When a Home is a Piece of LGBT History
BY Trudy Ring
January 12 2012 5:00 AM ET
The U.S. Government once fired Frank Kameny from a job because he refused to answer questions about being gay. Now it has recognized his importance to LGBT history — and American history overall.
In November, Kameny's Washington, D.C., home was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It's only the second site connected with the LGBT rights movement to make the register — the first, added in 1999, was New York City's Stonewall Inn and its surrounding area, which is now elevated to the more select register subset of National Historic Landmarks.
"Those two sites are the beginning of what will I believe will be many more associated with the gay rights movement," says register historian Patrick Andrus. With, for instance, the African-American civil rights movement, the register first listed properties connected with national figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., then added sites tied to regional or local figures or events. "I think we'll see the same thing with properties associated with the gay rights movement."
Kameny, who died in October, was one of the movement's pioneers. He cofounded the D.C. chapter of the Mattachine Society, an early gay rights group, in 1961, and his home served as Mattachine's headquarters and the site of much other LGBT rights work. He fought his 1957 firing from the U.S. Army Map Service for refusing to answer questions about his sexual orientation — the first time an equal rights claim was made on this basis. He led efforts against the military's antigay policies, the denial of U.S. government security clearances to gays and lesbians, and the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness.
Kameny's home was "the ground zero of the 1960s' militant gay civil rights movement" and continued to be an important meeting place for activists throughout his life, says Mark Meinke of the Rainbow History Project, which campaigned for its National Register recognition. Kameny was involved and supportive throughout the process, Meinke says, but the approval came through shortly after his death. The listing "is a major advance in national recognition of the LGBT civil rights struggle" and marks the first time an individual in the movement has been so honored, Meinke adds.