Documents from gay rights history are on display for the first time at the Library of Congress as part of an exhibit on the nation’s constitutional history and civil rights protections.
The documents come from gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, who was fired as a government astronomer in 1957 because he was gay. The exhibit includes Kameny’s 1961 petition to the U.S. Supreme Court contesting his firing.
Though it was denied, Kameny’s was the first petition to the high court for a violation of civil rights based on sexual orientation. He argued that the government’s actions toward gays were an “affront to human dignity.”
“This inclusion is an epic milestone in the telling of gay history because it places gay Americans’ struggle for equality where it belongs — in the story of the Constitution itself,” Charles Francis, a founder of the Kameny Papers Project, told the Associated Press.
The library quietly placed the documents on view at the end of April in an exhibit called “Creating the United States,” which traces the evolution of the nation’s founding documents and legal framework. Organizers of the Kameny Papers Project, which donated about 50,000 items to the library in 2006, planned to announce the display Monday.
The library is also displaying a 1966 letter from the head of the U.S. Civil Service Commission under President Lyndon B. Johnson, justifying the firing based on the “revulsion of other employees.” It was introduced last year as evidence in the battle over gay rights in California to show a long pattern of treatment by the federal government.
Kameny, now 85, began fighting for gay rights more than a decade before the Stonewall riots in New York City. That 1969 rebellion proved a defining moment as gays and lesbians fought back against police raiding a gay bar. It’s celebrated with an annual gay pride march.
In 1965, Kameny was the first to stage a gay rights protest, with about 10 others, in front of the White House and later the Pentagon and elsewhere; among the signs demonstrators carried was the message: “Homosexuals Ask for the Right to the Pursuit of Happiness.” He also took on the American Psychiatric Association to successfully argue that being gay or lesbian shouldn’t be defined as a mental illness.