Sunday, October 16, 2011

SF Prepares to Remember Frank Kameny

My first fight with Frank in the early 1990s was over AIDS issues of the day, especially the massive number of gay men dropping dead like flies. I attended a Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance meeting at the Sumner school near Dupont Circle, to introduce myself as the new queer poz agitator in town ready to shake it up with a local ACT UP chapter, and Frank welcomed me to Washington and wished me luck.

I didn't have much interacting with him, except during my DC years, but we kept in touch with occasional phone calls and emails. In recent years, whenever we had contact in any form, I clearly and cogently laid out my gratitude to him for being a proud and honorable homosexual, at great risk to himself. Wanted him to hear appreciation from this gay grandson of his, with my own streaks of Kamenyistic righteousness.

My friend Jamie Kirchick wrote a remembrance last week in the New Republic and sums up Frank's basic advocacy method, which has also served as my guiding activist principle:

Frank’s mantra, whenever anyone complained about something they had read in the newspaper or heard about on TV, was “TELL THEM!” Had someone written an op-ed that made a silly argument against same-sex marriage? TELL THEM. Had a pastor made an outrageous comment about gay men wanting to molest children? TELL THEM. Had no less a figure than the President of the United States buckled to congressional pressure on this or that gay rights measure? Then, by all means, CALL THE WHITE HOUSE.

Speaking of calling the White House, I did that a few times in a small campaign over a few years to have President Obama award Frank the Medal of Freedom, a campaign that sadly didn't succeed while he was alive. From the Washington Blade:

“It would be very nice [to receive the medal],” Kameny said. “It would sort of tie up what has been a very long effort and it would leave me feeling very content. I’m deeply appreciative of Michael Petrelis’ effort.” The White House has been noncommittal on the matter. Outgoing White House LGBT liaison Brian Bond told Petrelis that Kameny’s name was “in consideration.”

Should the president include Frank among future recipients of the Medal of Freedom, I will add my voice to the chorus of those hailing this honor for our pioneering grandfather.

Enough digression. Here is an essay by good pal Clinton Fein about what we're planning to do locally to remember our cherished friend and leader:

The activist group, Gays Without Borders, are organizing "Gay Is Good: San Francisco Celebrates the Life and Legacy of Frank Kameny," to allow friends and admirers of gay pioneer Frank Kameny an opportunity to commemorate his life and teach a younger generation who he was and the contributions he made.

The celebration -- organized by Michael Petrelis, Bill Wilson and yours truly -- is set to take place at the base of the controversial flagpole in Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro, where a wreath will be laid honoring the decades of Kameny laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans' Day to honor and remember fallen lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of the U.S. military.

The flagpole itself is mired in a petty, bitter, nine-month old controversy over control of the pole, the rainbow flag that flies atop it, and the process by which it is occasionally lowered to recognize the lives of those who have made a valuable contribution to the community or events such as 9/11.

While it is understandable that lowering the flag too frequently will weaken its poignancy and reduce its meaning, many community members and activists (myself included) find the secretive and inconsistent process through which requests are made and randomly granted by Merchants of Upper Market and Castro (MUMC) unacceptable for a community space on city property. MUMC has refused to put forward a methodology that invites community involvement, or a transparent articulation of their vetting process which appears to be at the whim of one or two people on their board.

In an apparently unprecedented verbal contract with the San Francisco Department of Public Work giving MUMC custodianship of the flag and flagpole, their stubborn and childish refusal to cooperate with concerned members of the community despite repeated requests, or to meaningfully address their grievances, have resulted in steps currently underway to challenge MUMC’s custodianship and return the plaza to the citizens of San Francisco.

Whether MUMC lowers the flag to commemorate Kameny’s life or not, however, is irrelevant at this point, as laying a wreath at its base is better suited to remember him and his annual pilgrimage to Arlington.

The date of the celebration and wreath-laying at Harvey Milk Plaza is designed to fall on the same date as a similar celebration taking place in Washington, DC, Kameny’s hometown, and will be announced once it is determined by the executors of his estate and his longtime friends.

For more on Kameny and his extraordinary journey, read: The Irrepressible Frank Kameny (In the words of Randy Shilts).

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