Saturday, October 27, 2012

Jane Rigby's talk about Frank Kameny

I just found that Jane Rigby's talk at Goddard about Frank Kameny is available on YouTube.  Really worth listening to, featuring lots of artefacts from the Kameny Papers at the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

(40463) Frankkameny = 1999 RE44

It's official:  Frank Kameny has been immortalized with an asteroid name.  Doc Kinne had an important role in this, and writes about how it happend on his blog.

You can see the official listing at the Minor Planet Center here.

The full citation in Minor Planets Circular 79911 reads:

(40463) Frankkameny = 1999 RE44

Discovered 1999 Sept. 15 by G. W. Billings at Calgary.

Frank L. Kameny (1925–2011) trained as a variable star astronomer in the 1950s, but joined the Civil Rights struggle. His contributions included removing homosexuality from being termed a mental disorder in 1973 and shepherding passage of the District of Columbia marriage equality law in 2009.
The AP has an article out today on the topic, which has been picked up widely.

The orbital elements of (40463) Frankkameny are:

ω: 30.53112 degrees
Ω : 303.00744 degrees
i: 2.45353 degrees
e: 0.1807671
a: 2.7788741 AU
M: 316.98943 degrees (epoch 30 Sep 2012 (midnight UT, presumably))

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thursday, January 19, 2012

AAS Press Release

The AAS press release is now available.

Kameny Poster

Here is a copy of a historical abstract describing Dr. Kameny's astronomy career from the Austin meeting.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How it happened

I want to thank everyone who made the recognition happen, and make sure credit lies where it is due.  It's clear that the event was well received.  AAS President Debbie Elmegreen told me that she received numerous complements after the ceremony.

From my perspective, this was a lot like pushing a big rock downhill -- the initial "grassroots" push took a lot of work (emails, Facebook page, blog, drafting documents...), but once the letters of support started flooding in it was clear that there was support on the Council and among influential people in the AAS, especially members of the nascent LGBTIQ working group, and the effort took on a life of its own.

I wasn't privy to the discussion within the Council, but I have gathered that while there was some resistance to the award, the overwhelming sentiment that this was the right thing to do led to a unanimous decision for the special recognition last Tuesday.  In particular, Pat Knezek and Nick Suntzeff offered early support for the effort and drafted the language for the award, Ed Guinan was my liaison to the Council and helped me navigate the politics and bureaucracy nimbly, and AAS President Debra Elmegreen was supportive of the decision and getting Charles Francis in town to accept the award.

Anecdotally, there has apparently been a sea change in the last couple of years in the Council's attitude toward these issues;  it's possible that if this effort had started some years earlier, it would have stalled.  So, thanks to those who voted for our current Council members; and for the rest of us:  our votes clearly matter, so don't neglect AAS elections!

I also wasn't privy to all of the forms of pressure on the Council or the organization of the ceremony itself, but it is clear to me that members of the new Working Group on LGBTIQ Equality were instrumental in making this effort so successful.  In particular, I had many fruitful interactions with Van Dixon, who worked hard on this, and Jane Rigby contributed to the announcement and certificate text.

Finally, it's very important to recognize the "tail wind" that we were working with: everyone who sent in a letter, and everyone who spread the word and helped make the nomination go "viral."  Gina Brissenden helped a lot here with her Rolodex, and Kelle Cruz helped me figure out the whole "FaceBook" thing.

President Elmegreen told me that she thought the number of letters of support for this effort was greater than for any other nomination the Council had ever seen.  So thanks to everyone who sent in a letter of support, which made this not so much a nomination but a mandate.

Next up:  a new AAS prize!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Text of Charles Francis's Remarks

The text of the awards ceremony is here.

I should add that during the applause following President Elmegreen's remarks, many people in the audience were on their feet.  It was a very touching moment.


Today at the awards ceremony at the Austin AAS meeting, Charles Francis of the Kameny Papers project accepted a certificate of recognition from the president of the AAS honoring Dr. Kameny's efforts.

It was a touching ceremony.  Mr. Francis described Dr. Kameny's early interest in astronomy, and presented a copy of a field guide to astronomy from Dr. Kameny's personal collection to the newly formed LGBTIQ working group of the AAS.  He spoke of it as Dr. Kameny's "rosebud", a childhood symbol of a dream denied.  Dr. Jane Rigby also made a few remarks, and brought Dr. Kameny's thesis.  She read from the acknowledgements some of the more prominent names (Payne-Gaposchkin, Abt, Arp, Blaco...)

I'll post a copy of Mr. Francis's remarks if I can.  My understanding is that the press office is working on this, too.

I tried to make a video of President Elmegreen's presentation;  I missed the first few seconds:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Prize Officially on AAS Austin Schedule

The award ceremony is set!
The award will be accepted by Charles Francis, co-founder of the Kameny Papers Project.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Memorial Service on Tuesday

There is a memorial service for Dr. Kameny on Tuesday, Nov. 15, at 4:30 in Room 345 of the Cannon House Office Building, next to the US Capitol.  Announcement in the Blade here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

AAVSO Obituary

The latest newsletter (October 2011, No. 50) of the American Association of Variable Star Observers features an obituary for Dr. Kameny.  It also reveals that the light curves from Dr. Kameny's thesis have been digitized and incorporated into the AAVSO International Database.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Some memories of Dr. Kameny

Memories of Frank Kameny from Ken Phillips (, University College London:

I first met Frank Kameny when I was still a PhD student, in 1971, on my first visit to the US, and just about to embark on a project at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for the OAO-C spacecraft, later to become Copernicus on its launch. My group at University College London (Mullard Space Science Lab) had a small X-ray telescope on board. I was given Dr Kameny's name by Antony Grey, who was a gay activist in London, as a contact. With much nervousness and from a public phone at GSFC, I telephoned Dr Kameny on my arrival in the DC area. He suggested we meet up in DC, which we subsequently did, at a restaurant in a huge bar that I think was then called Grand Central, in a derelict area of SE Washington. On the way there, in Frank's car, and just a few sentences into our first conversation, Frank asked me about my background and reason for visiting the US,and when I did so, he revealed that he like me had been an astronomer, working on photometry of RV Tauri variable stars. He asked me about my work as a solar and X-ray astrophysicist, which I told him. All this amazed me, I hardly realized that there could be other gay scientists like myself let alone someone working in almost my identical field. Even more curiously, I was always interested in variable stars myself, as an enthusiastic amateur in my teens, and had read about RV Tauri stars from a 1954 book by Cecilia Payne-Gaposchin which I still have on my bookshelves. I understand Frank's thesis adviser was Dr Payne-Gaposchkin at Harvard.

I met Frank on and off a number of times during a postdoc I had, also at Goddard, between 1972 and 1975. As I remember, he was a supporter of a DC-area gay/lesbian scientist group which I attended a couple of times. Despite his atheism, he once came to the DC branch of the Metropolitan Community Church in the early 1980s, and gave a stirring account of his early years of activism. He was introduced by Larry Uhrig, the MCC pastor, as the "Oldest Known Homosexual" which he laughingly appreciated. I got my friend Jeannie Johnson to take a photo of Frank and me on this occasion. I last saw him at a book reading by Larry Kramer at DC's Lambda Rising bookstore in 2004. There was at one stage almost an altercation between Larry Kramer and Frank about some issue which I forget, then someone identified Frank to Larry Kramer who was amazed that his opponent was in fact an old-time friend. They ended up in each other's arms in an amiable embrace. I'm not sure, but I'll bet this emotional moment was written up in the Washington "Blade" or one of the other local GLBT newspapers at the time. Frank then seemed to be in fine fettle still. I was living in DC at the time when on a NASA senior fellowship, also at Goddard.

As Americans are wont to say, they broke the mould when Frank died, there will never again be his like. His incredible bravery in the early years of gay activism, against a background of ultra-conservative McCarthyism and its aftermath, was and always will be an inspiration to me and I'm sure the many others Frank came into contact with. May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Interesting details of Dr. Kameny's career

If anyone has any personal memories of Dr. Kameny, please post them or send them along.

"Doc" Kinne's website here has some interesting tidbits about Dr. Kameny's life:

Dr. Kameny's thesis had been A Photoelectric Study of Some RV Tauri and Yellow Semiregular Variables. "Why RV Tauri stars," I'd asked.

"Well, like any graduate student to wants to get a Ph.D. you have to find a thesis topic. My advisor, Dr. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, suggested it. I didn't know anything about RV Tauri stars at the time so I educated myself about them, took the data, and wrote the thesis." Dr. Kameny said is largest regret is that after the thesis has been written Harvard University allocated the sum of $200 to have a paper written, to be published in the ApJ, based on the thesis results. This never got done.

In taking his Ph.D. at Harvard in the 1950s Frank has strong memories working with the giants of the field - Harlow Shapley, and Bart Bok specifically, as well as Dr. Payne-Gaposchkin. He also remembers Margaret Mayall working in the Harvard Observatory at the time along with Dr. Dorrit Hoffleit. Frank's memory, as he told me, was for numbers, not people, but after 50 years he definitely had a memory of working with these folks.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


It comes sadly just a few days too late for Dr. Kameny to hear the news, but the AAS Executive Council has just unanimously decided to recognize Dr. Kameny at the AAS Austin meting. 

Thank you to everyone who wrote in letters of nomination.  They certainly helped convince the Council that this action had broad support across the AAS membership.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Articles about Dr. Kameny

At the conclusion of the war, Kameny returned to Queens College after being discharged from the Army in 1946. He completed his undergraduate work less than two years later and began his studies at Harvard. While there, he taught astronomy at Yale University and later traveled to Arizona and Northern Island, where he conducted research in astronomy at internationally acclaimed observatories. After receiving his PhD. at Harvard in 1956, he began teaching astronomy at Georgetown University.

In 1957, he left Georgetown after being recruited by the government to take a job as an astronomer with the Army Map Service in Washington. The nation’s race against the Russians for superiority in space had just begun in full force. Kameny had set his sights, among other things, on a possible role in the U.S. space program. A short time later, Congress created the National Aeronautics & Space Administration. Kameny has said he would have seriously considered applying to become an astronaut. But that was not to come about.

...His longtime friend and fellow activist, Craig Howell, has said that had it not been for the government’s discovery of his sexual orientation, Kameny would likely have become one of the world’s eminent astronomers.

Prize Update

Sadly Frank Kameny died on Tuesday night (National Coming Out Day,
ironically enough). The Wall Street Journal has a particularly good
article on him

Tomorrow (Friday) the AAS Executive Committee is considering language
for a formal recognition at Austin. The language proposed by the LGBT
subcommittee has been altered slightly by the LGBT working group to
change the language to the past tense.

Our plan is to continue to push for recognition in Austin, and simply make the
recognition posthumous. It is possible that we could ask his sister
(apparently his only survivor) to accept the award, if she would be
willing, but this is just an idea.

There is still an active push for a "Contributions to Society" type
award, but it will take a while to get established. Once established,
Dr. Kameny probably will not be able to win it posthumously, but given
the impetus I think we have a strong argument to name it after him.
Strategically, I think having a formal recognition in Austin will add
to the existing precedent of the AAS acknowledging non-astronomy contributions,
which will help overcome some philosophical objections to the award.

The minor downside to this approach is that the motivation for an
Austin award was to get recognition in quickly due to Dr. Kameny's
advanced age, with the understanding that the recognition would not be
seen as a substitute for a future award. That motivation now has been
mitigated somewhat, but since he is now presumably ineligible for a
later award anyway we are proceeding with the recognition.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Official action

The latest AAS newsletter officially reports that the Council:
32. Approved the establishment of an ad hoc
committee to explore the creation of a new AAS
prize for an astronomer who made a significant
contribution to society at large, not just astronomy

33. Approved establishing an LGBT WG [Working Group, presumably]

The wheels are turning. Thanks to all who submitted endorsements!

Friday, June 24, 2011


I have just learned that a AAS subcommittee and the AAS LGBTQ liaison have forwarded a proposal to the Executive Council to honor Dr. Kameny at the Austin meeting in January. This proposal will be taken up this fall (October I think), and the prospects for passage appear very good. The form of the honor is not clear, but will probably be an ad hoc special recognition.

Regarding a named prize, the gears of the bureaucracy move slowly, but they are definitely moving. A subcommittee has been formed to consider creating a new formal prize, with parameters like eligibility and frequency to be determined, that would be suitable for cases like Dr. Kameny's: astronomers who do noteworthy work outside the field. It takes time for this to happen, and if even if it happens quickly there will have to be a formal, proper fundraising effort, which will take even more time (even with our head start). If such a prize is eventually instituted, it is reasonable to assume that it would be named for someone, and that person could be Dr. Kameny, in principle. It is also reasonable to assume that Dr. Kameny would be a natural recipient for this prize.

I have been told that the committee does not want to wait for this deliberate process to conclude before recognizing Dr. Kameny, thus the proposal for a special award in Austin. I was told that the intention of this award is not as a replacement for a later honor, which is still being seriously considered, but will take a while.

My personal take on this is that things are moving as quickly and as well as could be hoped for. This is all very good news!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

AAS Boston update

Mixed news from Council regarding the establishment of a new prize, but the bottom line is that there is support for giving Dr. Kameny some sort of award. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Spring Deadline Closed

The deadline for submission of cosponsorships to the AAS Council in time for the Summer 2011 meeting has closed. You can still help by pledging toward endowing the prize and at Buy Frank a Drink.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Welcome to the Kameny Prize Website

Dr. Frank Kameny is a "Founding Father" of the gay rights movement and, not coincidentally, an astronomer. This page is the Web presence of the effort to have the American Astronomical Society award a prize to Dr. Kameny for his lifelong efforts to achieve equality for GLBT Americans.

The AAS currently has no formal mechanism for recognizing astronomers for praiseworthy accomplishments outside of the context of astronomy. This nomination would establish such a prize, to be awarded occasionally, and name it after its exemplar and first recipient, Franklin Edward Kameny.

Our goal is to have the Council approve the new prize when it meets before the May 2011 Boston meeting. The final deadline for full members to submit cosponsorships is May 1, 2011.

You can learn more about Dr. Kameny in the nomination letter or from the biographical information pages.

You can learn how you can help on the "How you can help" page.

You can further support the effort through our Facebook page.

Post a comment here to describe your contribution to the effort, and thanks for your support!