Dr. Cervini captures that spirit of resistance, and some of its most over-looked origins, in his new book, The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. The United States of America. At the heart of the story is Frank Kameny, who publicly battled the legal and moral arguments against homosexuality after both had been used in 1957 to fire him from a government job. “He essentially invented what we now know as gay pride,” Dr. Cervini says. “He was the first to take the fight for gay rights, or at least the gay purges, to the Supreme Court. He was the first openly gay man to testify in Congress; first to demonstrate before the White House; the first to say that ‘Gay is Good.’”
Nearly a decade before the first Pride march took place, Kameny, who served in the US Army during World War II, filed a memorable petition with the US Supreme Court. “In World War II,” Kameny wrote, “petitioner did not hesitate to fight the Germans, with bullets, in order to help preserve his rights and freedoms and liberties, and those of others. In 1960, it is ironically necessary that he fight the Americans, with words, in order to preserve, against a tyrannical government, some of those same rights, freedoms and liberties, for himself and others.” Kameny passed away in 2011, at age 86, having seen others enjoy legal victories he was unable to win personally.
The book took Dr. Cervini seven years to research and write. The inspiration to do so came after he encountered the story of Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official, who was assassinated in 1978. Milk’s life had garnered the attention of Hollywood, with Sean Penn playing the titular role in the Oscar-winning biopic “Milk.” In a quest to learn more about Milk’s life, Dr. Cervini encountered, for the first time, the name—and work—of Frank Kameny.
Dr. Cervini hopes his book can bring similar attention to a gay-rights pioneer. “I see him as the grandfather of our movement; every single American, every LGBTQ person in the world, should know his name, because what he stood for is why we celebrate Pride.”
For those who aren’t familiar, what were the “gay purges”?
In the 15 years after World War II, an estimated one million Americans were arrested for homosexual activity: sodomy, holding hands, things like that. In the 1950s, 1,000 people were arrested for homosexual activity, each year, in Washington, DC alone. This was the same time Senator Joseph McCarthy was going after alleged communists in the federal government. For political reasons, they were also going after so-called sexual deviants, perverts, and homosexuals, within the government.
Their reasoning was that some of the homophile organizations, which were precursors to gay-rights organizations, had communist roots. So the thinking went: if you were a homosexual within the federal government and you had access to classified materials, then communists could find out about your homosexuality, threaten to expose you, and get you to reveal material to them.