A reader writes:
Thanks for shining a light on Frank Kameny - a true hero in the LGBT equal rights struggle, who I was fortunate to meet and hear his exploits. Out here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have our own dazzling pioneer: José Sarria, a.k.a. The Widow Norton, a.k.a. The Nightingale of Montgomery Street! The kids today can't even begin to imagine what courage it took, back in the 1950s, for these great leaders simply to stand up and assert their humanity and dignity in the face of universal ignorance and hate and derision. We have come so far so fast and it's wonderful that they are still alive to see it. They are national treasures.
I love me some Frank Kameny and consider him a great pioneer. But I find it choice that you go to Kameny for your "Before Stonewall" person and not to Harry Hay, who actually founded the Mattachine Society years before. Kameny helped open a chapter of the Mattachines in Washington, DC, but the group began in California and owe some of its early organizing work to the models Harry learned while organizing shipyard and dock workers into unions during the Depression. Kameny deserves the great props he's receiving but he'd be the first to say that he wouldn't have had a Mattachine model if the generations before him didn't do it first.
Both my readers are correct. Frank was not alone nor the first. I mention him because he is a friend and great man and an inspiration to me personally. I didn't mean to slight any of the other pioneers. My point was to push back against the idiotic - and politically loaded - notion that the gay rights movement began with Stonewall. (It's also worth noting that many of those who fought back that night were not drag queens, but just regular homos who had had enough.)