Kameny Home Added to the National Register of Historic Places
Washington, DC – November 2, 2010
The Rainbow History Project and the DC Preservation League are pleased to announce the inclusion of the late Dr. Franklin E. Kameny’s home and office in the National Register of Historic Places. Dr. Kameny, leader of the gay civil rights movement and creator of a more militant gay activism in the 1960s, passed away on October 11, 2011. The Kameny home becomes only the second site in the United States recognized for its connection to this historic civil rights struggle. The Stonewall Inn in New York City was the first site recognized. In 2000, it was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks reserved for the most significant historic properties of national significance. Rainbow History began the nomination process for the Kameny historic site in 2003.
Mark Meinke, co-founder and former chair of Rainbow History Project, notes that the recognition of the Kameny home is significant for all LGBT historic sites in the United States. “With this recognition, the way is open for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender historic sites to be recognized across the nation and for LGBT civil rights history to take its place amongst the United States’ historic struggles for equality.” He hopes that the Harvey Milk camera shop in San Francisco and the Henry Gerber house in Chicago, already recognized locally, will be added to the National Register.
Since 1962, the ordinary brick Colonial Revival house at 5020 Cathedral Avenue, NW, in the Palisades section of Washington, D.C., had served as Dr. Kameny’s home and office. Built in 1955, the home had been added to the D.C. Inventory of Historic Properties on February 26, 2009. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Kameny home and office served as a de facto center of gay civil rights organizing in the United States.
After being discharged from the Army Map Service in 1957 for his homosexuality, Kameny waged a four-year legal fight against the notion that sexual orientation would make one unfit or unsuitable for federal service. Although the Supreme Court declined to hear his case, it was the first time that homosexuals made a claim to equal rights under the law. Trained as an astronomer, Kameny transformed his personal struggle into a cultural struggle that radicalized the gay rights movement and seized the rhetorical high ground.
In 1961, Kameny co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington (MSW). MSW was committed to achieving an equal legal and social footing for homosexuals. The organization focused on federal employment discrimination, assisting and counseling those who had been fired or disadvantaged while at the same time crafting the legal basis for overturning federal discrimination on a national level. By the 1970s, the organization’s work compelled government agencies to liberalize their policies by forcing public scrutiny of hiring and security clearance decisions. Kameny also recognized that changing society’s image of homosexuals and dispelling common perceptions would help open the door to legal equality. Among the obstacles was the stigma of the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of homosexuality as a mental illness. In 1973, Kameny and his allies succeeded in persuading the APA to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. The Mattachine Society also ran a program of outreach to churches.
Disdaining any apology for his homosexuality, Kameny coined the slogan Gay is Good. Kameny was also prominent in local public service. In 1971, when the District of Columbia gained a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives, he was the first openly gay person to run for Congress. In 1975, he became the District’s first openly gay official when appointed to the Human Rights Commission.
The National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of historically significant properties. It was established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, and currently includes more than 87,000 historic buildings, structures, districts, sites, and objects.
Rainbow History Project collects, preserves, and promotes the history of the metropolitan Washington, DC lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Contact: Philip Clark – 202-670-7470 or [email protected].
The DC Preservation League (DCPL), is Washington’s only citywide nonprofit dedicated to preserving and protecting the historic and built environment of the nation’s capital. Contact: Rebecca Miller – 202.783.5144 or http://www.dcpreservation.org