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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 13 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 28
Asteroid named in honor of Gay rights pioneer
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Asteroid named in honor of Gay rights pioneer

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

An amateur astronomer in Canada has named an asteroid he discovered after Gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny.

The Kameny asteroid, between Mars and Jupiter, was first spotted in 1999 using long-exposure photography. It is visible from Earth using a telescope.

Until last year, the asteroid was known only as Minor Planet 40463, but when its discoverer, Gary Billings, read Kameny's obituary, he decided it should be renamed to honor him.

Billings then wrote to Richard 'Doc' Kinne, an astronomical technologist at the American Association of Variable Star Observers in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

'I have a few asteroids I discovered that I haven't named yet,' Billings said. 'What do you say we name one after Frank?'

'I was utterly floored,' Kinne said. 'To me, this is a big deal.'

Billings told Kinne he was moved by Kameny's story.

Trained as an astronomer, Kameny was hired by the U.S. Army Map Service in 1957, but was fired a short time later after being arrested by District of Columbia police in Lafayette Park, a traditional cruising area. In 1958 he was barred from future federal employment.

Kameny sued unsuccessfully to regain his job, taking his case as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied his petition for a hearing. He also began a very public campaign for Gay rights, which occupied the rest of his long life. He died on October 11, 2011, at age 86.

Kameny co-founded the Mattachine Society in 1961, picketed the White House in 1965, and coined the slogan 'Gay Is Good' - based on the Black Liberation slogan 'Black Is Beautiful' - in 1968.

'His contributions included removing homosexuality from being termed a mental disorder in 1973 and shepherding passage of the District of Columbia marriage equality law in 2009,' the formal citation in the Minor Planet Circular says in part.

'I concluded he was a man I would have admired,' Billings wrote to Kinne.

'Add that to the fact that I have many friends and acquaintances who are members of the LGBT community, and I felt it was something I wanted to do to honor Dr. Kameny - and my friends!'

Kinne, who knew Kameny personally, had been working to present him with a certificate of recognition from the American Astronomical Society and perhaps create and fund an award in his honor. Kameny also received an official apology from the Obama administration for his firing in 1958.

'He was an astronomer,' Kinne said. 'The culture of the time took that away from him, and now he's getting it back. He would have liked that.'

Discoverers of asteroids have 10 years to suggest a name once their discovery is verified. The submission is subject to review by a 15-member international panel, and the names often acknowledge the honoree's contributions to science or culture.

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