On the eve of gay pride weekend, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has apologized to veteran activist Frank Kameny for firing him in 1957 solely because of his homosexuality. The letter, from the director of OPM, says in full:
Dear Dr. Kameny:
In what we know today was a shameful action, the United States Civil Service Commission in 1957 upheld your dismissal from your job solely on the basis of your sexual orientation. In one letter to you, an agency official wrote that the Government "does not hire homosexuals and will not permit their employment..." He went on to say that "the homosexual is automatically a security risk" and that he "frequently becomes a disruptive personnel factor within any organization."
With the fervent passion of a true patriot, you did not resign yourself to your fate or quietly endure this wrong. With courage and strength, you fought back. And so today, I am writing to advise you that this policy, which was at odds with the bedrock principles underlying the merit-based civil service, has been repudiated by the United States Government, due in large part to your determination and life's work, and to the thousands of Americans whose advocacy your words have inspired.
Thus, the civil service laws, rules and regulations now provide that it is illegal to discriminate against federal employees or applicants based on matters not related to their ability to perform their jobs, including their sexual orientation. Furthermore, I am happy to inform you that the Memorandum signed by President Obama on June 17, 2009 directs the Office of Personnel Management—the successor to the CSC--to issue guidance to all executive departments and agencies regarding their obligations to comply with these laws, rules, and regulations.
And by virtue of the authority vested in me as Director of the Office Of Personnel Management, it is my duty and great pleasure to inform you that I am adding my support, along with that of many other past Directors, for the repudiation of the reasoning of the 1957 finding by the United States Civil Service Commission to dismiss you from your job solely on the basis of your sexual orientation. Please accept our apology for the consequences of the previous policy of the United States government, and please accept the gratitude and appreciation of the United States Office of Personnel Management for the work you have done to fight discrimination and protect the merit-based civil service system.
Sincerely yours, John Berry, Director
How times have changed since 1957. Kameny's papers are now archived at the Library of Congress and were the subject of a special Smithsonian Exhibit. You can see some of the more interesting correspondence, photos, and 1960s picket signs from the Kameny papers here. He organized protests in front of the White House in 1965, when sodomy was still criminalized in 49 states. He lobbied the APA to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, finally succeeding in 1973. And so much more. No single living American has advanced the cause of equality for gays and lesbians more than he.
It has been my privilege to know Frank for about ten years. Now in his 80s, he is principled, fearless, cantankerous, and relentless.
Frank's answer to OPM: "Apology accepted."
UPDATE: With a Kameny-esque mix of humor, seriousness, and defiance, Frank emails this:
I responded too "quickly on the draw" in saying only "Apology accepted."
In 1957-58, I appealed my firing to the chairman of the Civil Service Commission — John Berry's predecessor several steps removed. The bureaucracy sometimes moves slowly, but, after 52 years, my appeal has apparently now been granted.
THEREFORE, as of noon, yesterday, June 24, I consider myself re-hired, and am inquiring as to when and where I should report for work — or to whom a letter of retirement resignation should be addressed.
Further, I am looking forward to receipt of a check for 52 years of back pay, which I can well use.
But, more seriously, in a phrase that I've used in a related connection recently, all this is like a story-book ending where all issues are resolved. I'm usually not very emotional, but I haven't really come back down to ground yet in all of this.