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Affirming Sexual Freedom as a Fundamental Human Right

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Sex and Politics

Dr. Franklin Edward Kameny

Once upon a time there was a person much like you or me.  This person didn’t have any super powers or special gifts from another world.  But this person knew something vital and very, very important.

This person knew that he was a human being – no better and no worse than every other human being.  And this person knew that there were some fundamental human rights to which he was entitled simply by virtue of his being.

When the “powers that be” sought to deny him those rights he refused to allow them to be taken away.  He lived one of my favorite sayings, by Alice Walker, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”  Frank never believed he didn’t have the power and he was willing to step up and speak out to ensure that his rights and the rights of every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender person were recognized.

Dr. Kameny died Tuesday night, October 11, 2011, fittingly on National Coming Out Day.

I had the tremendous honor of working with Frank on several Woodhull issues, and I know that many, many words will be written and shared about Frank now and in the future.  I’d like to share some of Frank’s own words with you, because no one could speak for Frank as well as he could!

Frank had been invited to speak at Professor Bob Connelly’s class at American University.  Here’s the final question from the class, asking Frank how he wished to be remembered.  Many of us are familiar with Frank’s coda, “Gay is Good,” but not entirely aware of its genesis, and the kinds of logic and messaging that Frank gave to everything he said and wrote.

Professor Connelly’s partner, Bob Witeck, shared the following transcript:

Professor Bob Connelly:   Is there one thing you’ve done that stands above all others, as what you are most proud of?

Dr. Franklin Kameny:  Well, yes. The one thing I’ve said, if I want to be remembered for nothing else, it’s back in July, 1968 I coined the slogan “Gay Is Good.”

And that really, it sort of, it epitomizes really my entire approach to all the issues. You have to take an affirmative approach on these things. In other words, if I may expound for a moment — people tend almost automatically, since we are under attack, and we are under criticism, they tend to respond defensively and reactively.  Around then, taking the next step and responding on the offensive and proactively. In other words, the tendency — we’re told that homosexuality is bad in all sorts of different ways so the response tends to be “It’s not bad.”

You have to take the next step and say, “Not really, it’s not bad.  It’s good.”  It’s not that same sex marriage will not damage the institution of marriage. Same sex marriage will enhance the institution of marriage. You have to consciously take the next step and move over into being affirmative and so here again, it’s not that gay is not bad, it’s that gay is affirmative and good.

That came out of, in those days — again you have to go back to the issues of that day and the rhetoric of that day — in June of 1968 I saw on television an item of Stokely Carmichael leading a group of students at a college in Salisbury Maryland, chanting, “Black Is Beautiful.” And again, same thing. It’s not that black is not ugly, or in other ways lesser.  We’re going to take the next step, “Black Is Beautiful,” and I realized I had to do exactly the same thing.  I tossed around words and phrases. “Homosexuality” was obviously too clinical. “Good” was sort of bland; on the other hand it covered all the possibilities. Some people had suggested to me, “Gay Is Great,” but that sounded a little bit too informal. So ultimately I came up with that. It was adopted in August at a meeting of what was then the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations as a slogan.

Meanwhile, in those days, Playboy had a separate little publication called the Playboy Forum, and they had a long article, just about that time, July, August, September, which was sort of, at best wishy-washy about the gay issue.  So I wrote them a long letter — I can be verbose at times — and I included “Gay Is Good.”  And to my pleased astonishment, the following February or March of 1969, they published my whole letter under their heading, “Gay Is Good.” And that sent it out to the whole public, and we’re off and running.

Dr. Franklin Kameny, May 21, 1925 – October 11, 2011