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Death of a Federal Gay Rights Leader

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Two years ago, I wrote a column that made reference to John Berry's swearing in as head of the Office of Personnel Management, as the first openly gay person selected to head the agency.

One of the guests in the audience at that event was Frank Kameny, who had been terminated from his Defense Department position in 1957 because he was outed as a homosexual, and since that time had dedicated himself to fighting for the rights of gay federal employees. That started with challenging the government's policy under which employees could be fired simply for being gay or lesbian -- a policy enforced by OPM's predecessor agency, the Civil Service Commission.

On Tuesday, Kameny died at the age of 86. His influence on the gay rights movement extended beyond the federal sector, but it was clear in 2009 that he relished the opportunity to see the government come full circle on gay issues with Berry's appointment.

"I feel truly vindicated beyond anything I might ever have expected or imagined," Kameny wrote to journalist Jonathan Rauch at the time. "It's like the perfect, contrived happy ending to a fictional fairy tale. It's too perfect to be true in reality. But there it is."

Here's what Berry had to say about Kameny Wednesday:

Dr. Frank Kameny was an American hero who transformed our nation's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT). His courage, his brilliance, his force of will led to victory in a decades-long fight for equality. He helped make it possible for countless of patriotic Americans to hold security clearances and high government positions, including me. And in so doing, he showed everyone what was possible for every employer in our country.

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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