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Frank Kameny: The Accidental Activist
Comments () | Published October 4, 2010

Were you written off by the media as sort of a freak candidate?

Not terribly much that I’m aware of. Keep in mind that once we got the requisite number of nominating signatures, I was a full-fledged candidate. Five thousand signatures were needed, and we had 7,800—they granted me that. And of course whenever there were television debates, it gave me ample chance to get out to the public on the issues.

Did people treat you seriously?

Yes, we were treated seriously. On the other hand, there were overt verbal expressions of hostility—and you simply fight those verbally in the manner in which they come.

How did your opponents treat you?

There was contention and disagreement, but I usually make my arguments very well.

On gay issues was there agreement?

The list of candidates was a mixed one. Walter Fauntroy, who won, is still hostile on the issue. He and I had a reasonably civil relationship—one time he and I and a couple of other people picketed the South African Embassy, and we all got arrested. I haven’t communicated with him for decades. In general, interactions were civil even if there were disagreements on some questions.

Two candidates came from the far left, and on gay issues there was no disagreement; our issues were simply not theirs. In the first years of home rule, we had a few nastily homophobic city-council members. We haven’t had anything like that in recent years.

What is now the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, which was founded in 1971, formed out of the nucleus of my campaign committee. The gay community has been credited with getting Marion Barry the necessary margin of votes that won him the mayoralty 1978, and he’s always indicated his appreciation, even with his opposition in recent times to same-sex marriage. With that, I think he was just trying to be a smart politician in terms of what he perceived as the sentiments of his ward, correctly or incorrectly. Otherwise, he’s been a good political friend.

Do you think the gay-rights movement is generally over?

We aren’t that successful yet. There is still vigorous opposition, and a lot of people are picking up on it—fundamentalists, the conservative right, which is very influential. Now there’s going to be a fight, when Congress gets around to it, on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, just as there was on the hate-crimes law. We still have the battle, which I predict will be nasty, on the Defense of Marriage Act. Societally, there’s great cultural resistance once you get out of the large cities.

All of the polls seem to indicate that if we live long enough—I won’t, you will—attitudes will be very much more relaxed. But they will only stay that way if we continue to push in that direction. If we don’t, things will move backward.

What have you learned about Washington?

Over the years, I’ve become educated as a politician of sorts, which I never would have imagined, in terms of both municipal and federal politics—two very different things. In most of the country, people don’t understand that there is a municipal Washington and a federal one, and I’ve had to get to know both.

What have you learned about life?

The one thing in which I have absolute faith is the validity of the product of my own intellectual processes. Therefore, if society and I, or the world and I, differ on something, I’ll give them a second chance to make their point, and I’ll take a second chance to make my point. And if we both still differ, there will be a war. And I tend not to lose my wars.

This article first appeared in the October 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.

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