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Pioneering Gay Rights Activist Frank Kameny Dead at 86

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS) - A man credited as being this country's first gay rights activist, and who made Philadelphia a base for his fight, has died.

Frank Kameny was 86.

"Frank will be remembered in the scope of American history as an iconic civil rights leader," says Malcolm Lazin, head of Equality Forum.

Lazin says he is one of many who have followed in Kameny's pioneering footsteps.

"He helped to organize the very first demonstration on behalf of gay rights, here in Philadelphia, in front of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, each July 4th, from 1965 through 1969," Lazin says.

And Lazin says those demonstrations helped spark the Stonewall riots in New York, which gave birth to the modern gay rights movement.

Kameny, who had a PhD from Harvard, also was instrumental in the fight with the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness.

Two years ago, the government apologized for firing him -- a half-century before -- from his job as a federal astronomer, simply because of his sexual orientation.

"It is almost like the contrived happy ending of a fictional fairy tale where everything is resolved, and rarely in my life have I felt so thoroughly vindicated," Kameny said to KYW Newsradio in 2009.

"Instead of shrinking at a time when that really meant ending one's career, Frank literally fought back and really proved that one person could make a difference.  Frank Kameny did," says Lazin, who calls Kameny a "remarkable" man.

Kameny died in Washington, DC on Tuesday -- National Coming Out Day -- of a heart attack or heart failure, according to a friend.

Reported by Ian Bush, KYW Newsradio 1060

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