July 11, 2012

Asteroid Named After Gay Rights Pioneer

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

An asteroid has been named after U.S. gay rights pioneer and astronomer Frank Kameny, who died last year.

Canadian amateur astronomer Gary Billings discovered the asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter in 1999.

When Billings read Kameny's obituary, he decided to send a request to the Paris-based International Astronomical Union and the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts to change the name of Minor Planet 40463 to Frankkameny.

Astronomy historian David DeVorkin of the National Air and Space Museum said that the submission is subject to review by a 15-member international panel still. He said those who discover asteroids have 10 years to suggest a name once the discovery is verified.

Kameny earned a doctorate in astronomy at Harvard University, and was an astronomer with the U.S. Army Map Service in the 1950s, but was fired from his job for being gay.

He contested the firing all the way to the Supreme Court, and later organized the first gay rights protests outside of government buildings.

"Frank E. Kameny (1925-2011) trained as a variable star astronomer in the 1950s, but joined the Civil Rights struggle. 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 citation reads in the Minor Planet Circular.

The Associated Press reported that Billings contacted Richard "Doc" Kinne, an astronomical technologist at the American Association of Variable Star Observers, about the name change.

"Hey, I have a few asteroids I discovered that I haven't named yet," Billings told Kinne, according to AP. "What do you say we name one after Frank?"

"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!"

Before Kameny died, he received an official apology from President Barack Obama's administration for his firing from the U.S. Army.

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