This is a guest post by Ann Hemmens, a senior legal reference librarian with the Law Library of Congress. Ann has contributed a number of posts to this blog, including posts on Free Public Access to Federal Materials on Guide to Law Online, U.S. Supreme Court: Original Jurisdiction and Oral Arguments, and Domestic Violence: Resources in the United States.
The Congressional Cemetery is located in the southeast quadrant of Washington D.C., in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The 35 acre property is owned by Christ Church, and was officially named the Washington Parish Burial Ground in 1812. It is more commonly known as the Congressional Cemetery, due to its association with the U.S. Congress through the purchase of sites by Congress and the many monuments, including cenotaphs to honor former members. The cemetery is now a National Historic Landmark and is operated by the private nonprofit Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery.
Family members, history buffs, genealogists, and others visit the Congressional Cemetery. Some of the interesting stories and individuals associated with the cemetery have been mentioned in prior blog posts. Through a series of future posts we will highlight a few more of the many interesting people, headstones, and objects in the cemetery, with a particular focus on those overlapping with the law.
In the month of June, we celebrate the commemorative observance of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pride Month. In celebration of Pride Month, this post highlights two headstones in the Congressional Cemetery associated with individuals who worked to advance the equal rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community.
In 1957, Frank Kameny was fired from his federal government job as an astronomer, working in the Army Map Service, because he was gay. He sued the government. His pro se Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court, in Kameny v. Brucker, 365 U.S. 843 (1961). But he continued his work. His impact as a LGBTQ rights pioneer was acknowledged in a statement by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director John Berry in 2011. Frank Kameny’s papers are available to researchers in the Library’s Manuscript Reading Room.
Near Frank Kameny’s headstone, in an area commonly referred to as the “gay corner,” you will find many other names of interest. In 1958, Barbara Gittings founded the East Coast chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian civil rights organization in the U.S., and she became the editor of its magazine The Ladder: A Lesbian Review. Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny, along with other activists, engaged in picketing in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the White House in Washington, D.C., to call for legal equality of gays and lesbians. In 1972, she joined the American Library Association’s Task Force on Gay Liberation, and created the first version of what would later become known as The Gay Bibliography, listing titles of books and other materials presenting a positive and accepting view of the gay and lesbian community. Barbara Gittings’ headstone includes the name of her partner, Kay Tobin Lahusen.