Frank Kameny: Google doodle honours astronomer and gay rights activist

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Frank Kameny addresses a crowd as a street in Washington DC is named in his honour in 2010

Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Frank Kameny, a US astronomer who campaigned tirelessly for gay rights, has been honoured with a Google doodle in celebration of Pride Month, which is held in June.

In 1957, while working as an astronomer at the US Army Map Service, Kameny was arrested in Lafayette Park in Washington DC, a popular cruising area at the time, and accused of being a “sexual pervert”. The police report was passed to his employers, and when he refused to discuss his sexual orientation with them, he was fired.

Unable to get another job, Kameny sued the US Civil Service Commission for unfair dismissal, arguing that civil rights could not be withheld due to sexual orientation. He lost twice in federal courts and his appeal was refused by the Supreme Court, but Kameny became a full-time campaigner.

He organised some of the first public protests for gay rights in the US. One notable achievement was his campaign for the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as “mental disorder”, which it did in 1973. Two years later, the Civil Service Commission finally reversed its ban on LGBTQ employees. He also fought to repeal Washington DC’s sodomy laws, which didn’t happen until 1993.

Kameny served with the US Army in Europe during the second world war before completing his bachelor’s degree in physics at Queens College, New York, in 1948. He then obtained a master’s degree at Harvard University and worked as a teaching fellow there until completing his PhD in astronomy.

In 2009, his dissertation on semi-regular variable stars was rediscovered by the American Association of Variable Star Observers and his observations were added to the group’s database.

In the same year, Kameny finally received an apology for his firing from the Office of Personnel Management, and he was issued with its highest award. US president Barack Obama personally thanked him for his work.

Kameny died of a cardiac arrest in 2011, aged 86. The American Astronomical Society awarded him a posthumous certificate of appreciation at their 2012 meeting.

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