In 1961, four years after losing his job as a U. S. Army astronomer on account of his homosexuality, 36-year-old Frank Kameny saw his latest appeal against the dismissal rejected by the Supreme Court. However, the decision only strengthened his commitment to the wider cause: Kameny went on to become a major figure in the gay rights movement and spent the rest of his life as a full-time activist.
Below are just two letters from his papers, all of which were donated to the Library of Congress in 2009. The first was written to Nevin Feather — an employee of the Library of Congress itself — in 1962, after news that he enjoyed such things as “embracing” men reached his superiors. Feather subsequently turned to Kameny for help. The second letter was written by Kameny some months later, to Congressman Paul C. Jones, in an effort to spread the word about the Mattachine Society. Jones’s depressingly negative reply can be found at the foot of the same page.
(Source: Kameny Papers; Image: Frank Kameny with Barack Obama in 2009, via.)
UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
DATE: June 28, 1962
TO: Nevin R. Feather, Office of the Secretary
From: Robert M. Holmes, Director of Personnel and Personnel Security Officer
The Library of Congress has received a report concerning you, and as a result oif some of the information contained therein, certain questions have arisen about which we are now giving you the opportunity to present your explanation. The Library is not charging you with anything but is merely requesting your cooperation in resolving this matter. Therefore, you are asked to prepare a written response, in triplicate, to the following questions, have your statement notarized, and return it to me by the close of business July 6, 1962.
It has been reported that during 1961 you disclosed to representatives of another government agency that, on a couple of occasions, you had permitted a man to perform a homosexual act (fellatio) on you. Also, that you related that you find members of the male sex attractive; that you have been in bed with men; and that you have enjoyed embracing them.
This seems to be of serious matter to me. I must admit I am quite shook-up over this matter. Please advise me or better yet may I make an appointment with you for an interview as soon as possible. Thank you.
- Is this report true? If it is, please state whether or not your conduct in this respect has been confined to the foregoing, and if it has not, please explain.
- If the above report is true, then please explain your negative answer to that part of item 20 on the Standard Form 89, “Report of Medical History”, which reads “Have you ever had or have you now homosexual tendencies.”
- If the above report is not true then how do you account for its existence?
The Mattachine Society of Washington
The Honorable Paul C. Jones
House of Representatives
Washington 25, D. C.
August 28, 1962
Dear Mr. Jones:
Enclosed, for your interest and information, is a formal statement of the purpose of the Mattachine Society of Washington, a newly-formed organization, devoted to the improvement of the status of our country’s 15,000,000 homosexuals.
Included, also, is a copy of our news release, which was submitted to the Washington newspapers and others, and to the various press services.
The question of homosexuality, and the prejudice against it, both personal and official, is a serious one, involving, as it does, more than one out of every ten American citizens, including roughly a quarter-million in, each, the Federal Civil Service, the Armed Forces, and secutiry-sensitive positions in private industry, and at least 10% of your constituents.
We feel that the government’s approach is archaic, unrealistic, and inconsistent with basic American principles. We feel, in addition, that it is inexcusably and unnecessarily wasteful of trained manpower and of the taxpayers’ money.
We realize that this area presents you with many potential problems, some of them quite subtle and touchy ones of politics and public relations, and that they are not always subject to easy solution, but policies of repression, persecution, and exclusion will not prove to be workable ones in the case of this minority, any more than have, throughout history, in the case of other minorities. This is a problem which must be worked with, constructively, not worked against, destructively, as is now the case. A fresh approach by the Federal government is badly needed.
We welcome any comments you may have on this subject.
We will be pleased to meet with you personally, at your convenience, to discuss these and related matters.
Thank you for your consideration of our position.
THE MATTACHINE SOCIETY OF WASHINGTON
Franklin E. Kameny
[Paul Jones’s handwritten response: “I am unutterably opposed to your proposal and cannot see how any person in his right mind can condone the practices which you would justify. Please do not contaminate my mail with such filthy trash.”]