Frank Kameny, one of the United States’ earliest gay rights activists, died Tuesday — National Coming Out Day — of natural causes at the age of 86.

“Frank Kameny led an extraordinary life marked by heroic activism that set a path for the modern LGBT civil rights movement,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese in a statement. “As we say goodbye to this trailblazer on National Coming Out Day, we remember the remarkable power we all have to change the world by living our lives like Frank — openly, honestly and authentically.”

Kameny, who fought in World War II and was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge for his service, was discharged from the military in 1957 for being gay. He later led a demonstration at the Pentagon and railed against the Civil Service Commission for its policy of firing homosexuals.

Using the tagline “Gay is Good,” he told members of the then-fledgling gay-rights movement — called the “homophile” movement at the time — that they were triply condemned: The medical establishment called them mentally ill, the law said they were criminals, and religions branded them sinners.

Last year, when President Obama signed the act repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that banned gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the US military, Kameny had a reserved seat in the front row.

“He said everyone needs to know they are of value,” said Bob Witneck of the Kameny Papers Project. “He wanted dignity and self-respect, and that’s what he fought for.”

[CNN]