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Congressional Cemetery Series: Celebrating Pride Month

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 OnlineU.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.

 

Photograph of grave and headstone of Franklin E. Kameny. The headstone reads "In Memory of Franklin E Kameny PFC US Army World War II May 21 1925 Oct 11 2011 Germany" In front of the headstone is a second grave marker reading "Gay Is Good".

Franklin E. Kameny headstone in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ann Hemmens.

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.

 

Photograph of Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen's headstone. The headstone reads Gittings Lahusen Barbara Gittings 1932 - 2007 Kay Tobin Lahusen 1930-20__ Partners in life, married in our hearts

Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen’s headstone in Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo by Ann Hemmens.

For more information, visit the LGBTQ Tour brochure available on the Congressional Cemetery Tours webpage.

3 Comments

  1. Robert Brammer
    June 1, 2021 at 12:34 pm

    Here is an update from the author of this post, Ann Hemmens: We have learned that Barbara Gittings’ partner, Kay Tobin Lahusen, died on May 26, 2021. For additional resources on these two LGBTQ pioneers, see the Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Gay History Papers and Photographs digital collection at the New York Public Library.

  2. Michael Bedwell
    June 18, 2021 at 1:41 pm

    With respect, the marker in Congressional Cemetery for my late friend Frank Kameny is not a “headstone” as it is not his grave. Supplied by the Veterans Administration and dedicated during the LGBT Veterans Day Observance I organized in 2015, it is the VA’s “cenotaph” variation for a veteran whose remains are elsewhere.

    The specific site was chosen as it is in the row behind the grave of another friend, Frank’s protege, former Air Force Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, whom Frank inspired to become in 1975 the first service member to out themselves to challenge the then policy ban on gays in the military. The cemetery’s “gay corner” evolved as a result of Leonard having chosen to be buried there beneath the now-world-famous epitaph “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one” and his publicly urging others to also identify themselves as gay with their grave markers, saying the year before his 1988 death: “I believe that we must be the same activists in our deaths that we were in our lives.”

    Thank you.

  3. Michael Bedwell
    June 18, 2021 at 1:44 pm

    For further details about Frank Kameny, please see:

    https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2019/10/frank-kameny-devoted-life-fighting-gay-rights-lived-see-end-dadt/

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