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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
October 13, 2006

Five pioneers

Frank Kameny

The place in LGBT history of Frank Kameny, co-founder of the Washington D.C. chapter of the Mattachine Society, was cemented on October 6 when he donated 70,000 documents and letters to the Library of Congress, where they will be available for viewing by researchers.

One of the founders of the modern American LGBT rights movement, Kameny brought a radical, take-charge attitude in place of more assimilationist policies that plagued many early gay leaders. A child prodigy and World War II veteran, Kameny obtained a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard University in 1956 and began work for the Army Map Service in 1957.

However, months into the job, rumors circulated about Kameny�s homosexuality, which culminated in his firing from the Map Service and being barred from all civil service jobs, following a McCarthy-era mandate against any homosexuals in the government.

Kameny fought to regain his job for five years, including a personal appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and a suit against the government, both of which were denied. Finally, in 1961, he decided to join with Jack Nichols to establish a D.C. version of the homophile group Mattachine Society.

Reflecting both Kameny�s personal priorities and local complaints, the Mattachine Society of Washington focused on ending sexual orientation discrimination in civil service positions and the military. It organized the first gay protests in front of the White House in April 1965, in which Kameny, Barbara Gittings, and other prominent activists participated.

Kameny�s work along with the Mattachine Society eventually led the Civil Service Commission to amend its anti-gay policies in 1975. He also advised countless armed services members in coping with military policies. In addition to his civil and military service work, he also battled the American Psychiatric Association in an effort to remove homosexuality as a mental disorder, disrupting the APA annual meeting in 1971 and fostering the eventual removal of homosexuality from its list of illnesses.

To top off an already growing list of achievements, Kameny became the first openly gay person to run for Congress, using the campaign to publicize the issue of unequal government treatment of the community.

He is one of the oldest surviving activists, celebrating his 80th birthday last May.

Tammy Baldwin

Tammy Baldwin is the only openly lesbian member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the only person elected to Congress after coming out.

Representing Wisconsin�s 2nd District since her election in 1998, Baldwin has been a champion of gay rights during her tenure, as well as a host of other issues including health care, the environment, and women�s rights.

Her political career has spanned more than two decades, from her beginnings on the Dane County, Wis., Board of Supervisors to her fourth consecutive term in Congress. Born and raised in her congressional district by her Caucasian mother and African American stepfather, Baldwin knew from experience at an early age the privilege given to her because of her race and the hardships faced as a result of both her gender and her sexuality.

She attended Smith College in Massachusetts, majoring in government and mathematics, and immediately after graduation returned home to Wisconsin to begin her political career and attend the University of Wisconsin Law School. In addition to serving as a Dane County supervisor, she was a Wisconsin state representative for five years until her election to national office.

Many considered her grassroots 1998 campaign in far too liberal, but Baldwin did not compromise, standing strong in her support of universal health care, advanced care for the elderly, public funding for day care programs and stricter environmental standards. All the issues for which Baldwin stands are the results of her own experiences. Her grandmother had extensive medical expenses which Baldwin helped pay for, shaping her views on health care, specifically for the elderly.

Growing up within her mother�s and stepfather�s families helped enlighten her on the importance of family support, an idea she has broached through day care reform. But perhaps the largest inspiration for Baldwin�s political career has been her mother, who turned around an addiction to prescription drugs and became a counselor, working with patients suffering from similar addictions. Baldwin, like her mother, has overcome tremendous challenges and become a positive role model for both her Wisconsin constituents and the entire LGBT community.

Samuel R. Delaney and Octavia Butler

Samuel Ray Delaney Jr. and Octavia Butler broke two barriers in the world of science fiction.

The two are undoubtedly the best-known African American science fiction authors in the world, and they are also likely the most famous gay man and lesbian science fiction authors as well.

While Butler, who died in early 2006 at the age of 58, tended to describe herself as �asocial� and a hermit, Delaney�s public acceptance of his homosexuality extended into his writing.

Dahlgren, his 1975 apocalyptic novel, featured a bisexual hero, and other books have featured transgendered protagonists, societies where sexual divergence is considered the norm and collections of short stories as varied as the colors of the rainbow flag.

Delaney, who is still alive, went on to keynote the 1991 International Gay and Lesbian Studies Conference and the 1993 Outwrite convention. His work in literary criticism and in support of viewing science fiction as a valid form of literature instead of mass-market tripe has earned him at least as much respect as his fiction.

Butler covered issues of gender and sexuality in her writing, but not in as clarion a manner. Nor did she ever write an autobiography as frenetic as Delaney�s, The Motion of Light in Water.

However, between the two of them, they illustrated that a field once dominated by middle-aged white heterosexual men had grown and evolved, much as the characters in many science fiction novels do.

Harvey Milk

Just over a year after he was elected to San Francisco�s Board of Supervisors in 1977, Harvey Milk was assassinated with Mayor George Moscone in City Hall, the victim of a former supervisor�s outrage over the liberal shift in city politics. Milk was instantly made a martyr of the gay community.

Sensing the danger of his position within city government, he had created several recorded wills to be played in the event of his assassination. One memorable line is inscribed today in a plaza named for him: �If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.�

The gunman, Dan White, was charged with murder but convicted of manslaughter. He served only five years in prison and committed suicide in 1985 shortly after his release. White�s trial strategy is infamously known as the �Twinkie defense,� in which his lawyer argued that White was mentally affected by a large amount of junk food he had eaten.

The lenient verdict inflamed members of San Francisco�s gay community, and that evening, a mob gathered at City Hall in what was to be known as the White Night Riots. Outraged citizens clashed with police, who later took on their own anti-gay agenda, beating individuals and destroying property in the largely gay Castro neighborhood.

The next day was Harvey Milk�s birthday, and, fearing a second night of rioting, the city permitted Castro Street to be closed in celebration of Milk and his legacy. The celebration went smoothly as individuals spoke on a makeshift stage and disco music filled the air, a fitting tribute to a man named as one of the 100 most influential politicians by Time magazine.

Milk�s political journey ended abruptly, but not without a budding, still-growing legacy. Along with an annual commemorative candlelight march in San Francisco honoring Milk and Moscone, the Harvey Milk High School in New York serves at-risk LGBT youth, and several notable landmarks in San Francisco�s Castro district have been named for him, all of which are a testament to his impact on the community in San Francisco and across the country.

 

 

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