Franklin E. Kameny, one of the nation’s most prominent gay rights leaders, died in his home today from apparent natural causes. He was 86.
The death came less a month before the planned celebration of the 50th anniversary of Kameny’s founding of the Mattachine Society of Washington, the first gay rights organization in the nation’s capital.
LGBT rights advocates Charles Francis and Bob Witeck, who were longtime friends of Kameny’s and established the project to preserve Kameny’s papers over a 50-year period, said they would be announcing soon plans for a memorial service to honor the gay rights leader’s life.
Timothy Clark, Kameny’s tenant, said he found Kameny unconscious and unresponsive in his bed shortly after 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Clark called 911 police emergency and rescue workers determined that Kameny had died earlier, most likely in his sleep. Clark said he had spoken with Kameny shortly before midnight on the previous day and Kameny didn’t seem to be in distress.
Kameny is credited with being one of the leading strategists for the early gay rights movement — beginning shortly before the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York’s Greenwich Village and continuing afterward.
Kameny, born and raised in New York City, served in combat as an Army soldier in World War II in Europe. After the war, Kameny obtained a doctorate degree in astronomy from Harvard University.
He went on to work as an astronomer for the U.S. Army map service in the 1950s and was fired after authorities discovered he was gay. He contested the firing and appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first known gay person to file a gay-related case before the high court. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling against Kameny and declined to hear the case, but Kameny’s decision to appeal the case through the court system motivated him to become a lifelong advocate on behalf on LGBT equality.
The Blade will have more information as it becomes known.