Gay is good. "If I am remembered for anything I hope it will be that," Frank Kameny said of the phrase he coined, in a 2009 AP interview. The gay rights pioneer died yesterday at age 86; the Washington Post notes that Oct. 11 is, fittingly, National Coming Out Day. Kameny, who had a PhD from Harvard, was dismissed from his job as a government astronomer in 1957, reportedly after federal investigators told him they had information he was gay. But he didn't go quietly.
Kameny sued and lost in lower courts, but pressed on with a lengthy brief in 1961 that is now regarded as the first civil rights claim based on sexual orientation to be brought to the US Supreme Court. Four years later he was part of the first group to stage a gay rights protest in front of the White House; many of the signs and buttons used there, in front of the Pentagon, and in other locations are now kept at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. He received a formal apology for being fired solely based on his sexual orientation in 2009. Says the director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, "While so many have been impatient about the pace of progress, there was Frank, insisting we recognize that, in the last two years, he was regularly invited as a guest of honor by the very government that fired him simply for being gay." (Read more gay rights stories.)