Mr. Kameny, a Harvard PhD whose homosexuality led to his discharge from a federal government job more than half a century ago, lived to see his years of determined advocacy rewarded through the success of many of his campaigns and through his ultimate welcome by a political establishment that had rejected him.
His death, apparently on National Coming Out Day, occurred in a year when gay men and lesbians were accorded the right to serve openly in the armed forces, which the D.C. Council’s first openly gay member, David A. Catania (I-At Large), noted Tuesday night.
Through his efforts over the years, Mr. Kameny deserved to be known as one of the fathers of that shift from the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Catania said.
Mr. Kameny enlisted in the Army during World War II; in an interview last year with Richard Sincere on the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner Web site, he said, “They asked, I didn’t tell.”
In what appeared to be one of the great triumphs of Mr. Kameny’s often lonely, uphill struggle, protest signs that he once carried in front of the White House were put on display in the Smithsonian Institution four years ago, to be viewed along with the museum’s other reminders of the course of U.S. history.
Mr. Kameny said he created the slogan “Gay Is Good.” In their pungent succinctness, the words both suggested his rhetorical skills and embodied the beliefs that he championed.
Years before the gay rights movement existed in any widely recognized form and in an era in which open assertion of homosexuality could invite physical harm, Mr. Kameny worked to increase the acceptance of gay men and lesbians in mainstream American society and to win recognition of their equality under the law.
Rather than shrink from revealing his sexual orientation, Mr. Kameny made it plain. He won attention and respect by the vigorous but unsuccessful campaign he waged 40 years ago for election as the District’s non-voting delegate to Congress.
“Out for Good,” a history of the gay rights movement in the United States, made Mr. Kameny the central figure in several chapters.
One of the book’s co-authors, Dudley Clendinen, has called him an “authentic hero” of American culture. In summarizing Mr. Kameny’s precarious position after the loss of his job, Clendinen noted that Mr. Kameny subsisted on a diet of baked beans. But, the author said, “he didn’t despair.”
In addition to the White House, he picketed at the State Department and at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. He did not accept his federal dismissal without a fight, appealing through the courts, and writing his own briefs.
“He was a stubborn and impatient person, and that was the recipe for his success,” Catania said. “He was never going to be content with second-class citizenship.”