19 January 2012

AAS Celebrates the Late Dr. Frank Kameny's Lifetime Efforts for Equal Employment Rights

AAS Press Release

January 19, 2012

Dr. Rick Fienberg
AAS Press Officer
+1 202-328-2010 x116

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At its 219th semiannual meeting last week in Austin, Texas, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) presented a certificate of appreciation commemorating Dr. Frank Kameny’s lifetime efforts to secure equal employment rights for all. In 1957 Dr. Kameny, a Ph.D. astronomer and member of the AAS, was unjustly fired from his position with the U.S. government because he was gay. His subsequent efforts to advance the cause of gay rights included organizing some of the first public protests for homosexual rights in America, running as the first openly gay candidate for Congress, and writing the first petition to the Supreme Court to argue that discrimination based on sexual orientation violates constitutional civil-rights protections.

Dr. Kameny’s achievements included a successful campaign to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973 and the repeal of the District of Columbia’s law regulating private sexual matters between consenting adults. Dr. Kameny’s efforts on the national level to promote diversity and equality for all are in alignment with the mission of the AAS to promote diversity and equality within its membership and have enabled many AAS members to pursue their calling without the fear of the professional discrimination due to sexual orientation that Dr. Kameny suffered.

In 2009 the federal government issued a formal apology to Dr. Kameny for his firing solely on the basis of sexual orientation. Sadly, Dr. Kameny died in October 2011, before the AAS could honor him in person. At the Austin meeting Mr. Charles Francis, cofounder of the Kameny Papers Project, accepted the certificate of appreciation from AAS president Dr. Debra M. Elmegreen (Vassar College). Mr. Francis and fellow co-founder Mr. Bob Witeck organized Dr. Kameny’s papers for incorporation into the U.S. Library of Congress.

The following wording appears on the certificate:

The American Astronomical Society, in light of its commitment to diversity and equality, hereby honors the memory of the astronomer Dr. Franklin Edward Kameny for his exemplary lifelong commitment to promoting equal rights for homosexual men and women. Dr. Kameny’s activism removed discriminatory barriers that had cut short many careers. Dr. Kameny tirelessly advocated against policies that banned gays from working for the federal government, holding security clearances, or serving openly in the military.

“The presentation was an emotionally charged moment for our community,” says Elmegreen. “By honoring Dr. Kameny, the AAS has helped to right a previous national wrong.” In addition, the AAS recently established the Working Group on LGBTIQ Equality to promote equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning individuals within the profession. 

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Photo caption: At the 219th AAS meeting in Austin, Texas, on January 10, 2012, Charles Francis, cofounder of the Kameny Papers Project, accepts a certificate of appreciation from AAS president Debra M. Elmegreen (Vassar College) honoring the work of the late Frank Kameny toward securing equal employment rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation. Photo by Kelley Knight Heins, © 2012 American Astronomical Society. High-resolution version (4.5-megabyte JPEG)

Remarks by Mr. Charles Francis at the AAS meeting

The Kameny Papers

Selected obituaries of Dr. Frank Kameny:

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899 and based in Washington, DC, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership of about 7,500 individuals also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research and educational interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe. Among its many activities, the AAS publishes three of the leading peer-reviewed journals in the field: The Astrophysical Journal, The Astronomical Journal, and Astronomy Education Review.