This is a version of the nomination letter sent to the AAS Council:
To the Secretary of the AAS Council:
I am writing to formally request that the AAS award a prize to Frank
Kameny for exceptional service by an astronomer in advancing the
As you may know, Dr. Kameny is today recognized as one of the
"founding fathers" of the gay rights movement in the United States and
was, not coincidentally, an astronomer.
After serving in WWII and then receiving his PhD in astronomy from
Harvard, Dr. Kameny took a job with the US Army Map Service in July
1957. Late that year he was fired for being homosexual, and the
following year he was barred from federal employment on
those grounds. He recently said "If I'd been born heterosexual, I
would have gotten married and had a family and at this point been a
retired, very successful astronomer and that would have been that."
Dr. Kameny filed the first employment discrimination suit on the
grounds of sexual orientation against the federal government, and took
his appeal up to the Supreme Court in 1961, which denied his petition.
Thereafter, Dr. Kameny pursued a lifelong quest for full equality for
homosexuals in this country, which was a lonely fight for the first
few decades, and especially before the Stonewall riots. He organized
the first public protests for gay rights in America with a picket line
at the White House.
Dr. Kameny was the first openly gay candidate for public office, the
first openly gay candidate for Congress, and the first openly gay
person to receive a municipal appointment. His more notable causes
have included repealing the District of Colombia sodomy laws (he
drafted the bill that passed in 1993) and successfully campaigning to
remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association Manual
of Mental Disorders (in 1973).
A good description of many aspects of Dr. Kameny’s legacy is available
here. An interview with Dr. Kameny that
briefly mentions some of the roles the AAS played in his life can be
found here. If the Council
or a prize committee would like more information about Dr. Kameny’s
work or other supporting materials I would he happy to help gather
History is finally catching up with Dr. Kameny. He has recently
received numerous honors for his lifelong civil rights work, including
a street in DC named for him, his home designated a DC historic
landmark, his papers collected by the Library of Congress, his picket
signs acquired by the Smithsonian, and recognition last year by
President Obama. In 2006 the American Psychiatric Association awarded
him the first John M. Fryer, MD Award for his efforts.
Though Dr. Kameny's dissertation work on the photoelectric light
curves RV Tau and yellow semiregular variables has received scant
citations over the decades, it does not seem inappropriate that the
AAS recognize the distinguished service by one of its own, especially
since his professional career was cut short for reasons that today
would be intolerable to the AAS. How many AAS members today can
happily pursue their calling and their lives in part because of Dr.
Kameny's lifelong efforts to protest his wrongful termination? A AAS
award would be especially fitting given the circumstances that
triggered his activism.
Of course, civil rights are and always will be inherently political,
but each advance eventually ceases to be partisan when respected
institutions accept it as fundamental. The AAS can reaffirm its
commitment to equality for all its members by acknowledging the
universal nature of the bulk of Dr. Kameny's mission.
There is no existing award that is completely appropriate for Dr.
Kameny. The best option would be the George van Biesbroeck Prize
(honoring "a living individual for long-term extraordinary or
unselfish service to astronomy"), but this prize is intended for
late-career professional astronomers for service to the field per se.
And so I am requesting that a new prize be established. The new prize
would honor past or present AAS members, or astronomers eligible for
full membership, whose extraordinary service outside the context of
research astronomy is worthy of recognition and falls outside the
scope of the existing awards. It would be, in short, to be given to
those outstanding Americans who make us proud to call ourselves
I suggest that this new prize be awarded occasionally when a truly
exceptional nomination is received for an astronomer whose work is not
covered by the other awards. Future nominees for the award might
include George Wallerstein (for his support of the UNCF) or Chris
Chyba (for his work with nuclear nonproliferation). Certainly the
existence of the award would bring other worthy astronomers to the
prize committee’s attention.
I further suggest that this new award be named for its exemplar and
first recipient, Franklin Edward Kameny.
I have solicited co-nominations from several colleagues, which the
Council should receive under separate cover. I understand that any
new award would need to be endowed, and so I have begun to collect
pledges of funds for this purpose.
Finally, I have established that Dr. Kameny, 87, still travels
occasionally and is an excellent public speaker. Dr. Kameny has
mentioned attending AAS meetings in the mid-50’s, which would seem to
establish that he is, indeed, a former member of the Society.