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In reversal, Kameny heir says no ashes for public memorial

Timothy Clark, gay news, gay politics dc

Timothy Clark, who earlier said he would release half of Frank Kameny’s ashes to be interred at Congressional Cemetery, changed his mind and now plans to inter the ashes at an undisclosed location. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Timothy Clark, the man D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny named in his will as heir to his estate, has released a statement through his lawyers saying he has decided to inter Kameny’s ashes at an undisclosed location.

The statement released Feb. 20 by the D.C. law firm Ackerman Brown represents a dramatic change from Clark’s earlier statements, including comments in an interview with the Blade in 2012, that he would release half of the ashes for burial at a memorial site in the city’s historic Congressional Cemetery. He reiterated his intent to inter ashes in D.C. in another Blade interview in July 2013.

“We reached an agreement on that so I’m going to keep the burial plot,” Clark said at that time. “I just have to decide on when I want to have something,” he said in referring to a burial ceremony at Congressional Cemetery.

Clark, 37, Kameny’s housemate and longtime friend, had said in the months following Kameny’s death on Oct. 11, 2011, that he planned to keep some but not all of the ashes for his personal reflection and possible interment elsewhere. Kameny died in his Washington home of natural causes at the age of 86.

“The decision regarding interment of Frank Kameny’s ashes rests solely with Timothy Clark, the Personal Representative of the Estate of Franklin E. Kameny,” the Ackerman Brown statement says.

“Mr. Clark has decided to inter the ashes at an undisclosed location. Mr. Clark asks the community to respect his wishes and his privacy,” the statement says.

Clark’s announcement through his attorneys comes more than two years after the local LGBT charitable group Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS) purchased a burial plot for Kameny’s ashes at Congressional Cemetery.

HOBS and some of Kameny’s gay activist friends and supporters who worked with the group to choose the location of the cemetery site said it would become a monument to Kameny’s legacy and a place where people could go to pay their respects to a nationally known figure considered a hero to the LGBT rights cause.

The site they selected is located just behind the gravesite of the late gay rights leader and U.S. Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, who, with Kameny’s assistance in 1975, became the first active duty military service member to come out of the closet and challenge the military’s ban on gay service members. Matlovich died in 1987.

A planned ceremony and burial of Kameny’s ashes scheduled for March 2012 was abruptly cancelled at the request of the estate, according to Patrick Crowley, who worked as senior manager of Congressional Cemetery at that time. Lawyers for the Kameny estate wanted HOBS to transfer ownership of the cemetery plot to the estate, Crowley said.

Although HOBS agreed to the transfer, a dispute arose over the terms of an agreement proposed by lawyers for both parties, and negotiations dragged on for nearly two years.

Last July, both sides said a tentative agreement had been reached, raising hopes among Kameny’s friends and admirers that a burial ceremony and the official opening of a Kameny memorial site at Congressional Cemetery would soon take place.

“The estate has always been, and remains willing to work with gay community representatives who knew Frank Kameny in organizing a burial service and appropriate gravesite at which members of the community could pay tribute to Kameny,” said attorney Christopher Brown of Ackerman Brown at that time.

However, no announcement of an agreement emerged since that time. When Ackerman Brown released its statement last week saying Clark decided to inter the ashes at an undisclosed location, neither Ackerman Brown nor HOBS would disclose where things stood with the cemetery plot.

“The estate has no further comment,” said Glen Ackerman, principal partner of Ackerman Brown, in a Feb. 23 email to the Blade.

Matthew Cook, an attorney with the national law firm Fried Frank, which is representing HOBS, sent the Blade a separate statement from HOBS that made no mention of whether ownership of the cemetery plot had been transferred to the estate or whether HOBS would seek to set up another memorial site for Kameny at Congressional Cemetery.

“Dr. Kameny was a true gay rights pioneer and local legend,” the HOBS statement says. “HOBS was proud to work with and for Dr. Kameny during the last years of his life. Of course, as the executor of the Kameny Estate, it is Mr. Clark’s decision where to inter Dr. Kameny’s ashes.”

Veteran D.C. gay activist Paul Kuntzler, who worked with Kameny on gay rights activities beginning in 1962, and San Francisco gay activist Michael Bedwell, a friend of Kameny’s, each told the Blade that the LGBT community should now take immediate steps to arrange for another memorial site for Kameny at Congressional Cemetery, even though the ashes won’t be interred there.

The four local activists and Kameny friends who initiated plans to inter Kameny’s ashes at Congressional Cemetery in early 2012 – Marvin Carter, CEO of HOBS and LGBT rights advocates Charles Francis, Bob Witeck and Rick Rosendall – have declined to comment on Clark’s decision to inter the ashes at another location.

They also declined to comment on what, if anything, they may do to set up a Kameny memorial site at the cemetery now that the ashes are out of the picture.

“Frank Kameny’s monumental legacy may be best remembered by laws he helped overturn, the hateful policies he defeated and the causes of equal rights he unselfishly advanced for the LGBT community,” said Witeck in an email statement on Sunday.

The relationship between the four men and the Kameny estate became strained in 2012 shortly after they announced plans for a Congressional Cemetery memorial site and burial when Clark stated through his attorneys that Clark was never given the courtesy of being consulted about those plans.

Carter, however, has said Clark was informed about the plans and invited to participate in the planned ceremony.

The relationship between the four men and the estate became further strained when the estate filed individual lawsuits against each of them, charging that they took without permission items from Kameny’s house that belonged to the estate shortly after Kameny’s death. The men disputed the allegations, saying Clark along with Clark’s lawyer at the time, Michele Zavos, gave them permission to enter the house and take an inventory of Kameny’s papers and other possessions to arrange for their safe keeping.

The lawsuits, which were filed by Ackerman Brown on Clark’s behalf, were later dropped after undisclosed settlements were reached in three of the cases. The court dismissed the case against Rosendall on grounds that no cause was shown to justify the complaint, according to Rosendall’s attorney, Mindy Daniels.

Upon learning of Clark’s decision to inter the ashes in an undisclosed location, Bedwell expressed concern that Clark, who among other things, inherited Kameny’s house that the estate sold in 2012 for $725,000, was not doing his part to promote Kameny’s legacy.

“Frank’s trust and affection made Mr. Clark a wealthy man,” Bedwell said. “His sacrifices helped make him, like all LGBTs, a freer man,” Bedwell said.

“Now that Mr. Clark has disappeared with Frank’s ashes along with any hopes of his repaying Frank’s extraordinary generous friendship by sharing them for a memorial, I trust that others will create one without them,” he said.

Clark didn’t respond to a phone message from the Blade this week.

In a 2012 interview with the Blade, Clark described himself as a private person who shunned the spotlight, saying he intentionally remained in the background during the 19 years he lived in Kameny’s house.

Frank Kameny, gay news, gay politics dc

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Also remaining unclear this week is what will become of a headstone and separate grave marker that HOBS and the activists working with the group installed at the cemetery site before the dispute with the estate surfaced.

Francis, the founder of the Kameny Papers Project, which arranged several years before Kameny’s death to have Kameny’s voluminous collection of letters and gay rights documents donated to the Library of Congress, obtained the headstone from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Francis and others working on the memorial site said the military headstone would recognize Kameny’s role as a World War II combat veteran. The stone is identical to gravestones used for soldiers and veterans buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and is issued free of charge to all deceased military veterans.

HOBS purchased a separate footstone inscribed with the slogan Kameny coined in the 1960s, “Gay is Good.” Carter said HOBS paid for the footstone along with the cemetery plot through funds donated by members of the LGBT community.

HOBS had both stones installed at the gravesite in March 2012 in anticipation that plans for burial of the ashes would move forward as planned.

Cemetery officials later removed the headstone and the “Gay is Good” marker and placed them in storage, saying it was inappropriate for them to remain in place while the ownership of the gravesite was in dispute.

Bedwell, who has played a role in managing the Matlovich gravesite, said he owns a separate plot next to the Matlovich site that he offered to donate for the Kameny burial shortly after Kameny died. HOBS instead chose to buy a plot a short distance away. Now, Bedwell said he is open to donating the plot he owns for a new Kameny memorial site at the cemetery.

“Neither [Clark’s] permission or Frank’s ashes are required for anyone to create a memorial to Frank anywhere,” Bedwell said in a comment to the Blade in October. “Millions more visit Lincoln’s Memorial in Washington every year than his actual gravesite in Springfield, Ill.,” he said.

“I’m confident many would be eager to contribute to the purchase of another marker bearing Frank’s name,” Bedwell said, in the event that the Veterans Administration stone or the “Gay is Good” stone won’t be released by the estate.

Ackerman, while repeating his firm’s written statement that the Kameny estate would have no further comment on Clark’s decision to inter the ashes in a private location, said the estate would welcome inquiries “by anyone” interested in establishing a public memorial for Kameny.

“All they have to do is call us,” he said.

25
Feb
2014

Kameny’s ashes still not buried 2 years after death

Frank Kameny, gay news, Washington Blade

Activist Frank Kameny died on Oct. 11, 2011. His remains have not yet been buried. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A memorial site recognizing the legacy of the late D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny was scheduled to be unveiled Friday, Oct. 11, in Chicago on the second anniversary of his death while plans for the burial of his ashes in Washington remain stalled.

New information behind that unusual turn of events emerged this week from one of the parties in a dispute over ownership of the planned interment site for Kameny’s ashes in D.C.’s historic Congressional Cemetery.

Marvin Carter, executive director of the local LGBT charitable group Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS), said his attorney told him an agreement reached about two months ago in which HOBS would transfer ownership of the cemetery plot to the Kameny estate was awaiting the signature of Timothy Clark, Kameny’s friend, housemate and principal heir to the estate.

“The last update I got was we are all in agreement but Ackerman Brown cannot find Clark to sign the paperwork,” Carter told the Blade.

Carter was referring to the D.C. law firm Ackerman Brown, which has represented Clark in legal matters pertaining to the estate since shortly after Kameny died in his home of natural causes on National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, 2011. In his will, Kameny left his house and all other possessions except his voluminous gay rights papers to Clark. He bequeathed his papers to the Library of Congress. Kameny’s house sold last year for $725,000.

Glen Ackerman, managing partner of Ackerman Brown, emailed a statement to the Blade this week disputing Carter’s assertion that Clark can’t be found.

“Ackerman Brown is in regular contact with Timothy Clark, the personal representative of the Estate of Frank E. Kameny and all negotiations on behalf of our client have been in good faith,” the statement said. “The decision regarding interment of Frank Kameny’s ashes rests solely with Mr. Clark and he is discharging his duties with full knowledge of the past negotiations. Neither Marvin Carter nor his attorney have ever discussed the placement of a monument in lieu of the cemetery plot with Ackerman Brown.”

Ackerman noted that the status of the negotiations between Ackerman Brown and HOBS over the ownership transfer of the cemetery plot had not changed since July. At that time, Ackerman’s law partner, Christopher Brown, said a “tentative agreement” had been reached to end the dispute that has prevented Kameny’s ashes from being interred for nearly two years.

“The tentative agreement was reached on July 9 and the estate is awaiting further input from HOBS’ counsel that is necessary to finalize the transaction,” Brown said in a July 24 statement to the Blade.

“The estate has always been, and remains willing to work with gay community representatives who knew Frank Kameny in organizing a burial service and appropriate gravesite at which members of the community could pay tribute to Kameny,” Brown said in his July statement.

Earlier this year, Carter said HOBS dropped a previous condition that called for the Kameny estate to pay HOBS for the cemetery plot that HOBS purchased with money donated by members of the LGBT community.

“We are not asking for a dime from the estate,” Carter told the Blade in an Oct. 4 interview. “The delay is not on our end.”

Carter said that once the tentative agreement was reached the two parties asked Congressional Cemetery President Paul Williams to draft the documents needed to finalize the ownership transfer of the cemetery plot.

When contacted by the Blade last week, Williams said he could not provide details but suggested the long-awaited resolution to the dispute was in the hands of Clark and his attorneys.

“We have put forth a proposal to the estate and we’re waiting to hear back,” he said. “That’s about all I can say. We’re just waiting to hear back.”

Timothy Clark, gay news, gay politics dc

Timothy Clark (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Clark said in August, one day prior to Brown’s statement to the Blade, that he understood an agreement had been reached over the cemetery plot. He said he was thinking about when to arrange for a burial ceremony and that he would welcome suggestions from Kameny’s friends and fellow activists about the details for such a ceremony.

Clark didn’t respond to a phone message from the Blade this week.

HOBS and a group of Kameny’s friends and colleagues in the LGBT rights movement initially scheduled an interment ceremony for Kameny at Congressional Cemetery for March 3, 2012. At the time, Charles Francis, a Kameny friend who helped Kameny organize his papers to facilitate their donation to the Library of Congress, arranged for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide a military headstone for the gravesite that recognized Kameny’s service in the Army in World War II.

With money raised by HOBS, Francis and Kameny’s friends and fellow activists Rick Rosendall and Bob Witeck also arranged for the purchase of a separate headstone for the gravesite bearing the inscription “Gay is Good.” Kameny, who coined that slogan in the 1960s to advance the cause of gay rights, said it was something for which he wanted to be remembered as much if not more than any of his other accomplishments.

But just as both stones were placed at the gravesite, Witeck announced that the burial of Kameny’s ashes had been cancelled after the estate told the cemetery it would not release Kameny’s ashes until it obtained legal ownership of the burial plot from HOBS. Cemetery officials later removed the headstone and “Gay is Good” marker and placed them in storage, saying it was inappropriate for them to remain in place while the ownership of the gravesite was in dispute.

Michael Bedwell, a longtime friend and gay activist colleague of Kameny’s who helped select the gravesite, said the removal of the two stones displaced an important and historic site where people could go to reflect on Kameny’s accomplishments, which he said improved the lives of LGBT people.

“It is a disgrace that people don’t have a place to pay homage to him two years after his passing,” Bedwell said. “I feel those stones should be returned to the site even if the ashes are not interred there at this time.”

Tension between the Kameny estate and Carter, Francis, Witeck and Rosendall increased in the months following the cancellation of the burial when the estate sued the four men on grounds that they removed without permission items from Kameny’s house shortly after his death. The four said they removed the items for safekeeping at a time of confusion following Kameny’s death when Clark, who was living in the house at the time, gave them permission to enter the house to sort through Kameny’s belongings. They said they planned to return the items, some of which were papers slated to go to the Library of Congress.

Rosendall said this week that the men were accompanied by local attorney Michele Zavos when they entered Kameny’s house shortly after his death. Zavos had worked for Kameny and prepared his will, Rosendall said.

Zavos on Wednesday confirmed that she was present during that visit. She said Clark gave them permission to enter the house and that he understood that Rosendall and the other men wanted to look through Kameny’s papers and other historic items to take steps to preserve them.

According to Zavos, it was during that visit that Rosendall, Francis and Witeck found the original signed copy of Kameny’s will and turned it over to Zavos, who read and explained its provision to Clark.

“Tim was completely aware of what we were doing,” she said.

Rosendall added that he was especially troubled when Clark told the Blade in an interview in March 2012 that someone placed an anonymous letter in the mail slot at Kameny’s house where Clark was living that used a racial slur and denounced him for being the beneficiary in Kameny’s will.

“And that’s just horrible for anybody to say,” Clark said in the 2012 interview. “It said, ‘The nigger got everything.’”

When the Blade asked to see the letter, Clark claimed it was so upsetting to him that he discarded it in the trash before realizing it may have been better to keep it and have others help him discover the person who wrote it.

Rosendall, however, said Clark’s disclosure of the letter at a time when the Kameny estate was making public statements accusing him, Carter, Witeck and Francis of improperly taking items from the house could have raised suspicions that they may have been responsible for the anonymous hate letter.

“I was not under any impression that he had made an explicit accusation,” Rosendall said this week. “The whole point was he throws that out there as red meat and there is an implication that somebody else that he was talking about was to blame for it.”

The Blade requested a response from Ackerman to Rosendall’s statements about the hate letter. The Blade further asked Ackerman if anyone besides Clark saw the letter and could corroborate its existence. Ackerman emailed the following statement: “The questions you ask regarding the letter are not relevant to this firm’s representation of the Estate of Franklin E. Kameny and any comment on this topic would be inappropriate.”

10
Oct
2013

Year in review: Kameny burial delayed indefinitely

Frank Kameny gravesite, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

More than a year after gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny died in his Washington home at the age of 86, an urn bearing his ashes remains in storage at D.C.’s historic Congressional Cemetery.

News of what became an indefinite delay in the burial of Kameny’s ashes at the cemetery surfaced in March, when a cemetery official said a March 3 burial ceremony had been abruptly cancelled due to an estate related dispute.

Patrick Crowley, the then interim senior manager of Congressional Cemetery, said the dispute was between Kameny’s estate, which has legal control over the ashes, and the D.C. gay charitable group Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS), which owns the burial site.

The estate is under the control of Timothy Clark, the heir and personal representative, or executor, of the estate.

Both sides have acknowledged that the dispute is over a disagreement about how to transfer ownership of the cemetery plot from HOBS, which bought it earlier this year, to the Kameny estate.

HOBS executive director Marvin Carter has said HOBS is willing to sell the plot to the estate at the price the group paid for it. The estate, through one of its attorneys, said HOBS bought the plot through donations from members of the LGBT community who knew and admired Kameny and HOBS should transfer the title to the plot to the estate rather than sell it.

“The estate of Franklin Kameny is currently in negotiations in an effort to settle outstanding matters related to the estate,” said estate attorney Glen Ackerman in a statement in October. “We cannot comment on these negotiations or the status of the various matters as doing so may compromise the progress that has been made thus far. All involved are hopeful that resolution may be reached in the near future.”

In a separate statement Carter said, “HOBS is working diligently and in good faith to resolve all issues concerning the plot at Congressional Cemetery and the final burial of Frank’s ashes at the cemetery in a manner and under circumstances that will protect and advance Frank’s reputation in and contributions to the LGBT community.”

27
Dec
2012