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Franklin E. Kameny (1925–2011)

Published onDec 01, 2011
Franklin E. Kameny (1925–2011)

Dr. Franklin E. Kameny died October 11, 2011, at the age of 86 of cardiac arrest. Kameny observed RV Tau stars and yellow semiregular variables from 1952 to1954, and his photoelectric measurements served as the basis of his Harvard Ph.D. thesis. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1956, Kameny taught astronomy for a year at Georgetown University. A US Army veteran during World War II, he was hired as an astronomer by the US Army Mapping Service in 1957. His astronomical career was terminated when he was fired from this position due to the discovery of his sexual orientation.

Denied his first occupation as an astronomer, Kameny became a pioneer in the struggle for equal rights and was involved in many issues leading to just and equitable treatment of all people. One of his most most notable achievements was working for the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s manual of mental disorders. One of his most recent achievements was helping to push through the Washington, DC, marriage equality act.

After a lonely 40-year struggle, Kameny recently began to receive recognition for all his work. In June of 2009, the Office of Personnel Management formally apologized for Kameny's firing and issued him their highest award. The apology letter, in Kameny's estimation, left open the possibility he'd never actually been fired. In his acceptance of the apology he sent the Office a letter, tongue-in-cheek, requesting that the Office let him know what his back pay was! Kameny was present in the Oval Office for the signing of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 2010 and was thanked for his work by both President Obama and Vice President Biden. 17th Street in Washington, DC, between P and R Streets was named "Frank Kameny Way," and Kameny's house is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Kameny's astronomical career, as short as it may have been, has not been forgotten. In the summer of 2009, his dissertation was “rediscovered” by AAVSO staff in the McAteer Library and his data - 547 observations of RV Tau type stars and other semiregular yellow variables – were added to the AAVSO International Database. Often these are the only observations of these variables on record during this time period. Kameny's unflagging determination in the face of adversity has also served as inspiration over the last year for Society members organizing the new AAS Working Group on LGBTQ Equality. The Society will award a posthumous certificate of appreciation to Dr. Kameny at the January 2012 meeting in Austin, TX.

Denied his place in the scientific community by the social conventions of the day, Dr. Kameny fought back and thereby made the world a more equal place. In that way he remains a star in his own right.

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