Minor planet 40463, an asteroid that orbits between Mars and Jupiter, has been named after gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny.
Gary Billings, a Canadian amateur astronomer, said he wanted to name the asteroid after Kameny as a tribute to the activist and the LGBTQ community, according to a letter obtained by the Associated Press.
“I concluded he was a man I would have admired,” Billings wrote in the letter.
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“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!”
Kameny, who died last year at the age of 86, was an astronomer with the U.S. Army map service in the 1950s before being fired due to his sexual orientation. He then became a gay rights activist, and led one of the first gay rights protests outside of the White House in the 1960s.
The published citation officially naming the asteroid was released on July 3. The citation in Minor Planet Circular highlights Kameny’s achievements as a civil rights activist.
“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.”
Kameny is credited with being one of the leading strategists for the early gay rights movement — beginning shortly before the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York’s Greenwich Village and continuing afterward.