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The Death of a Gay Activist Pioneer

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Franklin H. Kameny died on October 11th at the age of 86. Recognized as a founding father in the gay activist movement, he made his mark more than a decade before the Stonewall riots of 1969.


In a strange quirk of history, I got to know him on a more personal level the last seven months of his life, an unexpected development that took place because of my daily talk radio show, the Line of Fire. When the program began to air in his hometown of Washington, DC, in March of this year, he became a regular listener, calling in several times over the months.

The first time we spoke on the air, I told him that I genuinely admired his courage and pioneer spirit but that I categorically rejected his morals, as he was both a gay activist and a radical sexual libertarian. For his part, he was all too pleased to tell me that the God I worshiped was a “sinful, abominable, homophobic bigot who needed to repent.” That’s how our interaction began.

After I sent him a copy of my book A Queer Thing Happened to America (in which he was mentioned in the Introduction), he took up my invitation to be in contact via email, leading to several interesting e-exchanges between us.

When he learned that we both graduated from Queens College in New York (although he preceded me there by more than 30 years), he emailed me with many details about his background, writing, “As two former Queens-ites, I would be delighted to communicate with you on all of this.” I replied in kind.


When he heard me say that I mourned the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (while appreciating the fact that many LGBT’s have served our nation in the military), he wrote to me as a proud veteran of WWII: “We Gay Americans are not going away. We are not going to disappear. We are not going to become invisible or silent. And as gay people we and our homosexuality are going to have full, precise, absolute, unswerving, unyielding equality with you and your heterosexuality in EVERY aspect of societal, cultural, national, and legal functioning, bar NONE. . . .

“Gay IS Good. It IS OUR military equally along with yours.”

I replied (in part): “I know how passionately you feel about these things, I recognize how long you have fought for your ideals, and I understand how much you have sacrificed for your convictions, but I am 100% sure that in the end, God’s gracious and good ways will triumph on the earth -- either in my lifetime or after -- and you will realize that He does, in fact, have a better way than gay.

“I look forward to the day when your message is that GOD is good, not that GAY is good.”

When he heard about our participation in the “God Has a Better Way” outreach at the Pride Charlotte event last August, he took issue with me again: “You will say, at your counter- demonstration tomorrow that ‘God has a better way.’”


“I say: ‘No. You need a better god.’ For us, our homosexuality is THE best way. . . If there be a god at all, then our homosexuality is a divinely-inspired gift and blessing from that true god, to be (as I said above) enjoyed to its fullest exultantly, exuberantly and joyously and that includes sexually. THAT is TRUTH. DO get a better god. Your present one is such a shoddy inept incompetent.”

I wrote back to him that his candid email deserved a candid response, which I closed by saying: “When I read your email, I thought of a man who lived in a beautifully furnished cave and who thought that he was the happiest man alive, enjoying all the wonders and beauties of life.

“One day someone went into his cave and said to him, ‘But you’ve never seen a sunset! You’ve never heard the roar of the ocean waves or felt the water at your feet. You’ve never seen a blue sky or a moonlit sky. Oh, what you are missing!’ But the man in the cave castigated his fellow, assuring him that he was full of judgmentalism and bigotry towards cave-dwellers. [I was not calling gays cave-dwellers; I was illustrating how limited one’s perspective can be without realizing it.]

“I pray you will experience something more wonderful than the glories of nature just described. I pray that you will meet with the love of the heavenly Father.


“Wishing you that sunset and more,


He called the show for the last time one week before he died, wanting to weigh in on a different subject, namely that regardless of ethnicity or color, there is only one race, the human race. He was appreciative of the fact that I recognized his voice and spoke graciously to him.

If we had the opportunity to interact more, I’m quite sure we would have found ourselves passionately divided on many key moral and social issues, but I’m equally sure of this: If there were more people on the side of conservative, biblical values who had the commitment, tenacity, and fearlessness of the late Frank Kameny, the world would be a much better place.

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