Posted by: outandequal | May 12, 2011

1957 and the movement for workplace equality

In 1957, Frank Kameny was dismissed from his job with the federal government because he was gay; what made his case different from all of the others was that he didn’t accept that decision but stood up for his right to work. Kameny filed a complaint with the US Civil Service Commission and then took his case to the US Supreme Court in 1961. While the case was dismissed, it was the first time that a claim had been made in the United States for a violation of civil rights based on sexual orientation. In 2009, John Berry, the openly gay head of the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management, formally apologized to Kameny.

This week, two documents from Kameny’s historic case went on display at the Library of Congress. Congratulations to the Kameny Papers project and to Frank Kameny for this important step; we also thank them for allowing us to share these wonderful photos with you (scroll to the end for a slideshow). From the Kameny Papers Project:

Frank Kameny and the Mattachine Society of Washington

Frank Kameny and the Mattachine Society of Washington's members marching in 1970; note Kameny's original, "Gay is Good," sign.


Washington, D.C. May 9, 2011 — Two original documents of major historical significance to the movement for lesbian and gay civil equality in the United States are now on public display in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Gay civil rights pioneer Frank Kameny’s Petition to the U.S. Supreme Court (1961), and a letter to The Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. (1966) from U.S. Civil Service Chairman John W. Macy, Jr., have been added to the Library’s popular exhibition on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, “Creating the United States.” “Creating the United States” has been seen by more than 1.5 million people since it was first opened in 2008, and according to the Library, the exhibition “demonstrates that the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are living instruments that are central to the evolution of the United States.”

The two artifacts were donated to the Library of Congress in 2006 on behalf of the Kameny Papers Project.

“The history of gay and lesbian Americans, for the first time, is included by the Library of Congress in the story of the Constitution and its evolution as a living instrument of freedom,” said Charles Francis, a founder of the Kameny Papers Project.  Bob Witeck, a co-founder of Kameny Papers Project, said, ”Telling America’s story and creating a more perfect union are impossible without sharing these testaments to our nation’s gay civil rights story.” The two documents on gay and lesbian history are displayed accompanying the first rendition of the Constitution for blind readers; a suffragist’s scrapbook with material about Susan B. Anthony; and a drawing of African-Americans registering to vote on the steps of the Selma, Alabama courthouse.

The Library of Congress exhibition states, “Frank Kameny, a founder of the American gay rights movement, was the first person to file a petition to the Supreme Court for a violation of his civil rights based on sexual orientation after being fired by the Army Map Service in 1957. Although Kameny argued that the government’s actions toward gays were an “affront to human dignity,” his petition was denied by the Supreme Court.”

The Library’s curator describes the 1966 letter from federal official John W. Macy, Jr. to The Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.:  “In the letter, Macy justified the Civil Service’s discrimination by citing ‘the revulsion of other employees by homosexual conduct’. In January, 2010, this letter was introduced into evidence in Perry v Schwarzenegger, an action to overturn the California referendum on same-sex marriages,” the Library of Congress also explains.

John W. Macy, Jr. was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to head the Sixties-era predecessor of the Office of Personnel Management, and then known as the U.S. Civil Service Commission.  Macy reported directly to President Johnson, though often through Johnson’s Special Assistant Bill Moyers.  Macy’s so-called “revulsion” letter to the Mattachine Society (Washington, D.C.’s first gay civil rights organization formed by Frank Kameny) is “steeped in a special animus toward gays and lesbians as a class, while denying they are one,” writes Charles Francis in an article published by “The Gay & Lesbian Review” (January, 2011). “For years, this letter, carefully crafted by Macy and his Commission Counsel Lou Pellerzi, was the “landmark policy statement on homosexuals” (Macy personal papers, LBJ Library), the policy basis for all federal employment discrimination against gays and lesbians, declaring homosexuals ‘unsuitable’ for federal employment,” Francis said.

The two gay and lesbian history documents are now publicly exhibited in “Creating the United States,” displayed at the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress until October, 2011, according to the Library curatorial staff.  For details on the exhibit itself as well as visiting information, please see: http://myloc.gov/Exhibitions/creatingtheus/Pages/Default.aspx.

Associated Press report also found at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/gay-rights-legal-papers-go-on-view-for-1st-time-at-library-of-congress/2011/05/09/AFHChVVG_story.html

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Frank Kameny
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