GOODBYE TO AN ICON: Five Things I Never Got to Say to Gay Rights Pioneer Frank Kameny
Frank Kameny, a trailblazer and firebrand activist for the gay community, has died of natural causes in his Washington, DC home. He was 86.
Frank was an inspiration to generations, and we were extremely saddened here at Unicorn Booty to hear of his passing on National Coming Out Day. We’ll leave the obituaries to CNN and the Washington Post, and really get down into the nitty-gritty of why this man was perhaps the most important figure in the history of gay rights.
When we decided on the slogan “Gay is Good,” we thought we were being really clever. It was perfect: short, sweet and oh-so-sublime. It really hit on the vibe that we were going for with Unicorn Booty – we’re not trying to say that gays are better than anyone else or that we are special in any way. We’re just as good – and bad – as any other human clan. “Gay is Good” had the simplicity and power that we needed to bring home the punch after the Unicorn Booty smile.
And when we searched for those three short words, we unearthed the treasure that is Frank Kameny.
After being fired from his government job for being gay, he became an activist in the finest sense of the word. He fought every single day of his life – up until just last week at an HRC dinner – for equality. He was everywhere. He co-founded one of the first gay rights groups, the Mattachine Society, and coined the “Gay is Good” slogan way back in 1968 – pretty much the very first gay slogan ever devised! He fought tooth and nail to get where we are today, and we are thrilled that he was able to live long enough to savor many of his labor’s fruits.
I had hoped one day to meet Frank Kameny, this mythical godfather of my relatively open and free existence. But since that is no longer possible, here are 5 things I never got to say to Frank:
1. Thank you for your passion, perseverance and stubbornness.
Doing the right thing, and fighting for what you believe in, is not always as straightforward as it appears. You did this, and you did this well. You are a model for myself, and you have made me appreciate and respect the torture, pain and death that has preceded the liberty I enjoy today. Thank you.
2. Gay IS good, and I will keep your legacy alive.
Once we realized where this slogan came from, we knew that this was definitely it. We wanted to not only re-popularize the concept, but also to keep the legacy alive. I was just at an event tonight talking about you, Frank, and you often come up in conversation. I will keep sharing your accomplishments, and continue to encourage change through the “gay is good” lens you have provided. We strive to continue the work you started, and you will not be forgotten. Thank you.
3. My life is yours, and you will always be my godfather.
Your struggle has made my life possible. I am happy; I have more joy than I could have ever dreamed. And I know that it’s people like you that made this joy possible. I can never know the pain of what you went through, but you did it. You succeeded. You made so many happy lives possible, and I will always consider you a godfather. I would never have been able to start this company with my partner, and gain widespread acceptance if it wasn’t for you. I mean, could you ever imagine “gay is good” being the motivating cry for a company called Unicorn Booty? Thank you.
4. Come out, come out and just be yourself.
I once shuddered at the thought of running a “gay” company or being the “gay” travel host. But then it occurred to me that I can JUST BE ME. I don’t have to be a “gay” anything. I can just be who I am and define myself however I like. I believe that you were fighting for that, Frank, for the ability to simply live our lives like we choose – just like any other “normal” person gets to choose how they live their life. A “gay” label is not something to be ashamed of, but it’s also not something that has to define you. Your story is truly the epitome of this realization. Thank you.
5. Your struggle is my struggle and I will NEVER forget you.
I know I am repeating myself here, but rest assured Frank, you ill not be forgotten. Your struggle is my struggle is our struggle. It is something that we will have to keep up until every last LGBTQ person IN THE ENTIRE WORLD is able to live an autonomous life, safe from harm, shame or hatred. We will fight the good fight in your name, Frank, and never forget your kind smile and quietly intense passion. I never had the fortune of knowing you, and yet you live in my heart. Thank you.
My tears will not repay the debt I feel toward Frank Kameny, and yet they flow freely. The emotion belies this simple truth: My words, my actions and my dedication are where I step up. It’s where we ALL step up. We have come so far, and we should savor our progress. We should also never forget the men, women and everything in between that came before us. The pain, the struggle, the frustration; the success, the joy, the laughter. It is our job to not only continue the work into the future with our hard work but to honor the past with our love.
Remember: we need to respect ourselves and each other. We need to keep fighting but also burst with pride at where we are at.
And above all: Be good to each other.
For more on Frank, check out the Kameny Papers.