Obama Honors Gay Hero When?
Last month I had a crazy idea: Propose that the president honor legendary gay American community organizer Dr. Franklin E. Kameny with the Medal of Freedom. I sent off a letter to Brian Bond, de facto White House gay liaison, of hundreds of words extolling Kameny and asking when, not if, the president would so honor our community's incredible pioneer.
More than a week later, on the day the White House announced this year's awardees, and Kameny's name was omitted, I received this terse reply from Bond:
Michael – sorry I couldn’t get back to you but wanted to assure you that the community is well represented. I am making sure to keep your recommendation of my very dear friend Frank for future awards.
A total of 26 words in reply to this gay community organizer's long letter about working together to get this honor for Kameny. And Bond can't be bothered to give me full details on exactly what it is he doing about my recommendation, or say he'll give me regular updates, or even for me to keep in touch with him. Not a very engaging fellow, is he?
To be fair, it's not Bond who decided which LGBT gay persons would receive this year's honors, but I would like more transparency from him about the process.
Today I heard from Kameny and in my reply, apologized for not contacting him regarding my effort on his behalf. I had been hoping to contact him when I knew something of substance from Bond, and that never came, but it's also no excuse for me not reaching out to Kameny.
All that aside, Kameny's note to me moved me to tears, reading that he would have liked to have made the cut this year, and that he ain't no spring chicken.
If you ask me, there should be an ad hoc committee to work on the medal and to have back pay given to him. And why not? We should not just leave it to chance that justice and honor are extended to our gay forefather. I willing to do more to honor Frank Kameny. How about you?
Here's his moving note:
While doing internet browsing, yesterday, I came upon your letter of July 22 to Brian Bond at the White House, recommending that I receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I was unaware of it; thank you very much for sending it.
I was deeply touched and complimented by your letter. Be assured that your respect for me, as manifested in the letter, is very much mutual and reciprocal.
I am writing to ask whether you received a response from Brian Bond, and, if so, what it was. Obviously, for whatever reasons, much as I would have liked to, I didn't "make the cut" this time, but perhaps next time, whenever that is.
I was in touch with Brian before my June 17 meeting with the President, and talked with him (Brian) in the West Wing lobby and in the Roosevelt Room, across the hall from the Oval Office before we all trooped in there to meet the President. I deduce that you know him from times past.
Somewhat to my astonishment, I find myself on first-name terms with both the President and with VP Biden. At least they both recognize me on sight, and address me as "Frank"; I tend to be more formal with them. Both have cited me in public speeches, as you probably know.
As you probably also know, I was fired from federal government employment in 1957, because I was gay. That was in the period of the massive gay purge from government employment of that day, in parallel to the military DADT of today. I appealed it all the way to the US Supreme Court, and to the Director of the then-US Civil Service Commission. That got me into gay activism.
The Civil Service Commission has been renamed as the Office of Personnel
Management (OPM). Its recently-appointed Director (John Berry) is an openly gay man with whom I am on cordial terms; he personally invited me to be present at his swearing-in. They recently had an elaborate affair in my honor, at which Berry presented me with a beautiful letter in which the government apologized for its "shameful" (their word) action in firing me 52 years before. The bureaucracy sometimes moves slowly, so apparently they've been mulling over my appeal for 52 years before granting it. What goes around does come around if you wait long enough.
I accepted their apology and humorously told Berry that I considered myself re-hired, and was awaiting instructions as to when and where to report for work, or to file my retirement papers. And I looked forward to my check for 52 years of back pay (which I can certainly use).
Who would ever have expected, when I was nastily fired in 1957, that in 2009, the very government itself would apologize to me for what they had done. We really have moved ahead.
How are you? I'm surviving, although very much feeling my years, and more and more conscious that I'm 84 and not 24 -- or 34, 44, or even 74 -- any more. While my general health is OK, I've become extremely inefficient, I don't get things done as I once did, and my energy, stamina, and endurance are much reduced.
I keep hearing about you from time to time. Apparently you're still active and effective out there. Keep up the good work.
Let me hear from you promptly about any response from Brian Bond to your July 22 letter, and let's keep in closer touch henceforth.
Hey Grandpa Frank - Thanks so much for making America greater and providing honorable leadership over the decades. It's a pleasure to know you and receive your kind words about my activism. May I live so long to do half the good you have done.