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Kameny papers exhibit opens at Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has added two documents “of major historical significance” from the papers of gay rights leader Frank Kameny to a widely viewed public exhibit about the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

The library quietly placed the Kameny documents on display at its Thomas Jefferson Building across the street from the U.S. Capitol in late April without publicly announcing the development.

On Monday, organizers of the Kameny Papers Project announced in a press release that the documents were on display as part of the library’s “Creating the United States” exhibit.

The release says inclusion of the Kameny documents represents the first time “the history of gay and lesbian Americans” has been included by the library “in the story of the Constitution and its evolution as a living instrument of freedom.”

In 2006, the Kameny Papers Project donated about 50,000 documents and artifacts to the Library of Congress on Kameny’s behalf that the gay rights pioneer had produced during his more than 50 years of

work on behalf of LGBT equality. The documents and artifacts, such as gay rights protest signs from the 1960s, are available to researchers. Kameny, 85, began working on gay rights activities in the late 1950s.

One of the documents now on display at the Library of Congress is Kameny’s 1961 petition to the U.S. Supreme Court contesting a decision in 1957 by the then U.S. Army Map Service to fire him as a civilian astronomer because he was gay. The petition is the first such document ever filed before the Supreme Court pertaining to a civil rights violation based on sexual orientation.

The Supreme Court denied Kameny’s petition, upholding the longstanding policy of the then U.S. Civil Service Commission banning gays and lesbians from working for the federal government. The policy remained in effect until 1975.

The second Kameny document included in the library’s exhibit is the original copy of a 1966 letter from John W. Macy Jr., the then director of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, to the Mattachine Society of Washington, the city’s first gay rights group that Kameny founded in the early 1960s.

In the letter, Macy sought to justify the federal government’s ban on gay employees by citing “the revulsion of other employees by homosexual conduct.”

The two Kameny documents are scheduled to remain on display at the library until October.


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