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Canadian astronomer names asteroid after gay rights activist

  • Author: Freya Petersen
  • Updated: September 29, 2016
  • Published July 11, 2012

Canadian amateur astronomer Gary Billings has named an asteroid he discovered after US gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, who died last year at age 86.

Kameny, who had a doctorate in astronomy from Harvard, was a US government astronomer in the 1950s, was fired from his job at the US Army Map Service for being gay.

He was told that because of his sexual orientation, he was "automatically a security risk" and a "disruptive personnel factor," according to Pink News.

He contested the firing in the US Supreme Court, organizing the first gay rights protests in front of the White House and the Pentagon.

Billings discovered Minor Planet 40463, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, according to the Advocate.

After learning about Kameny's life, he and a group of other astronomers have requested — in a citation to the Paris-based International Astronomical Union and the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts — to name the asteroid Frankkameny, the Associated Press reported.

Billings and Richard "Doc" Kinne, an astronomical technologist at the American Association of Variable Star Observers in Cambridge, told the AP that they wanted to honor Kameny even though he was pushed out of the astronomy field.

According to Pink News, Kameny also founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, one of the earliest gay and lesbian campaigning societies, and became the first openly gay candidate for Congress in 1971.

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