gay rights activist Frank Kameny got a telephone call from
The Advocate with the dubious news that a story in the June
19 issue mistakenly reported that he'd died of
AIDS complications, Mark Twain's famous
one-liner came to mind. "Reports of my death are
greatly exaggerated," the good-natured
octogenarian chirped. Kameny, who turned 82 in May and
does not have AIDS, still has a lot more living to
do--and a lot more talking.
You're a guy who can truly say he's laughed
in the face of his own mortality. Did the mistaken
death notice make you think about your own transience?
I feel differently about all of that now than I
might have 20 or 30 years ago. I would be delighted to
live for another 25 years, but I'm not going
to. I recognize the fact that one of these days I'm
just not going to be here. I've passed the
statistical life expectancy by a few years, which
means that I'm ahead of the pack!
Several pioneering LGBT figures have died in recent
years. What do you think about the expiration of
such an influential generation?
There are very, very few of us left. I got into the
movement a solid 10 years after it started, and all
the people from that first decade are gone. Jack
Nichols, with whom I worked closely, went in May two years
ago. Barbara Gittings, who passed in February, was a
cherished friend. At a purely intellectual level, I
was aware that I was eventually going to get an
unpleasant call. But I wasn't prepared for it
emotionally when the call came. I really miss her.
How are you feeling these days? You seem sharper and more
energetic than some people half your age!
I continue to talk vigorously, but I don't have
the stamina and endurance I once had. I used to walk
with a brisk stride; now I walk with tiny old-man
steps, and I don't like it. My worst dread is
Alzheimer's. Every so often I have what they
colloquially call a "senior moment," and
I think, Oh, my God, has it started?
The U.S. military's "don't ask,
don't tell" policy has made headlines
recently. What does a World War II veteran like you
think about the ban?
I enlisted in the Army three days before my 18th
birthday. They did ask, and I didn't tell. They
asked whether I had "homosexual tendencies,"
and I was well aware that I did and it had gone well
beyond tendencies. But I said no, and I have resented
for 64 years that I had to lie in order to serve my
country. All the major issues I dealt with over the years
have been resolved except for gays in the military.
Equally newsworthy is the issue of same-sex marriage.
Have you given the subject much thought?
I'm strongly in favor of it, and it has
taken shape in ways that people couldn't have
predicted. We've gotten increasing numbers of civil
union enactments, and it looks as if we'll be
moving into an era where we'll have a lot of
those. That means we'll be in the back of the bus,
but at least we'll be on the bus.
Speaking of political hot potatoes, what about Rep. Mark
Foley, the Florida Republican who left Washington
last year after sexually explicit e-mails he sent
to former teenage congressional pages surfaced?
[Television news pundits] were castigating him
as a pedophile and all that. You have to keep in mind
the age of majority, which is everywhere 18, and the
age of consent for sex are not the same. The age of consent
in most places, including the District of Columbia, is 16.
As far as the law is concerned, what he did was
perfectly legal. Political wisdom? Now, that's
a different matter. He didn't act as wisely as he
So-called ex-gay organizations that purport to convert
homosexuals into heterosexuals are nothing new,
but they have gained prominence in recent years.
What do you think about Exodus International and its brethren?
I respond to them by saying all the people I
know view their being gay as a wonderful stroke of
good fortune and good luck to be celebrated. Even if
change were simple, easy, quick, convenient, and possible,
which it is not, why would we want to swap what is
first-class, superior homosexuality for second-class,
James Dobson, Tony Perkins, the late Jerry Falwell, Pat
Robertson--what do these prominent names in
conservative Christianity mean to you?
They're there, and you have to recognize them as
the opposition, and you oppose them. I refer to them
collectively as the "nutty
fundamentalists." People in this country, including
President Bush himself, have used the term
"Islamo-fascism." We have to be equally
careful about Christiano-fascism. The only reason
they're not just as bad is, for the moment,
they can't get away with what the Muslims can get
away with in the Middle East. They would be perfectly happy
to do so.
Why isn't there a prominent spokesperson for the
gay community, like Al Sharpton is for African-Americans?
First of all, Al Sharpton is a spokesperson for
the black community. You also have Jesse Jackson and
lots of others. Back in the '60s when there
were very few gay people appearing publicly, it was a tiny
movement. Now you have a lot of people doing a lot of
work for gay rights. People come forward and
they're there and they speak. Instead of having a
spokesperson, you have a sizable number of spokespeople.
What about a catchy slogan?
In July 1968 I coined the slogan "Gay is
good," which is the one thing, if nothing else,
that I want to be remembered for. Our movement
doesn't always handle its rhetoric well. It's
not that gay is not bad, it's that gay is good.
It's not that homosexuality is not sinful and
immoral, it's that homosexuality is affirmatively
virtuous and moral. Same-sex marriage is not going to
damage the institution of marriage; it's going
to enhance the institution of marriage.
Earlier this year more than 70,000 of your letters,
papers, and picket signs chronicling your legacy
of gay rights activism were received by the
Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institution. How
does that make you feel?
Those signs are in a small subcollection of the
[Smithsonian's National] Museum of American
History, along with a wooden folding portable desk on
which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of
Independence, a pair of ornate metal inkwells used by
Abraham Lincoln to write the Emancipation
Proclamation, and memorabilia from Martin Luther
King's 1963 March on Washington. It makes me
feel very good, very vindicated, and very satisfied.
Do you have any more treasures stashed in your attic?
My attic isn't completely empty. There
are still more papers to be uncovered because I am a
pack rat--I don't throw anything away.
There's a copy of every letter I've
written, every letter I've received. Up until
about 1995 I had every issue of the Washington Blade
that had come out. I still have just about every issue
of The Advocate.
What do you hope future generations of gay men and women
will glean from the preservation of your papers?
It will give them the knowledge of where things
were and where they are and where they haven't
yet gotten but will need to so things can move
forward--so they can pick up the torch and run with
it. Gay is good, but gay is not perfect. I hope my
papers will encourage them to go out and make gay