(the Kameny Campaign colors were black letters on an orange background)
"I am a homosexual American citizen determined to move into the mainstream of society
from the backwaters to which I have been relegated. Homosexuals have been shoved
around for time immemorial. We are fed up with it. We are starting to shove back and
we're going to keep shoving back until we are guaranteed our rights."-- Dr. Franklin E. Kameny, announcing his campaign
On March 23, 1971, Dr. Franklin E. Kameny lost the District of Columbia's first election for a seat in Congress (he came 4th of 6 on the ballot). His campaign workers, headed by campaign manager Paul Kuntzler, were jubilant.
Candidate Kameny, March 1971
photo © Kay Tobin Lahusen
In losing the election, Kameny's campaigners, and those who voted with them, won a piece of the local political pie. Election results demonstrated the no longer latent strength of a gay voting bloc in the District of Columbia. Moreover, by just campaigning, Kameny and his supporters had changed forever the consciousness of the city and much of the nation beyond.
Within the local gay and lesbian community, two of the immediate consequences were Lilli Vincenz's creation of the Gay Women's Open House (in response to a flood of phone calls during the campaign) in February and the founding of Washington, DC's Gay Activists Alliance, a new type of gay civil rights organization, four weeks after the election. A year later, the gay vote was a factor in the first elections to the District's school board and 1971's lesson was underlined. The city's gay community was a player in local politics.
Because the city's primary had already passed, the first task was to get Dr. Kameny on the March ballot as an independent candidate for Congress. The first challenge for the campaign committee, most of them veterans of the Mattachine Society of Washington, was to get enough signatures (5,000 registered voters) to get on the ballot. The deadline was Tuesday February 23, 1971.
Having accomplished certification for the ballot, the campaign then had a month to wage a vigorous campaign to get Dr. Kameny before the voters and to maximize the media attention and public contact that the campaign offered. Dr. Kameny characterized the period as one where "I became an instant expert on everything from appointing judges to trash collection to paving streets to taxes. You name it. I had to be able to pontificate on it intelligently and write position papers galore. But it went off very very well and we were complimented on the character of the campaign." [Rainbow History Project tape].
The campaign's impact was far-reaching. While Kameny's loss of the election was expected, some of the consequences were not. When journalist Alan Hoffard suggested to his friend Paul Kuntzler that the gay community run Kameny for election to the city's first delegate position in Congress, the intention was to capitalize on the publicity the campaign would bring. However, the campaign and the strength of voter support in key city precincts unveiled to the public and to local politicians the presence of an unrecognized block of voters - the gay community, a fact that would considerably influence elections and local Democratic Party politics for years afterwards.
THE CAMPAIGN TO GET ON THE BALLOT
From January through March 23, 1971, Washington, DC's gay activist community worked tirelessly for the election of Dr. Franklin E. Kameny as the District of Columbia's new delegate (non-voting) to the U.S. Congress. The first hurdle was to get certified as an independent candidate. (February 3, 1971 Announcement of the campaign)
The Gay Blade, the only media outlet for Washington's gay population, devoted two thirds of its February 1971 lead page (in a three sheet mimeographed monthly) to announcing the campaign and setting out the campaign's goals:"A campaign has begun to run Mattachine president Frank Kameny for the post of non-voting delegate from DC to the US House of Representatives.The Gay Blade's article ended with an exhortation to readers to sign and help collect signatures for the nominating petitions. [Gay Blade, Vol. 2 No 5, February 1971, p. 1]
Prime reason for the campaign is to use the free media time and space given to candidates as a means of reaching both the public and the politicians with the "Gay is Good" message and philosophy.
It is also hoped that a good Voter turnout for Kameny (a couple of thousand votes) will be an indication of gay community strength, and will influence local (and national) politicians and public officials.
The idea for the Kameny campaign came after candidates for the democratic primary were questioned about what they would do for gays. It was felt that it would be better to run a gay candidate than a straight one who would only say that he'd look after homosexual interests if we supported him. Kameny doesn't expect to win."
Members of the Mattachine Society of Washington, of the Gay Liberation Front, and other local collectives and organizations combined forces to get enough signatures to put Kameny on the March ballot as an independent. Campaign manager Paul Kuntzler recruited help from colleges and universities outside the District to help collect signatures on petitions to register Dr. Kameny for the election. The Gay Activists Alliance of New York City provided crucial help for the registration campaign by sending busloads of volunteers to blanket the city with petitions for registering Kameny. Troy Perry, of the recently formed gay organization Metropolitan Community Churches, also came to Washington to help recruit volunteers and support for the campaign.
A local gay man living on Thomas Circle loaned the campaign space in house for the first part of the campaign. Campaign workers produced signs and posters and petitions there. The campaign was an all volunteer effort and required long hours of dedicated work. Joel Martin, a member of the campaign committee, explained "... after awhile, getting signatures and everything, you worked all day Saturday and you worked all day Sunday because you went to churches to get signatures. Saturdays you were out at the Safeways and the grocery stores. It was just like having a second job, a second life" In an age when many gays and lesbians were still closeted, collecting signatures on behalf of a publicly homosexual candidate was a challenge to many people. Martin added, "It was difficult to be out and to be able to confront people and to ask them for their signature for such a candidate. But we were pretty successful." (Instructions for petition campaign volunteers) (Petition campaign flyer)
By the last week before the deadline of February 23rd, the campaign had collected 3800 signatures on petitions for Dr. Kameny's inclusion on the ballot. Paul Kuntzler and the campaign committee contacted the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) in New York City for help. Several busloads of volunteers arrived in Washington, DC on the weekend before petition signatures were due. They blanketed the city covering grocery stores, churches, and any other location where they thought they could find people willing to sign the nominating petition.
GAA made the difference. The volunteers were met at the buses, housed locally with Kameny supporters, and got to work on Saturday and Sunday. In gratitude for their support, the Kameny campaign arranged a Sunday evening dance at Temple Sinai (Rabbi Eugene Lippman was supportive of the campaign). Dr. Kameny recalls an indelible image of Paul Kuntzler striding into the dance very late both of his arms hugging bulging rolls of nominating petitions.
Together with about 1000 signatures collected by a group hired by the campaign, Kameny's nominating petitions totaled over 7500 registered voter signatures, well over the threshold required. The Washington Post reviewed many candidates' nominating petitions but declined to do so with the Kameny petitions because of the great number of them. When Dr. Kameny called them to ask if they were checking his, the Post replied "Oh no. You have far too many. You're in."
The Kameny for Congress campaign had won its first victory. He was in, and all the attendant publicity would be his and the gay community's. It was, as campaign manager Paul Kuntzler said, revolutionary. (Kameny press release on registration of petitions)
For the first time an out gay man was running for Congress!
Dr. Kameny recalled in a Rainbow History panel discussion in April 2001 the campaign for nominating petition signatures:
The idea of 5,000 signatures was almost unthinkable!
-- Frank Kameny
"Keep in mind that nowadays ... everybody knows about nominating petitions. Nobody knew what a petition was if they saw it. Nobody knew where to go to get signatures. Nobody knew nothing from nothing, as far as anything about the concept. The idea of 5,000 signatures was almost unthinkable.
In the course of the campaign, we had had a great deal of assistance, and very valuable assistance, from GAA in New York. What had happened was we needed at that time, five thousand signatures on a nominating petition and which had to be in, by roughly, the 20th or 25th of February … In those days, [if somebody was faced with a nominating petition] nobody knew what they were to sign them, nobody knew how to get the signatures, nobody knew from nothing. And we had to get 5,000 signatures. I remember I went up to give a lecture, up in Toronto, in early February and came back on the plane with Troy Perry. And we got back and we had 1300 signatures. [According to Paul Kuntzler, the actual total at the time was 3800 signatures]
So a group of people on my campaign committee, Paul Kuntzler was the chair of the campaign committee. We were all very much impressed with what GAA in New York was doing at that stage in history. And contacted GAA in New York. They made arrangements, either one or two busloads of people came down. They had people, it was marvelous. I still give praise to the people who did that. The buses came in to a pre-arranged place and there was someone to pick up each person on that bus and take them home to where they were going to stay for the night. They had it all organized that weekend. There were places to get signatures from one end of the district to the other, with back-up locations. If that didn't work, a second location was tried. It was incredibly well organized. And to sort of celebrate with them, we gave a dance in their honor at Temple Sinai up on the 3100 block of Military Road. And Rabbi Lippman, I guess, was very friendly to us, and I still have a visual image of that. Paul Kuntzler walked in and he had under each arm a huge roll of petitions: 6600 signatures. That was either Saturday or Sunday, probably Sunday of that weekend. The signatures were due in by Tuesday. By Tuesday, we had, as I recall it, now 7500 signatures; we turned in. The Washington Post challenged two other candidates off the ballot because they didn't have enough signatures. They said to me when I called them up, “Oh, we wouldn't even think of challenging; you're so far over.” It set a rule in my mind: you always aim for a minimum of 1 ½ times what you need on the signatures.
That got things going."
Paul Kuntzler, Kameny campaign manager, recalled in the same panel discussion:
"It was a revolutionary moment."
-- Paul Kuntzler
"In January, 1971, there was a democratic primary, January 8th. A number of us were supporting Channing Phillips, who was seen as the liberal candidate. The Reverend Channing Phillips. Mattachine sent out a questionnaire to all the candidates and Channing Phillips refused to return it. We found out later that he was rather homophobic. I was working on his campaign and I quit the campaign ...
The following Saturday [January 16], GLF [Gay Liberation Front] had a dance at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill and I had a friend, the late Allan Hoffard who was a journalist. He came to that dance. He gave me a memorandum suggesting that we run Frank Kameny for Congress and pointing out the great opportunity. There was going to be a tremendous amount of publicity, a 90 minute debate on all the television stations. There would be great press coverage in all of this, and he was a journalist and he could help me with journalists. Well the idea, that we had to get, collect, signatures from 5,000 registered DC voters, I thought that's impossible! Get homosexuals to sign!
Even today 5,000 signatures is a lot of signatures. It can take endless hours. Anyway, I took the memorandum and sort of dismissed it. But I had a brunch the next day, had some federal government employees at the brunch and I raised the issue with them and much to my astonishment they said that they would sign the petition.
So, I began to rethink it. And I talked to Frank and I went to a GLF [Gay Liberation Front] meeting the following night. I had been away from the movement for several years, working for the antiwar movement.
There must have been 200 people there. They were hanging from the ceiling, all these young people there. I thought something has happened in this movement. We had an organizing meeting the following Friday. We moved ahead. Allan Hoffard arranged for a press conference at the District Building. He did some elaborate work. I got up the next morning, the morning of the press conference, and turned on my radio and I heard this voice come on that said, “Today a new candidate swished into the radar.” It was the first and the last really negative comment about the Kameny campaign. Because afterwards people were so astonished. This idea, that this homosexual was running, that they were just in awe. They were just, it was a revolutionary moment ...
Listen to Paul Kuntzler in a sound clip from the discussion
THE CAMPAIGN FOR ELECTION (click here for next page)