Frank Kameny (1925 — 2011)
"I intend to play an active role in the determination of my own fate."
In 1957 America was stunned to learn that the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite. Soviet dominance of space was seen as a threat to the United States. The nation needed astronomers, and there were few as qualified as Dr. Frank Kameny, a Harvard Ph.D., who was working for the U.S. Army Map Service. While Sputnik was orbiting the Earth, Kameny – who was openly gay/closeted at the time – was being grilled by government investigators about his sexual orientation. He was deemed a pervert and fired. He never worked for a paycheck again, but did something no one had ever done before: he fought back in the courts and in the court of public opinion. In 1965, he organized one of first gay rights protests – a picket line in front of the White House – four years before the Stonewall rebellion. He filed countless lawsuits on behalf of federal workers who were fired because they were gay, eventually winning two decisions that would force the government to change its hiring policies. He brought pressure on the psychiatric establishment to change its position that homosexuality was a mental illness and in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association did just that. Had the United States not chosen to get rid of its gay and lesbian employees, Frank Kameny might have had a stellar career in the space program. Instead, he ignited a movement that changed a nation and made life better for generations of LGBT workers in the federal government and in workplaces across the country.