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Op-ed: Thankful for Those Who Paved the Way

Op-ed: Thankful for Those Who Paved the Way

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"His life cleared the path that I and countless others followed into public service." --John Berry, who in 2009 became the Obama administration's highest-level gay appointment, during a memorial service for Frank Kameny

America paid tribute last week to a gay icon. The director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, John Berry and several members of the U.S. Congress said farewell to Dr. Frank Edward Kameny by thanking him for paving a path toward the equality that LGBT America is set to realize.

The video below reflects highlights from the service held in the historic Cannon Caucus Room, featuring a remembrance by William Eskridge Jr., a professor of jurisprudence at Yale University, and Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

When in college, Baldwin, the first openly lesbian congresswoman who is now running for U.S. Senate, notes she had little by way of resources to look to and credits Kameny's example during this time of her need.

Kameny became known as the first gay person to fight the federal government because of his dismissal on the grounds of homosexuality from his job as an astronomer in 1957. Norton compared this act by Kameny to Rosa Parks' refusal to sit in the back of the bus as an act of defiance of the South's segregation laws.

Frank, who is known for some straightforward talk of his own, said one of Kameny's many accomplishments in the gay rights movement was his "self-confidence and aggressive and assertive demeanor in informing the world that his cause was just and right."

Yet an eye-opening moment came when, as an aside, the co-founder of the Kameny Papers, Charles Francis, walked up to the young videographer who submitted this piece and said: "It is especially good to see a young person here acknowledging what the older generation has done. Your generation will be picking up the torch."

Indeed Kameny's flame burns brightly and that is why we were in D.C. last week. The story of his life inspires those of us who march on.

MELANIE NATHAN is a lawyer and human rights activist who is author of the GAY U.S.A. the Blog, which is run in conjunction with GAY U.S.A. the Movie.
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