Taking Back the Workplace

In the 1950s, Frank Kameny was fired from his job in the Army Map Service for "sexual perversion." Now he's watching an openly gay man run the very office once responsible for scrubbing gays from the government.

BY Kerry Eleveld

April 02 2009 11:00 PM ET

The arc of history bent
toward justice Friday when the Senate voted unanimously to
confirm John Berry, an openly gay man, as director of the
Office of Personnel Management.

OPM, formerly known as
the U.S. Civil Service Commission, is the human resources
department for 1.9 million federal employees, and was once
responsible for scrubbing gays from the government -- a policy
formalized in 1953 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower
issued Executive Order 10450, making "sexual perversion"
cause for termination.

"The federal
government had a civil service gay ban which was quite
ferociously enforced and resulted in the denial -- either by
firings or non-hirings -- of endless numbers of people, during
the 1950s especially," recalled Frank Kameny, who was
dismissed from his job as an astronomer in the Army Map
Service.

In 1957, Kameny was
summoned by federal investigators who said they had
"information" that led them to believe he was a
"homosexual."

"'What information?'
I said. And they said, 'We can't tell you,'" Kameny recounted
over the phone about a month ago. "I said, 'Well, in that
case, I can't give you an answer.'"

So began Frank Kameny's
crusade at the age of 32 to end discrimination against gays and
lesbians working for the federal government. "It became a
personal project of my own to change the civil service
commission," he said. Kameny took his case to the White
House, to the civil service committees of both congressional
chambers, and finally filed his own legal brief in 1961
petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case, but was
ultimately denied.

Eventually, he and
others launched what he termed "picketing season" in
1965.

Tags: Politics

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