The letters included in Gay Is Good: The Life and Letters of Gay Rights Pioneer Franklin Kameny, edited by Michael G. Long, are notable not only for their searing intelligence but for their bravery in an uphill battle being fought for basic human rights for gay people in the middle of the last century. Kameny was in no way an apologist or a middle-of-the-road man. He insisted, often quite forcefully, on staking his claim for equal rights for gay and lesbian people everywhere.
In 1957, Kameny was discharged from the U.S. Army because of his homosexuality. Kameny protested his firing and even took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1961. Although the court denied his petition, it is notable as the first civil rights claim based on sexual orientation.
Kameny took to task some of the top political figures of the time, the homophobic pundits, and even some of his fellow activists for their ideas, attitudes, and actions. (He consigned Phyllis Schlafly to hell.) But as strongly worded as his letters are, each is thrilling for its fresh take and viewpoint on gay rights.
The excerpts below are all copyright © 2014 by Syracuse University Press Syracuse, N.Y.
Less than two months after the Supreme Court denied his petition, Kameny turns to his “court of last appeal” — President John F. Kennedy. Using Kennedy’s call for “The New Frontier” and sacrificial service to country, Kameny implores the president to ensure the protection of civil liberties for homosexuals. Indeed, this letter, coupled with his Supreme Court petition, is the best evidence of this period for showing Kameny’s broadening and deepening interest in the civil rights of all homosexuals in the United States.
May 15, 1961
Dear President Kennedy:
I write to you for two reasons: (1) To ask that you act as a “court of last appeal” in a matter in which I believe that you can properly act as such; and (2) perhaps much more important, to bring to your attention, and to ask for your constructive action on, a situation involving at least 15,000,000 Americans, and in which a “New Frontier” approach is very badly needed. These people are the nation’s homosexuals — a minority group in no way different, as such, from the Negroes, the Jews, the Catholics, and other minority groups. ...
In World War II, I willingly fought the Germans, with bullets, in order to preserve and secure my rights, freedoms, and liberties, and those of my fellow citizens. In 1961, it has, ironically, become necessary for me to fight my own government, with words, in order to achieve some of the very same rights, freedoms, and liberties for which I placed my life in jeopardy in 1945. This letter is part of that fight.
The homosexual in the United States today is in much the same position as was the Negro about 1925. The difference is that the Negro, in his dealings with this government, and in his fight for his proper rights, liberties, and freedoms, has met, at worst, merely indifference to him and his problems, and, at best, active assistance; the homosexual has met only active hostility from his government.
The homosexuals in this country are increasingly less willing to tolerate the abuse, repression, and discrimination directed at them, both officially and unofficially, and they are beginning to stand up for their rights and freedoms as citizens no less deserving than other citizens of those rights and freedoms. They are no longer willing to accept their present status as second-class citizens and as second-class human beings; they are neither.
Statistics on the sharply rising numbers of homosexuals who are fighting police and legal abuses, less-than-fully-honorable discharges from the military, security-system disqualifications, and who are taking perfectly proper and legal advantage of military policies and prejudices and draftboard questions to escape the draft, etc., will, I believe, bear me out.
The winds of change are blowing. A wise and foresighted government will start NOW to take constructive action on this question.
Your administration has taken a firm and admirable stand, and has taken an active interest in the maintenance of the civil liberties of minority groups, and in the elimination of discrimination against them. Yet the federal government is the prime offender in depriving the homosexual of his civil and other liberties, and in actively discriminating against him. May I suggest that the homosexual is as deserving of his government’s protection and assistance in these areas as is the Negro, and needs that protection at least as much — actually much more? The abuses, by constituted authority, of the person, property, and liberties of American homosexuals are flagrant, shocking, and appalling, and yet not only is not a finger raised by the government to assist these people, but the government acts in active, virulent conspiracy to foster and perpetuate these abuses.
This is an area in which a sophisticated, rational, and above all, a civilized approach is badly needed. Short of a policy of outright extermination (and, economically, personally, and professionally, the government’s actions are often tantamount to this), the government’s practices and policies could not be further removed from such a sane approach. We are badly in need of a breath of fresh air here, Mr. Kennedy — a reconsideration of the matter, divorced from the old, outworn clichés discredited assumptions, fallacious and specious reasoning, and idle superstition. The traditional new broom, with its clean sweep, is badly needed.
Under present policies, upon no discernible rational ground, the government is deprived of the services of large numbers of competent, capable citizens — often skilled, highly trained, and talented — and others are forced to contribute to society at far less than their full capacity, simply because in their personal, out-of-working-hours lives they do not conform to narrow, archaic, puritan prejudice and taboo.
In my own case, extensive technical trading — a Harvard Ph.D. in Astronomy — is going completely to waste, entirely as a result of the government’s practices and policies on this question. While the nation cries out for technically trained people, I, two years ago, as a result of the government’s acts and policies, was barely surviving on twenty cents worth of food per day. Is this reasonable?
You have said: “Ask not what can your country do for you, but what can you do for your country.” I know what I can best do for my country, but my country’s government, for no sane reason, will not let me do it. I wish to be of service to my country and to my government; I am capable of being of such service; I need only to be allowed to be so. Thus far, my government has stubbornly and irrationally refused to allow me to be so, and has done its best to make it impossible for me ever to be so. This is equally true, actually or potentially, of millions of homosexuals in this country — well over 10% of our adult population. Not only the society in which they live, but the government under which they live, have steadfastly and stubbornly refused to allow them to serve and to contribute. ...
Action by the government, on this question, is needed in four specific areas (listed here in no particular order) and a fifth general one. These are: (1) the law, and the mode and practices of its administration and enforcement, and the abuses thereof; (2) federal employment policies; (3) the policies, practices, and official attitudes of the military; (4) security-clearance policies and practices in government employment, in the military, and in private industry under government contract; and (5) the education of the public and the changing of their primitive attitudes. No constructive action has ever been taken in any of these areas.
Yours is an administration which has openly disavowed blind conformity. Here is an unconventional group with the courage to be so. Give them the support they deserve as citizens seeking the pursuit of happiness guaranteed them by the Declaration of Independence.
You yourself said, in your recent address at George Washington University, “that (people) desire to develop their own personalities and their own potentials, that democracy permits them to do so.” But your government, by its policies certainly does not permit the homosexual to develop his personality and his potential. I do not feel that it is expecting too much to ask that governmental practice be in accord with administration verbiage.
At present, prominently displayed at the entrance to each of the Civil Service Commission’s buildings is an excerpt from another statement of yours, in which you said, “let it be clear that this Administration recognizes the value of daring and dissent.” I have demonstrated that I have the daring to register public and official dissent in an area wherein those directly involved have never before dared register with dissent. May I ask that my government show equal daring and dissent in “coming to grips” with this question in a proper and constructive fashion. Let more than mere lip service be given to laudable-sounding ideals!
I can close in no better fashion than by quoting Thomas Jefferson:
I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and constitutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered, and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
His words could not be more aptly quoted in this regard. Let us, as we advance into the Space Age, discard the policies and attitudes, and “laws and constitutions,” the customs and institutions of the Stone Age. ...
Thank you for your consideration of the matters presented here. I look
forward to your reply.
Kennedy did not reply.
Click through for letters to Ann Landers, Johnny Carson, Rona Barrett, and Charles Socarides >>>
On May Day 1963, Vice President Johnson offered a public statement on the need to provide equal federal employment opportunities for all “national origin minority groups”(for example, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and Native Americans). Even though Johnson focused on national origin, Kameny uses the principles behind Johnson’s pronouncement to call for the end of discrimination against homosexuals in matters of employment and citizenship rights. Part of the driving force behind this letter was a landmark statement (“Discrimination Against the Employment of Homosexuals”), referred to in the following letter, that Kameny had drafted for and presented to the Subcommittee on Equal Employment Opportunities of the D.C. Advisory Committee of the U.S. Civil Services Commission on February 28.
Kameny also refers to another legal challenge to the Civil Service Commission. This particular case was partially rooted in the 1947 arrest of Bruce Scott, an employee of the Department of Labor, on charges of loitering in Lafayette Park, just across the street from the White House. Scott was forced to resign in 1956, when an upgrade of security clearances in his office resulted in the discovery of his 1947 arrest. After several years of underemployment, Scott learned of early efforts to start the Mattachine Society of Washington, quickly became a charter member and officer, and with encouragement and counsel from Kameny, soon reapplied for a position in the federal government, this time with full intention to fight any denial. The government played its role perfectly, denying him employment because of his arrest, and Scott filed suit in April 1963. His attorney, David Carliner, was from the National Capital Area Civil Liberties Union (NCACLU); both Kameny and Scott were also charter members of NCACLU, and Kameny had arranged for Carliner to act as Scott’s counsel.
Also significant is Kameny’s report that the “first picketing of the White House, to protest federal policy and practice toward homosexuals, has just occurred.” There was no major media coverage of this historic event.
May 4, 1963
Dear Mr. Johnson:
We are writing in regard to statements which you made on May 1, 1963, and which were reported in the Washington Post of May 2.
You said that there are other minority groups in the United States beside the Negro, and they often face the same barriers in their quest for jobs and full citizenship rights.
You said: “Just as with Negroes, the capabilities and talents of our other minority citizens stand as a high asset in the ledger book of our national strength. We must see that they are receiving full opportunity to contribute on the basis of individual merit. ...”
“To see that all minority groups receive the same opportunities for employment and advancement in the federal service as are afforded any of our citizens is part of the challenge to our leadership.”
We agree fully and wholeheartedly. However, we represent and speak for a minority, the members of which, when known as such, are excluded from employment — federal as well as private—to a degree never dreamed of by the Negro in his worst nightmares.
We represent the largest minority group in this country, after the Negro — 15,000,000 American citizens — a minority larger than any of those discussed by you in your remarks of May 1.
We represent a minority against whom the federal government is the most persistent, recalcitrant, and flagrant of offenders.
We represent a large minority who are treated as second-class citizens, consistently and as a matter of course, and in favor of whose rights not a single official voice has thus far been raised.
We represent the homosexual minority in this country — some 10% of the citizenry.
We realize that our position may, perhaps, be unorthodox. We are aware, too, of the difficult political implications which this question raises. Nevertheless, we feel that the homosexuals are a minority group, no different, as such, from the Jews, the Negroes, or any others, and deserve the same consideration from their government.
While we have no slightest desire to embarrass anyone, or to create a difficult situation, just for the sake of the embarrassment and the difficulty — in fact, quite to the contrary—we must point out that this problem is not going to vanish if it is ignored. It will become increasingly more evident and more intractable.
The second case challenging federal policies on the employment of homosexuals has just entered the courts. Others are on their way. The first picketing of the White House, to protest federal policy and practice toward homosexuals, has just occurred (with, let us emphasize, no connection with the Mattachine Society of Washington). It is safe to predict that increasing numbers of increasingly vigorous protests against federal disorientation toward homosexuals will occur.
You have seen the unfortunate results which have occurred and are occurring when the South refused to cope constructively with the Negro problem. It is about time that constructive action started to “take this particular bull by the horns.”
If you and others in the administration really mean what you say in regard to equality of opportunity, elimination of prejudice, equality of rights, non-existence of second-class citizenship in this country, etc., then we feel justified in asking that you demonstrate your sincerity by taking constructive action in regard to federal and other discrimination against the homosexual citizen.
We enclose herewith, a statement recently presented by us to the SubCommittee on Equal Employment Opportunities of the D.C. Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. As American citizens, presenting our viewpoint to our public officials, on a matter of importance to us, to a very large number of other citizens, and to the nation, we respectfully request that you, personally, give it a careful, open-minded, receptive reading.
We will be pleased to discuss these matters with you personally.
We respectfully request a reply, and will look forward to its early receipt.
Franklin E. Kameny
Kameny had long been talking with Mattachine Society of Washington and Mattachine Society of New York members about the possibility of public demonstrations for homosexual rights, and on April 16, 1965, just three days before he wrote the aforementioned letter, he had received calls from Randy Wicker (Charles Hayden Jr.) of the Homosexual League and MSW member Jack Nichols about staging picket lines in New York and Washington. Recent news coverage on Fidel Castro’s plans to put homosexuals into labor camps precipitated the calls.
Kameny was “dubious” about picketing in Washington. “There’s no Cuban embassy,” he thought, and “it seemed to stretch logic to picket the White House of the US government to protest an action taken by the Cuban government.” But Nichols and his lover, Lige Clarke, were insistent, and Kameny eventually relented, saying he would support picketing the White House “if the Cuban issue and our own grievances could be suitably combined.” Kameny then called MSNY members and “told them to picket at the Cuban mission to the UN.”
Kameny immediately began crafting the pickets’ message to target discrimination against homosexuals in both Cuba and the United States, and Nichols and Clarke began stenciling the pickets and rounding up activists to march at the White House the following day.
On April 17, 1965, ten well-dressed picketers, carrying carefully stenciled pickets, demonstrated on the sidewalk in front of the White House to protest the persecution of homosexuals in Cuba and especially the United States. The neatly lettered placards included the following messages: “15 Million U.S. Homosexuals Protest Federal Treatment”; “Governor Wallace Met with Negroes, Our Government Won’t Meet With Us”; “Cuba’s Government Persecutes Homosexuals, U.S. Government Beat Them to It”; We Want: Federal Employment, Honorable Discharges, Security Clearances”; “U.S., Cuba, Russia, United to Persecute Homosexuals”; and “U.S. Claims No Second Class Citizens: What About Homosexuals?”
Dear Barbara: ...
April 17 section of letter dated April 12, 1965
NEWS NEWS NEWS NEWS NEWS NEWS NEWS NEWS NEWS NEWS
HISTORY IN THE MAKING ** HISTORY IN THE MAKING **
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
I’m writing this, very very wearily, and very very contentedly, after returning from home following a ten-person picketing — officially by the Mattachine Society of Washington — of the White House. There were 7 men and 3 women.
While, on two instances (by the same lone person, about a year apart) the White House has been picketed, in our cause, by one person alone, this is the first time that there has been any kind of mass picketing, and the first time by a homophile organization. ...
Because there were several tens of thousands of students in Washington today to picket against the Vietnam War, we had to schedule our demonstration after they were out of the way. As it came off, it ran from 4:20 to 5:20 PM. We were given a choice spot, directly in front of the White House. The police — both White House police and Metropolitan police — were courteous and helpful. The police had been informed in advance. The newspapers had also been informed in advance. . . .
While the demonstration attracted the attention of hundreds of tourists, some of whom took pictures, the only press to cover the event (other than MSW and MSNY publications) was the Washington Afro-American. Despite the lack of national media attention, however, the event was historic. As the Eastern Mattachine Magazine, a joint publication of MSNY and MSW, described it: “It was the first demonstration in the nation’s capital by a homophile organization for the rights and liberties of homosexual citizens.”
The following day, Easter Sunday, twenty-nine picketers from MSNY, the Demophile Center of Boston, the Homosexual League of New York, and the League for Sexual Freedom marched from the MSNY offices on Broadway, up Fifth Avenue (where the Easter parade was in full bloom), and across town to the United Nations. Targeting Castro’s policy, the picketers’ signs included the following messages: “15,000,000 U.S. Homosexual Citizens Protest Cuba’s Actions”; “Labor Camps Today — Ovens Tomorrow?”; and “Individual Freedom — Si! Persecution — No!” The demonstrators marched for two hours, also handing out flyers protesting the Cuban government’s treatment of homosexuals. A passerby wearing a mink stole and an Easter bonnet remarked: “You know, when you’re as disliked as homosexuals, it takes a lot of guts to stand up for your rights.”
Kameny was not satisfied with the publicity given to the White House demonstration. He recalled, “We wanted another crack at it, with publicity, so we started planning right away for another picket in six weeks.” Kameny began to chair MSW’s new Committee on Picketing and Other Lawful Demonstrations, drafting guidelines and rules for the pickets, and writing press releases for the next White House march. And on May 29, thirteen protestors picketed the White House once again, their placards targeting discriminatory policies in the U.S. government (“Government Should Combat Prejudice, Not Submit to It and Promote It”). This time, the national press paid attention, and wire stories by AP and UPI appeared in newspapers across the country, including the New York Times, the Washington Star, and the Chicago Sun-Times.
New York activist Craig Rodwell was at the second march and suggested the protesters keep the momentum going by marching every Fourth of July in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. “We can call it the Annual Reminder — the reminder that a group of Americans still don’t have their basic rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Rodwell stated. Kameny, Nichols, and the other marchers readily agreed and started plans for the first Annual Reminder in July 1966.
A couple of weeks after the second White House protest, Kameny referred to himself as “the prime moving force in these demonstrations,” while at the same time noting that the “actual spark” had come from others (namely, Wicker in New York and Clarke and Nichols in Washington).
In a brief report on the fad of long hair, Time quoted fifteen-year-old David Mauldin as saying, “My father thinks it makes me look like a faggot.” His father was Bill Mauldin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist whose most famous characters, GIs Willie and Joe, had lightened the hearts of millions during World War II.
September 29, 1965
Dear Mr. Mauldin:
In Time magazine (October 1, 1965), page 54, your son David is quoted as using the word “faggot” to refer to a homosexual, and as attributing the usage to you, as well. Writing as a homosexual, I wish to take issue on two counts.
First — I am sure that you did not bring up your son to use words such as “nigger,” “kike,” “wop,” etc., in referring to Negroes, Jews, Italians, etc. Words such as “faggot,” “queer” and the like are in the same class, and are equally offensive to our homosexual citizens.
You are expressing, here, against a very large group of people, a prejudice in the same class with that held by the rapid segregationist Southerner, by the anti-Semite and the Nazi, by the “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant” in the worst sense, and by others of similar ilk.
I write as a homosexual American citizen — proud of all three words. I fought in the front lines of the same war in which you fought and which you depicted so well. The comment attributed to your son and to you is not very consistent with the ideas expressed so ably and so admirably by you in other places at other times.
Second — Your son states that you claimed that he “looks like a faggot.” Exactly what does a “faggot” look like? I should hardly need to point out to you that homosexuals are as totally heterogeneous a group (aside from their sexual preferences, in the narrowest sense) as are Negroes and Jews (aside from their skin color and their religious beliefs, in the narrowest sense). Generalizations and stereotypes of the sort implied in your statement are the stuff out of which prejudice and discrimination are fashioned.
In our country, as I certainly hardly need to point out to you, we have individual Negro people, Jewish, Catholic people — and homosexual people. We are all entitled to our dignity and to our respect; to our place as first-class citizens and first-class human beings; to our right to be different, one from another, without thereby being the recipients of prejudice, discrimination, contempt and ridicule.
This is what you and I both fought a war for. ...
In closing, I should point out that statements such as yours are part of what some of us refer to as “the liberal syndrome” — liberals will stand up for the rights of all minorities, stand up for any underdog, vigorously protest discrimination and prejudice wherever they occur, stand up for the inherent dignity of all people — but let the question of homosexuals and homosexuality arise and — “Well, somehow that’s a different question.”
It isn’t a different question at all!
I would appreciate your response and comments. Thank you.
Sincerely yours, Franklin E. Kameny
Mauldin replied that Time was quoting “my young son reading my mind, which is a pretty far-out quote, even for Time,” and that he did not “recall using words like ‘faggot’ in front of my children.”
Kameny attempts to persuade the famous advice columnist Ann Landers that her beliefs about homosexuality are based on faulty data.
January 6, 1966
Dear Miss Landers:
... You say that “I have heard from thousands of homosexuals these past ten years and most of them are unhappy, frightened and lonely. They long to lead normal lives —.” You are making the same error that innumerable psychiatrists, clergymen, and others do who consider themselves knowledgeable about homosexuals but who really are not so — you are seeing a biased, slanted, grossly atypical sample, and are generalizing from it — falsely so.
With a few exceptions, ONLY the unhappy, frightened and lonely homosexuals write to you for advice. Why would the others do so? Why would the very many happy, confident, socially active and gregarious homosexuals have occasion to write to you? Most homosexuals are not as you describe them, and have NO desire to change to heterosexuality.
Similarly, only the disturbed or otherwise maladjusted homosexuals go to psychiatrists and clergymen, etc. As a result, entire books have been written about these maladjusted people as if they were typical of all homosexuals. They are not.
This can well be illustrated by the apocryphal story ... about two psychiatrists: First Psychiatrist — “But all my homosexual patients are seriously disturbed.” Second Psychiatrist — “Yes, but then all my heterosexual patients are seriously disturbed, too.”
Naturally so, or they wouldn’t be patients.
What percentage of the total number of people writing to you are unhappy, frightened, and lonely? — rather high, I should think. Do you really think that this is a representative sampling of everybody? Hardly.
Finally, have you considered that the reasons for the unhappiness, fright, and loneliness of many of these people lies, in major measure, with the prejudiced and discriminatory attitudes of the society around them, in which they live?
Suggesting that the cure for their unhappiness, fright and loneliness might be change to heterosexuality is like suggesting that the cure for the misfortunes that beset the Negro and the Jew, as a result of segregation, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism would best be cured by bleaching the Negro and converting the Jew to Christianity.
There are organizations working hard to solve the problems of the homosexual from the viewpoint from which those problems would be approached — as problems (basically, and primarily) in civil liberties, social rights, prejudice and discrimination; and (secondarily) as you correctly indicate, in adjustment of the individual homosexual to himself and to acceptance of himself and his homosexuality. These organizations deserve your support. I enclose a brochure of the more important of them. ...
Sincerely yours, Franklin E. Kameny
Landers replied to Kameny on January 13, referring to his letter as “extremely interesting and certainly one of the most realistic and intelligent I have ever read on the subject of homosexuality.” She added that she had “passed your letter around to every member of my staff since I felt that the points you make will certainly add to their understanding.”
In early 1966, not long after Kameny had come out to his mother, the two of them corresponded about his homosexuality. Initially, Rae Kameny did not react positively to news about her son’s sexuality. “Now that I can no longer hope that my guesses are wrong,”she wrote, “I am weighed down with anawful sense of guilt — guilt as being in some way responsible in the first place and guilt for not having had the courage to bring it up long ago, when perhaps something could have been done.” But she also added that had the two of them talked about his homosexuality earlier, she could have offered practical help on ways to cope in an unwelcoming world. “When you took that job in Ireland,” she wrote, “you did not discuss it ... and I know you were terribly disappointed when it didn’t work out. When you took the job in Georgetown U. it was the same. I might have pointed out that the climate in Washington was much worse than in N.Y., that you would be better off in a non-religious institution, or, if in one, to at least be careful about airing your views. Then, knowing your situation, someone might have pointed out the risks of taking a job with the Government.” Clearly, Kameny’s mother was pained by his lack of openness about his personal life. “You say that in your field virtually all jobs require a security clearance,” she penned. “How did you lose it in the first place?”
March 2, 1966
... Yes, I DO actually believe that the direction of my life is NOT a problem — not one whit more than your religion is a problem, or a Negro’s skin color is a problem.
I did NOT say that it’s something that I do not wish to discuss with you ... and I suggest you cease drawing such conclusions.
I think that if we are going to attempt dialog on these matters, you had better understand — CLEARLY — what my position is.
I do NOT look upon homosexuality as a sickness, disorder, disturbance, affliction, ailment, or something which, in ANY sense at all, is wrong or awry. It is simply a minority state, FULLY on par with the majority heterosexuality.
You say that you wish that I had discussed this with you earlier, when something might have been done. This overlooks two important facts.
1. Nothing could have been done at ANY time — regardless of the misguided information which might have been given to you by some psychiatrist.
2. You completely omit consideration of whether I would have wanted “something to be done.” I assure you that in company with the vast majority of the 15 million fellow homosexuals in this country, I would NOT have wanted “something to be done” and would not have allowed it, or cooperated with you — at ANY age.
I will continue to draw analogies with various minority groups—I consider them to be FULLY valid analogies. You would not have cooperated in any attempts to “do something” about your Judaism at any age — and you would have been quite correct. The same applies to me. ...
Now this is NOT the tragedy which folklore makes of it, and which folklore you have accepted, hook, line, and sinker. My life, through this, has been fascinating, exciting, varied, stimulating, interesting, full (in every good sense) in a way that it would and could never otherwise have been. It is a life right in human and personal values. It has been termed, by heterosexuals who know me, as one of the most colorful lives, and I as one of the most colorful persons they know.
I have good and close friends everywhere, in greater number than I think you can imagine. I would not change for all the money in the world. You need have no sense of guilt. I don’t think that you made me as I am in this context. I see nothing to blame you about if you did—you also made me a human and sensitive person; one with a brilliant and trained mind; one with an extraordinary personality (in every good sense), and many other things. ...
If some of these characterizations of myself seem to you not to be the Franklin you know—remember, also, that I have been telling you, for almost 30 years, that you have never seen the real me.
Again, you need feel neither guilt nor grief. If you DID make me as I am — I thank you for it. ...
With much love, Franklin
Kameny criticizes Hollywood gossip reporter Rona Barrett for having commented negatively on the recent presence of homosexuals in films. In 1969, homosexuality was prominently depicted in Midnight Cowboy, Staircase, and The Damned, among other films.
July 25, 1969
Dear Miss Barrett:
On a recent television broadcast, soon on WTTG-Channel 5, Washington, you deplored the current appearance of a number of films on homosexuality, with words to the general effect that, while we know that these things exist, must we show them on the screen? ...
Your comments are remarkably similar to those heard in the South in past (and present?) years — “We all know that Negroes and whites marry, but must we see them on the screen?” In fact, except for portrayals of them in the most menial of roles, Negroes did not appear on the American screen at all until recently (nor on television). Negroes objected, of course, and properly so, and so do we.
I placed my life in jeopardy for this country, in front line combat under enemy fire in World War II. I did not do so in order that I and my fellow homosexuals should simply be “swept under the rug” and kept out of sight.
If you do not like us, leave the theater — it will be your loss, not ours. If you find us distasteful, the fault is yours, not ours. The Ku Klux Klan finds Negroes distasteful; the American Nazis find Jews distasteful. That is the company in which you place yourself, although I am sure that you have not considered it in quite that way.
I will grant that the current flood of pictures on homosexuality shows us in a distorted and most unfavorable light. We have our love and affection, our tender moments, our joys and happinesses, our lasting and meaningful relationships, in no smaller number than you and your heterosexuals do. And, in due time, when the sensational phase and the novelty have passed, these, too, will be shown. ...
In parallel with the Negro slogan “Black is Beautiful,” we have adopted “Gay is Good.” It is. Whether you like it or not, we are here to stay, we are part of American life and society, and you will be seeing a lot more of us, both on and off the screen.
Sincerely yours, Franklin E. Kameny
Kameny received numerous crank letters. The following text appeared on a page with drawings of death symbols.
No date (October 1969)
Frankie, the Lust Crazed, Demon Possessed, Dirty Lust Vomit* or Puke*: Please, please, please, fall on your dirty Lust Stained knees and truly repent of all your dirty Lust Crazed Sins, and let the BLOOD of the Murdered SON of GOD, wash away all your Dirty Lust Crazed Sins ... Jesus Wants to save your dirty lust crazed Puke soul, I will not be satisfied to let Satan dump you into the Pits of Hot HORROR, HORROR, HORROR HELL to burn like a Hot Dog on a stick forever! Frankie ... You are
*Puke or Vomit*
Jesus the Murdered SON of GOD said, “I will spue (Puke* or Vomit*) you out of MY mouth into Hell!”
In this letter to the famous talk show host, Kameny writes about the “grossly distorted” view of homosexuality that appeared in the bestselling book by David Reuben — Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask. Reuben had depicted homosexuality in negative terms, even claiming that most homosexuals were obsessed with using vegetables for sexual pleasure:
Most homosexuals find their man-to-man sex unfulfilling so they masturbate a lot. Much of their masturbation centers around the anus. The question, of course, is what to use for a penis. Carrots and cucumbers are pressed into service. Forced into the anus, lubricated with vegetable oil, they give some homosexuals what they seek. ...
The homosexual who prefers to use his penis must find an anus. Many look in the refrigerator. The most common masturbatory object for this purpose is a melon. Cantaloupes are usual, but where it is available, papaya is popular.
May 26, 1970
Dear Mr. Carson:
... Along with most other homosexuals I bitterly oppose Dr. Reuben’s views on homosexuality and feel that the chapter in his book on the subject is a grossly distorted, totally inaccurate representation of homosexuality and homosexuals, which is doing us incalculable harm. There is a great deal of strong feeling on this matter in the homosexual community the country over, and a storm of protest has been aroused by the book. ...
Keep in mind that Dr. Reuben, by his own admission, on your program, stated that the homosexuals whom he has seen are all his patients — clearly an atypical, non-representative sampling. These are obviously disturbed people, or they would not be patients, just as the heterosexuals whom he sees are disturbed people. People without emotional problems do not go to see psychiatrists, and so Dr. Reuben and his colleagues have never seen the innumerable healthy, happy, emotionally problem free homosexuals who make up the bulk of our community. ...
We — most homosexuals and the homosexual community — do not consider psychiatrists and psychoanalysts as our keepers, as our spokesmen, or as authorities upon us and our condition. We never gave them authority to tell you about us. At the very best, their view is as distorted as that of the classical, well-intentioned “white liberal” in the 30s and 40s discoursing upon the Negro, his attitudes, his problems, and his community. In fact, increasingly, the homosexual community is growing to consider a discussion of homosexuality by a psychiatrist or a psychoanalyst as equivalent to a discussion of Negritude by a Ku Klux Klansman or of Judaism by a Nazi.
We do not consider homosexuality to be a psychiatric problem at all. It is a ... sociological problem in prejudice and discrimination against an unpopular minority. Dr. Reuben and his book are one of the more sophisticated and insidious manifestations of that prejudice (calling people mentally ill, as he does us, is as “lethal” in our society as calling them criminals). ...
Accordingly, because I (and many other homosexuals) feel that Dr. Reuben and, through him, your program, has presented a grossly distorted view of homosexuals, homosexuality, what we are, what we think, what we want — and what we are doing to achieve in society the rightful place of homosexuals as equal to heterosexuals and of homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality — and has done us severe injustice and major injury, I request equal time on your program to appear as a homosexual, to present our side of this controversial question, and to offset the damage done to us by Dr. Reuben, his book, and his appearance on your program.
There is a major movement afoot to change the status of homosexuals and homosexuality in our society and to achieve our rights, freedoms, equality, opportunity, and basic human dignity, as the homosexuals that we have a moral right, in our pluralistic society to become, to be, and to remain. It is time that this view had an airing in your program. I can present our position in an informed, interesting, articulate, and dignified fashion. ...
Sincerely yours, Franklin E. Kameny
Kameny did not receive an invitation to appear on The Tonight Show. After Reuben’s book was published in Great Britain, gay rights leader Martin Corbett arranged the delivery of a twelve-foot-long cucumber to the offices of Reuben’s publisher.
Three months before typing the following letter, Kameny described Socarides in another letter as “a fanatic who uses a cloak of pseudo-science to cover a rabidly fanatical anti-homosexual bigotry which he pursues zealously.”
Dear Dr. Socarides:
You are quoted in Newsweek ... as saying (in regard to homosexuals and homosexual relationships): “You don’t treat fetishists to enjoy their fetishes.”
I must ask: Why on earth not?
The great majority of fetishes are utterly harmless to the fetishists or to others. They are a source of potential and actual pleasure to the fetishists. Why should not the fetishist, who is, for some reason, not enjoying his fetish to the maximum, be assisted in so enjoying it? I can think of no reason other than desire upon the part of the psychotherapists such as you to force-fit all people into one arbitrary mold.
Apparently you are, as usual, trying to impose upon everyone your own narrow, fanatically rigid religious beliefs, camouflaged as “science.” You would compulsively have all people conform to the single rigid mold which you and your co-religionists — that is, your fellow psychoanalysts — would set up as the only model for everyone. Fortunately for all of us, but unfortunately for you, the glory of humanity is its richness and diversity in all things. We are not stamped out of the same mold; we do not all come off the assembly line as alike as so many faceless robots. We are freed of the pre-programming which directs the activities of most other animals. We follow different courses of equal value leading to different goals of equal value — in sexual practices and psychosexual development as in all other areas of life.
Dr. George Weinberg, in his superb book, Society and the Healthy Homosexual, deals with the matter on page 59ff, referring to the treatment of a man who was sexually aroused by women’s buttocks and bloomers and had been given aversion “therapy,” he says. “He had sought help to procure more sexual fulfillment, not less. However, here the therapist ruthlessly set out to deprive the patient of his enjoyment, on the highly speculative theses that doing so would benefit him.”
His passion is a far more reasonable one than yours. ...
As a scientist by training and background (as you are not), I am particularly offended by your persistent characterization of yourself as a scientist and your work as science and scientific. You do not know the meaning of science. Your dogmatic statements, unsupported by any showing of scientific investigation, and your clear, total lack of comprehension of the canons of scientific investigation put you into the class of a religious fanatic, not a scientist. Your rationales for terming homosexuality pathological can be termed a pseudo-scientific rephrasing in terms of sickness of the “natural law” philosophy, phrased in terms of sin, of St. Thomas Aquinas. But Aquinas lived in the 12th century, and this is the 20th century. “Natural law,” so-called, is no longer considered a sound theological basis for an attribution of sin; a reformulation of it is certainly not a sound scientific basis for an attribution of pathology.
You are clearly using the attributions of science, scientist, and scientific to provide “legitimacy” for yourself, to bolster your low self-esteem, and to buttress a shaky and fragile ego. You are badly in need of therapy — and of a good course in science and the scientific method so that you can be brought to a realization of just how remote from science is everything you are doing.
Let me say finally that, as a scientist by training and background, I find it offensive that you designate yourself as a scientist and what you do as science. It is quite clear that like many of your professional colleagues, you do not have the faintest notion of what science is all about or of how good science is done.
Apparently you feel a need to bolster a shaky ego by “legitimizing” yourself by calling yourself a scientist and thus misusing that designation to support a dogmatic, authoritarianism which is intellectually offensive and arrogant, utterly boorish and uncouth, to a degree such that at least a few of your professional colleagues of the highest repute consider you highly disturbed at the very least.
I suggest that you would be much happier as a priest and an open moralist than as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. You would certainly do far less harm than you are now doing.
Above: President Bush presents William Safire the 2006 President Medal of Freedom.
In his April 18 essay, New York Times columnist William Safire defined homosexuals as “abnormal.” “To be gay,” he added, “is to be engaged in an activity that both moral absolutists and moral relativists would label ‘immoral,’ with both Scripture and sociological statistics on their side.” Safire also claimed that homosexuality “should be discouraged,” though without legal coercion. “The adult homosexual’s right to be left alone must not be invaded by a majority seeking to make unlawful what it regards as sinful,” he wrote. In his reply to the column, Kameny clarifies the basic source of his libertarian ethics.
No date (April 1974)
Dear Mr. Safire:
... The facts, of course, are completely against you. Many moral absolutists and most moral relativists do not label homosexuality and homosexual sexual activity as immoral. Quite to the contrary. This is especially so in light of the fact that homosexuality and homosexual sexual activity are as often expressions of or involved with love and affection as are heterosexuality and heterosexual sexual activity. In a world rife with hatred, one is hard put to rationalize labeling as immoral any form of love. ...
Ours is a pluralistic society. Our national-societal morality (given the church-state separation imposed by the First Amendment, which rules out Scripture and the like as a source of national-societal morality) comes from such sources as the Declaration of Independence, with its emphases upon individual freedom, and its highly relevant guarantee, as an inalienable right, of the pursuit of happiness. Therein lies the affirmative American morality of homosexuality. ...
Finally, you make the incredible statement: “We can ... counter their new proselytism with some missionary work of our own.”
What do you think you people have been doing since time immemorial? For centuries, we homosexuals have been the objects (the victims) of one of the most intensive, extensive virulent, evangelistic, crusading missionary campaign of proselytization to convert us from our homosexuality to your heterosexuality, that the world has ever seen in any context. We run into it at every turn. It never lets up.
If you do not “get off our backs” and leave us alone, we really will start to reciprocate. ...
Sincerely yours, Franklin E. Kameny
In 1972 Phyllis Schlafly founded and became president of the Eagle Forum, a conservative interest group focused on education and lobbying. A vocal opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, she styled herself as a leader of the so-called pro-family movement of the early 1970s. In the following letter, Kameny refers to Schlafly’s recent commentary on Spectrum.
November 2, 1974
Dear Ms. Schlafly:
... Like many of your fellow reactionaries on this issue of homosexuality, you make much of the spurious allegation that homosexuality is a threat to the family. I find that totally incomprehensible.
First, of course, persons — homosexual or heterosexual — have the right not to participate in the family system at all, if they wish not to do so. That is a valid option, open to anyone, without disadvantage.
Second, protecting the rights of homosexuals to work, to have housing of their choice, and to utilize public accommodations does not impair, impede, or obstruct, in any slightest way, the ability of any heterosexual to enter into the family system. (Do you wish to see homosexuals denied jobs, despite willingness to work and to contribute to society, forced onto welfare in order to survive — at your expense, as a taxpayer? — or are you just going to let us die of starvation, in the best Christian spirit?)
Third, I find it incomprehensible how you can, on the one hand, attack us for threatening the family system and then, on the other hand, propose to deny us the homosexual marriages which would allow us formal entrance into that family system. Extending or broadening the family system by broadening the definition of what constitutes marriage and the family, in no slightest way, detracts from what is already there. I challenge you to show otherwise.
Fourth, your remarks are singularly ill-taken, coming as they do from a person belonging to a religion in which a celibate clergy is the rule, and in which celibacy is exalted as a virtue. The example set by celibate priests and nuns, and by the institutionalization of celibacy and non-marriage, is a REAL threat to the family system, if anything is.
I, for one, am not going to allow you or anyone else — or EVERYone else, for that matter — to ram your damnable family system down my throat, as a condition for my enjoyment of the benefits of MY society. Nor do you have a right to do so; nor do I have to allow you to do so.
... I suggest that you give some thought to what this country really stands for, and to what it is all about — you haven’t the faintest idea. Give some thought to what it is that is embodied in the bicentennial which we are about to celebrate. I suggest, also, that you re-think your ideas on morality. Your morality is one of the most immoral moralities that I know. And, also, reconsider your ideas on Christianity. You do not have a clue as to what Christianity means. Your views in regard to homosexuals are the direct antithesis of Christianity. There is no inconsistency whatever between being actively homosexual and being truly Christian.
I suggest that you ask yourself how it is possible to reconcile the real spirit of Christianity, as a religion of love, with your vicious, punitive, intolerant condemnation of anyone who chooses to make love differently from you, or of persons of whom you disapprove. You have made of Christianity a religion of hate. When Christianity is used to justify persecuting — or refusing to take constructive measures to relieve persecution — when Christianity is used to justify denial to people of jobs, and housing; when Christianity is used to justify consignment of people to the status of second-class citizenry and second-class personhood; when Christianity is used as a basis for making pariahs and outcasts of persons who have done nothing other than to love in a different way from yours — when Christianity is used for these purposes, then you have perverted Christianity beyond recognition. Christ must be wringing his hands in anguish at what you are doing in his name.
I am confident that if there is a hell, you will spend all of eternity burning there, because of the living hell to which you are so cavalierly consigning your fellow human beings — including homosexual human beings. ...
Gay IS Good.
Sincerely yours, Franklin E. Kameny
Kameny refers here to a New York Times Magazine article penned by historian Martin Duberman of the City University of New York. By the time the article appeared, a three-member panel of the Air Force Administrative Discharge Board had recommended that Matlovich receive a general discharge from the air force. In a last-ditch effort, Matlovich appealed the decision to Air Force Secretary John McLucas. The secretary denied the appeal, and Matlovich received a general discharge by the end of October.
November 9, 1975
As you may have seen, Marty Duberman’s article on your hearing appeared in the magazine Section of today’s New York Times. Although I don’t think the article was as good as it might have been ... the article raises another matter of considerable direct importance (I predict) to you — a matter which I raised with you once before.
You are once again quoted as taking the position that “he admits that had he the choice — he would rather be straight.”
Now, you are obviously free to take whatever position you wish on that matter. I would not presume to dictate your feelings to you, even had I the power to do so. I do point out certain things, however.
If that IS, in fact, your view, then prepare yourself to defend it. I guarantee you that you WILL be attacked for holding that view by gays and gay groups wherever you go, as deeply and harmfully undercutting the gay movement. Further, you will find that it will place you at a severe disadvantage in making logical, compelling, persuasive pro-gay and pro-gay rights arguments with non-gay audiences.
So IF that IS your position, you should be doing some VERY careful thinking as to the best way to present it and to defend it.
On the other hand: If it is NOT your view, then I urge — STRONGLY — an IMMEDIATE letter-to-the-editors ... disavowing that as your position. The letter should be phrased firmly, and absolutely unequivocally and unambiguously, with an absolute minimum of words, phrases and clauses of modification and reservation which could conceivably be interpreted (i.e., misinterpreted) as evasion or “weasel words,” because gays everywhere will be reading, intensely critically, what you say in this respect.
If you wish, I’ll be more than pleased to discuss this with you at some early date of our mutual convenience.
While I’m writing, I’d like, just briefly, to follow up on some items raised in our conversation of yesterday. ...
Your issue is a narrow and very specific one. Effective pursuit of the issues and causes raised by that issue — gays and the military — requires funding. So do you, individually. Fundraising is always more effective when narrowed to specifics, rather than when broadened with generalities. You have specificity; make the most of it. ...
Incidentally, as a side comment, I would suggest that you don’t make your endeavors too crassly commercial. ... The measure of your success is your ability to persuade the public of the justness and the rightness of your (our) causes. Obviously certain purely practical considerations must be considered. We discussed those to some extent on the phone yesterday. Certainly your out-of-pocket expenses should ALWAYS be reimbursed to you (unless, in particular instances you choose to make an exception). Certainly the flow of funds into the support of the cause, as finally formulated, should always be kept in mind. But there is a difference between a commercial, in-it-for-the-profit performer, and someone fighting for a cause. Don’t lose sight of those differences.
Keep in mind the very harsh reality that fame is fleeting. You are riding high — and properly should be — on the crest of a wave of publicity created by the immediacy of your case, plus the fortunate publicity which it received in The NY Times and in Time, plus your own personal charisma. But those WILL fade — and with a quickness which you may find traumatic. I would suggest that you make the maximum possible use of the fame, and of the time it persists, to grind your own particular axe, both in terms of pleading the cause and raising the finds. Naturally, that will rub off onto support for the general gay cause, and that is all to the good, but — I feel — your major effort should remain somewhat narrowed. ...
Matlovich did not accept Kameny’s advice about following up with a letter to the editor.