Kennith H. Burns grew up in Southern California and briefly attended the University of Southern California before joining the medical corps. After World War II, he began studying for the Episcopal priesthood, but left by the 1950s and was working as an insurance adjuster. In the early 1950s, Burns became a member of the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles. He later became chairman of the Coordinating Council in 1953, and oversaw numerous activities in Mattachine Society chapters in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco.
By 1953, there was a growing schism between the Mattachine's members. In two conventions that year, the membership elected a new slate of leaders including Burns, replacing founder Harry Hay and his followers. Burns was elected President of the Mattachine Society, where he stayed for three years until conflict over the editorial content of the Mattachine Review led him to resign from his office. His lover at the time, Dale Olson, resigned from the Mattachine as well.
Sears, James T. Behind the Mask of the Mattachine: The Hal Call Chronicles and the Early Movement for Homosexual Emancipation. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2006.