvard and then moved to D.C. to work as an astronomer. He was fired, though, by the Army Map Service in 1957 for being gay.
In 1961, Kameny argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that a federal policy calling homosexuals a security risk was “no less odious than discrimination based upon religious or racial grounds.”
It was the first civil-rights claim in a U.S. court based on sexual orientation.
From his home, Kameny then led the fight to help overturn the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of homosexuality as a mental illness. In 1971, he was the first openly gay man to run for Congress.
The Library of Congress admitted some of Kameny’s papers in 2006, and the Smithsonian Institution has acquired some of his placards and buttons.
Last Thursday, the architectural preservation board unanimously approved the landmark designation for the house.
“I think it will resonate well, not only with the whole gay community but with everybody,” said board chairman Tersh Boasberg. “Everybody will be able to appreciate how incredibly significant Dr. Kameny is.”
Kameny, who still lives in the home, said he’s touched by the recognition, though he worries about how the house looks after so many years.
“I haven’t been able to maintain it as adequately as I’d like,” said Kameny, who picketed in a three-piece suit. “The lawn is a mess, it needs to be put in order.”
Only a few other sites across the country officially mark the gay-rights movement, including a Philadelphia intersection where gays picketed every July 4 in the 1960s, Milk’s photo shop in San Francisco and the Stonewall Inn, the site of riots in 1969 in New York City.