What role did Washington D.C. play in the development of the early LGBT Rights movement in America as a whole, and who were the key individuals who made lasting contributions to the fight for equal rights? This was the question that I proposed at the beginning of the semester when we first began our digital research projects. I believe that it is important for every person in American to learn about LGBT history and rights, just as we learned about the Civil Rights Movement for people of color. The LGBT Rights movement is simply an extension of the civil rights movement, as we should all be treated equally regardless of the color of skin, and of our sexual orientation. LGBT identities, LGBT history, and LGBT issues are completely erased in the curriculum of our basic education. There are people who have made great strides for our country, but are simply not talked about because of the debate surrounding the LGBT community and marriage equality. I believe that we cannot erase ten percent of the population simply because their “lifestyle” is controversial. I proposed this research question and conducted this research in an attempt to discover what role our nation’s capital played in a central movement in our country’s history, so that I myself may be more educated along with the hope to educate others. As an LGBT identifying person who does plenty of work in the field of activism for equal rights for all human beings, I considered myself to be fairly well versed in the history of the LGBT movement. However, it is only after seeking out the answer to my research question that I can consider myself truly proficient in LGBT history. I previously believed that the heart of the LGBT Rights lay in the Stonewall Riots of New York City that occurred in 1969. The small fraction of Americans who know anything about the LGBT rights movement probably think the same thing, but it is incorrect. The true heart of the LGBT Rights movement rested on political action, protest, and a man named Frank Kameny: the man who couldn’t wait for Stonewall.

"Almost single-handedly, he (Kameny) formed and popularized the ideological foundations of the gay rights movement in the 1960's:  that homosexuals constituted 10 percent of the population, that they were not mentally ill, that they didn't need to be spoken for by medical experts, and that they had a right not to be discriminated against.” [1]After completing this research project, I truly have discovered that Frank Kameny started a shock wave of LGBT activism that affected nearly every portion of the present day LGBT movement. Frank Kameny was working in Washington DC as an astronomer for the United States Army Map Service when he was arrested for a traditional late night stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue. His supervisors questioned him, and he refused to give any information about his sexual orientation. Kameny was investigated, and upon discovering that he was gay, the Civil Service Commission fired him in 1957. In January of 1958, he received notice that he had been barred from holding any future employment with the United States Government. [2]

Kameny’s firing was part of a larger phenomenon in the US Government, which has become known as the Lavender Scare. [3]This was the investigation and firing of hundreds of LGBT government employees, by McCarthy and his congressional subcommittee. LGBT people were being discharged from the military, fired from government positions, and blacklisted as perverts, communists, and threats to society. Public service announcements were sent out to show how LGBT people were threats to “traditional American life”, and generally a nuisance to society. [4]The LGBT citizens of Washington D.C. began to rebel against this, in a movement that was called The Homophile Movement[5], which is considered a sub-movement of the LGBT Rights Movement as a whole.

Kameny devoted his life to activism after being fired. “Kameny not only led a frontal attack on previously unquestioned persecution of homosexual's by divisions of the federal government but revolutionized the homosexual movement itself, moving it from assimilation and apologies for homosexuality to assertion of the normality of homosexuality and an uncompromising campaign for gay civil rights.”[6] In November 1961, he founded the Mattachine Society of Washington (MSW) with Jack Nichols. Over the next decade, MSW created and defined gay activism in Washington, DC and much of the nation by pressing for an end to discrimination against gay men and lesbians on the part of the US Civil Service Commission, the US military, the American Psychiatric Association, and reform of sodomy laws.[7]  Under Kameny and Nichols, Washington DC's gay activists launched campaigns, in the majority of which they were successful, against: denial of security clearances to LGBT people, firings of LGBT people from the military, denial of employment by the federal Civil Service Commission, the crimination of being gay and sodomy, classification of homosexuality as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association's DSM2, and much more.[8] Kameny and MSW are responsible for everything from the first protest for LGBT Rights in front of the White House in April of 1971, to helping organize The First National March on Washington for LGBT Rights, to helping achieve job security for LGBT people.

Dr. Kameny's organization also reached out to the religious community through its Committee on Religious Concerns and the Washington Area Council on Religion and the Homosexual, seeking support and understanding from local clergy.  As a public speaker and a personal adviser, Dr. Kameny brought the slogan Gay Is Good (formulated by him in 1968, inspired by Stokely Carmichael’s “Black Is Beautiful”) to the general public.[9] Kameny spent the rest of his life helping other people who had been fired during the Lavender Scare, protesting for LGBT Rights, and he set a precedent in 1971 by becoming the first openly gay man to run for Congress. [10] ”It is hardly an overstatement to say that Kameny and the Mattachine Society of Washington are directly responsible for most of the civil rights protections that the LGBT community now enjoys.”[11]


Through conducting this research project, I uncovered an entirely different side of the LGBT movement that I ever imagined I would. Before conducting this research, I had never heard them term  “Lavender Scare” before, or even heard of Frank Kameny. Washington D.C. was the largest breeding ground for political action. I have learned that Washington D.C. is an absolutely essential piece of the LGBT Rights Movement’s evolution, because it is was the source of many problems for LGBT people, simply because D.C. is where the government operates from. However, D.C. evolved from being a source of great threat to LGBT people, to a place where LGBT people re-claimed their rights, and proclaimed that “Gay is Good”, and that the community is here to stay. Stonewall may be the source of Gay Pride for many, but Washington D.C. is the home of LGBT activism. It is because of the work of people like Frank Kameny and the members of organizations like the Mattachine Society that I even have grounds in which to be an LGBT Rights activist.






Clendinen, Dudley. Nagourney, Adam. 1999. “Out for Good”. Simon & Schuster.


Rainbow History Project. "Mattachine Society of Washington Resources." Accessed May 5, 2014.


Rainbow History Project. "Frank Kameny." Accessed May 5, 2014.


Wiley, Andrea, and Josh Burke. "The Lavender Scare: Home." The College of Education. Last modified December 1, 2008.

[1] Clendinen, Dudley. Nagourney, Adam. 1999. “Out for Good”. Simon & Schuster.

[2] Rainbow History Project. "Frank Kameny." Accessed May 5, 2014.

 [3]Wiley, Andrea, and Josh Burke. "The Lavender Scare: Home." The College of Education. Last modified December 1, 2008.



[4] IBID

[5] IBID

[6] Rainbow History Project. "Mattachine Society of Washington Resources." Accessed May 5, 2014.



[7] IBID

[8] IBID

[9] IBID

[10] IBID

[11] IBID