The Frank Kameny Papers and Archive Activism at SLA
Charles Francis, a public affairs consultant in Washington,
D.C. who founded “The Kameny Papers Project" addressed the SLA’s Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues Caucus at their annual meeting at the
2009 Annual Conference.
Mr. Francis spoke about his work with Kameny Papers Project,
an archive of letters, memorabilia, and writings of Frank Kameny. Francis
described Kameny as the “Rosa Parks” of the LGBT Rights’ movement.
Kameny, a veteran from WWII, was fired from his job in the
federal government when it was discovered he was gay. Instead of accepting the dismissal
Kameny began a letter writing campaign to administrators in the federal
government. Mr. Francis distributed copies of letters from the collection,
written by two different administrators in the federal government. The letters
were a stark contrast from language used today referring to LGBT people as “sexual
perverts not suitable for federal employment,” saying that all LGBT individuals
are “automatically a security risk” and “a disruptive factor within any
Kameny refused to accept these letters as the final answer.
He appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court. He then became an
activist and organized the first LGBT White House picketing in 1966. In the
1973 he stormed the American Psychiatric Association’s Conference and helped
motivate the association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental
disorders. Today at the age of 84 Kameny remains active in the LGBT community
and recently headlined in the Washington DC’s 2009 Capital Pride Parade. Kameny’s
papers chronicles his experiences first as an outraged dismissed employee and
later as a trailblazing activist.
The most remarkable aspect of the collection isn’t its size
(over 50,000 documents) but that the items survived. LGBT material has
historically not stood the test of time. According to Mr. Francis this could be
due to simple neglect or societal prejudice. Mr. Francis described the destruction
of the largest collection of LGBT material by Nazis in 1933, at Magnus Hirschfeld’s
library in his Institute for Sexual Research as an example of governmental
endorsed obliteration of knowledge and history. Because of the incredible loss
of knowledge and history to the LGBT community Mr. Francis sees the
preservation of LGBT material as a kind of activism.
So in 2006, when Mr. Francis first learned that Kameny still
had this material sitting in the attic of his house, he saw the importance of
this collection. Given the hostile history haunting LGBT material Mr. Francis
wasn’t sure how interested the Library of Congress would be in owning its first
openly LGBT collection. However shortly after meeting with the 20th Century
Political Historian of the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Mr. Francis
received a letter of interest from the historian that read, “A comprehensive
understanding of history requires that historians, and those who read history,
see how government policies and public attitudes affected real individuals and
how individuals reacted, adjusted, and grappled with their position.”
Mr. Francis worked with a professional appraiser to
ascertain the value of the collection. The problem however was that at the time
there were no other LGBT archival materials to compare the collection to for appraisal.
Once a value was agreed upon funds were raised via private donors to purchase
Kameny’s material and donate it to the Library of Congress. The Library of
Congress spent over a year and half indexing the collection and today the
material is available to the public in the Library’s manuscript reading room.
Mr. Francis finished his presentation by recalling a meeting
he had with Harry Rubenstein, the head of the Politics and Reform section of
the National Museum of American History. Mr. Rubenstein showed Mr. Francis that
the picket signs Kameny used at his White House protest were housed with Thomas
Jefferson’s lap desk and the inkwell Lincoln penned the Emancipation Proclamation
with. What the curator was telling Mr. Francis was that “the gay and lesbian
papers and pickets do not exist in a world apart from the American story; they
actually embody and renew America’s story.”
More information about the collection and a sample of documents
are available at http://www.kamenypapers.org/
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