Tag Archives: Lavender Scare

Gay History: 9 Things To Know About ‘The Lavender Scare’

(Above, right, powerful and closeted gay lawyer Roy Cohn was instrumental in creating anti-Communist fervor.)

Filmmaker Josh Howard discusses his forthcoming documentary on dark days in American history.

Tomorrow’s a lamentable anniversary for the United States: it was 60 years ago, on April 27, 1953, that President Eisenhower put his John Hancock an executive order demanding all gay and lesbian government employees be fired. Not really something you want to celebrate, right? But it is something you should know about, which is why director Josh Howard began production on The Lavender Scare, a documentary based on Dr. David Johnson’s book of the same name. It’s also the first cinematic account of how our government tracked down gays and lesbians in the mid-20th Century.

This project began in 2009, when Howard, a former Emmy-winning producer for CBS’ 60 Minutes and later CNBC, stumbled across Johnson’s book. He hadn’t intended on turning it into anything, and certainly didn’t intend on leaving his job to direct a documentary, but as he read on, and researched on his own, the subject gripped him.

Unable to shake the feeling that there was more story to tell, Howard approached Johnson, now a professor at the University of South Florida, about optioning the book. Johnson agreed, and for the past two years Howard has tracked down as many sources as possible to fill in the gaps, including Frank Kameny, a government astronomer fired who was fired for being gay in 1957 and went on to lead the first public protests against the anti-American policy.

Howard also managed to find a few of the government agents tasked with spearheading the anti-gay witch hunt. One remains particularly unrepentant. “The people that I got rid of, they were faggots,” he says, under the cloak of darkness, inthe film’s trailer, included below. “I didn’t give a hoot; get rid of the son of a bitch. Put him in the bread line.”

As far away as this may all seem, keep in mind that lawmakers and activists are still fighting for Employment Non-Discrimination, policies that would finally create federal laws making illegal to fire LGBT people. (As you know, it’s legal in 29 states to fire gay and lesbian employees and legally acceptable in 34 to do the same for transgender people as well.) And this isn’t simply about homophobia or jobs. It’s about the nagging, tenacious ability of Americans to participate in or turn a blind eye to injustice, a trait foreign observer EM Forster saw right away. Whether it’s scapegoating gays during then Lavender Scare or Muslims after 9/11 or Japanese-Americans during World War II, this a completely unattractive and persistent quality, and it’s one that Howard hopes this film can help eradicate.

To get to that point, though, Howard and his team need to finish editing and licensing the bundle of archival materials they hope to include, and that requires money. Supporters can give them a little greenback love at Kickstarter. They’re shooting for $50,000 and donations end on May 21, which would have been Kameny’s 88th birthday.

Here, Howard offers us the basics on The Lavender Scare, the policies it spawned, what happened to those policies and why this son of a bitch story still matters.

(Left: Frank Kameny can be seen toward the left in this picture from a 1965 White House picket he helped organized. Right: an older Kameny poses with one of those signs.)

1. WHAT IS THE LAVENDER SCARE? It’s the first feature-length film documentary to tell the story of the U.S. government’s decades-long campaign to fire every federal employee found to be gay or lesbian. In what became the most successful witch hunt in American history, thousands and thousands of federal workers lost their jobs. More than a few, with their careers in ruins and unable to find work, committed suicide.

2. WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN, AND WHY? In the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy ignited the Red Scare with his allegations that Communists had infiltrated the U.S. government. He then added the claim that gay men and lesbians were even more dangerous than Reds, because they were susceptible to blackmail by foreign enemy agents and would give up government secrets in order to keep their sexual orientation from being exposed. The fear of this supposed homosexual menace became known as the Lavender Scare.

3. HOW MANY HOMOSEXUALS ACTUALLY GAVE UP SECRETS IN ORDER TO AVOID BEING EXPOSED? After several investigations over many years, not a single case was ever found.

4. WERE LGBT PEOPLE ALWAYS FEARED IN WASHINGTON? No! In fact, in the 1930s and 40s, there was a vibrant and very open gay community in Washington. A large number of new government jobs were created after the Great Depression, and many of the people who came to Washington to fill those jobs were gay men and lesbians. They were eager to make a new life in the growing city, and the government was eager to hire them. Same sex couples could be seen holding hands on the trolley or even kissing on the grounds of the Washington Monument. They enjoyed a comfortable work environment and a lively social life. No one could have anticipated the devastating events that were to come.

5. WAIT, WHY IS THE DATE APRIL 27, 1953 IMPORTANT? That is the day President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, which made it official government policy that gay and lesbian employees were to be hunted down and fired. More than a thousand federal agents – a couple of whom are interviewed in our film -were assigned to the task of determining who was a homosexual. People were subjected to grueling interrogation: “Who do you live with? Who are your friends? What bars do you frequent? Would you like us to call your family back home and ask these questions?” People were ordered to give up the names of their gay and lesbian friends. Most chose to resign immediately, rather than face continued pressure or further scrutiny.

6. DID ANY GOOD COME OF THIS? Yes! In 1957, Dr. Franklin Kameny, a Harvard PhD who had been working for the U.S. Army Map Service, was fired from his job when the government found out he was gay. But unlike the thousands who had been fired before him, he fought back! The purges created a sense of anger and militancy in the gay community that sowed the seeds of the gay rights movement. In 1965, years before Stonewall, Kameny and a small band of brave men and women staged a picket in front of the White House, in what is believed to be the first gay rights demonstration in the country. Kameny went on to devote his entire life to the fight for LGBT rights, and just before his death saw his achievements honored by President Obama.

7. HOW LONG DID THE BAN ON GAY AND LESBIAN WORKERS REMAIN IN EFFECT? People continued to lose their jobs simply through the 1950s, ‘60s, 70s, and 80s. In 1995, President Clinton officially rescinded the policy that had been put in place by President Eisenhower in 1953, and for the first time in four decades, LGBT people could freely work for the civilian agencies of the federal government. Of course, the ban on service in the military continued for many years beyond that.

8. DOES THIS STORY HAVE ANY PRESENT DAY RELEVANCE? Oh, definitely. There are still 29 states in the country in which it is perfectly legal to fire people simply because they are LGBT – a direct result of our government’s homophobic policies that were put in place in the 1950s. We think the story of The Lavender Scare will help educate people about the need for laws on both the state and national level to protect LGBT people from employment discrimination. The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would extend job protection to LGBT people nationwide, has just been re-introduced in Congress – ironically enough. just as we’re marking the 60th anniversary of the start of the government’s anti-gay witch hunts.

9. WHY DO SO FEW PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THIS? This is a classic example of the way in which the struggles and contributions of gay men and lesbians are ignored in the telling of American history. It is shocking that with all the books and films about the Cold War and the Red Scare, the story of the Lavender Scare is almost completely ignored. The Lavender Scare will be the first film to shine a light on this important subject – if we can raise the funds to finish production. As philanthropist and activist Jim Hormel has said, “If LGBT people don’t take the lead in preserving our history, who will?”


Gay History: Franklin Edward (Frank) Kameny – Prominent Gay Rights Leader, 21 May 1925 – 11 October 2011

Frank Kameny, 86, a persistent and often brash activist who was one of the leading figures of the gay rights movement in the Washington area and in the nation, was found dead Oct. 11 2011 at his home in Northwest Washington.

His death was confirmed by Charles Francis, a founder of the Kameny Papers Project, and by Marvin Carter, a longtime friend. The cause of death could not immediately be learned.

Mr. Kameny, a Harvard PhD whose homosexuality led to his discharge from a federal government job more than half a century ago, lived to see his years of determined advocacy rewarded through the success of many of his campaigns and through his ultimate welcome by a political establishment that had rejected him.

His death, apparently on National Coming Out Day, occurred in a year when gay men and lesbians were accorded the right to serve openly in the armed forces, which the D.C. Council’s first openly gay member, David A. Catania (I-At Large), noted Tuesday night.

April 17 1965. Frank Kameny leads the first Gay & Lesbian protest at the White House

Through his efforts over the years, Mr. Kameny deserved to be known as one of the fathers of that shift from the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Catania said.

Mr. Kameny enlisted in the Army during World War II; in an interview last year with Richard Sincere on the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner Web site, he said, “They asked, I didn’t tell.”

In what appeared to be one of the great triumphs of Mr. Kameny’s often lonely, uphill struggle, protest signs that he once carried in front of the White House were put on display in the Smithsonian Institution four years ago, to be viewed along with the museum’s other reminders of the course of U.S. history.

Mr. Kameny said he created the slogan “Gay Is Good.” In their pungent succinctness, the words both suggested his rhetorical skills and embodied the beliefs that he championed.

Years before the gay rights movement existed in any widely recognized form and in an era in which open assertion of homosexuality could invite physical harm, Mr. Kameny worked to increase the acceptance of gay men and lesbians in mainstream American society and to win recognition of their equality under the law.

Rather than shrink from revealing his sexual orientation, Mr. Kameny made it plain. He won attention and respect by the vigorous but unsuccessful campaign he waged 40 years ago for election as the District’s non-voting delegate to Congress.

“Out for Good,” a history of the gay rights movement in the United States, made Mr. Kameny the central figure in several chapters.

One of the book’s co-authors, Dudley Clendinen, has called him an “authentic hero” of American culture. In summarizing Mr. Kameny’s precarious position after the loss of his job, Clendinen noted that Mr. Kameny subsisted on a diet of baked beans. But, the author said, “he didn’t despair.”

In addition to the White House, he picketed at the State Department and at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. He did not accept his federal dismissal without a fight, appealing through the courts, and writing his own briefs.

“He was a stubborn and impatient person, and that was the recipe for his success,” Catania said. “He was never going to be content with second-class citizenship.”

Known for shunning blandness and apology in favor of outspoken militancy, Mr. Kameny was credited with playing an important part in the achievement of what were regarded as several signal milestones passed by gay men and lesbians on the road to full inclusion in American society.

With more than a hint of irony, he once described Dec. 15, 1973, as the date on which “we were cured en masse by the psychiatrists.” That was the date associated with the decision of the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder. Mr. Kameny was credited with a major role in the effort to bring about that change.

Among other victories for gay rights with which he was associated was an executive order signed by President Bill Clinton that permitted gays to be given security clearances.

Frank Kameny made the Gay Rights movement happen

He considered the District’s repeal of an anti-sodomy law in early 1990s to be another achievement. In addition, he was credited as a co-founder of the Mattachine Society of Washington in 1961, a pioneering gay activist group.

The federal government, which had cast him aside, issued a formal apology in 2009 for letting him go.

The story of his struggle, chronicled in 77,000 pages of papers and memorabilia, was accepted in 2006 by the Library of Congress.

Living into his 80s, he was able to recognize and revel in the turnaround of American actions and attitudes towards the gay community.

Although he was aware that obstacles remained, he told a reporter last year that “it’s like a storybook ending.”

“Frank was active at a time when he had no backup,” said Rick Rosendall, a longtime gay rights activist in the District. “There was no significant organizational support. It was his sheer nerve, his patriotic indignation” that carried him.

His home, the site of the interview in which he reflected on the turnabouts in his life, was, in a further testament to the esteem in which he was held, designated as a D.C. Historic Landmark.

Franklin Edward Kameny, was born in the New York area on May 21, 1925. In the interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, he told of enlisting in the Army at the height of World War II, a few days before he turned 18.

In discussing how he had been “asked,” but “didn’t tell,” he said that “as a healthy, vigorous teenager,” there were indeed “things to tell.” (Although, he said, there were not many.)

I have resented for 67 years that I had to lie in order to serve in a war effort that I strongly supported,” he said. “I did serve and I saw combat in Europe.”

Mr. Kameny was born in New York. After his Army service he received a doctorate in astronomy in 1956.

He came to Washington to work for the Army Map Service. His dismissal from that job came in 1957.

Published accounts say the dismissal was based on his homosexuality. One report said that he was arrested in Lafayette Square, which was known at that time as a place for cruising.

The loss of the job subjected him to deprivation, and he recalled surviving on 20 cents’ worth of food a day in some of the most difficult times. It forced his life into new paths.

On one occasion, he permitted himself to speculate on how things might have turned out if he had not been dismissed at a time when interest in space exploration was growing.

He suggested that he might have become an astronaut.

“I might have gone to the moon,” he said.

Survivors include a sister.

Staff writer Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.


Gay History: The “Lavender Scare”.

Interrogations of one’s sexuality became commonplace in the 1950s and 1960s’ federal workplace. Questions like “Do you identify as a homosexual or have you ever had same-sex sexual relations?” were commonplace as employers attempted to root out LGBT employees. This period of time is often known as the Lavender Scare—the interrogation and firing of LGBT-identifying civil servants.

Before the Lavender Scare and post-World War II, LGBT individuals from rural towns began congregating to cities where they could keep anonymity. This newfound peace and community, however, was disturbed in 1947 when the United States Park Police created a Sex Perversion Elimination Act. Primarily targeting these communities in parks, at least five hundred people were arrested and 76 were charged.

As a part of the broader Red Scare that targeted communists, the Lavender Scare’s development was in large fault due to Senator McCarthy, who brought to the Senate his famous list which gave the names of two hundred and five federal employees, two of which were homosexual individuals. While federal agents began to investigate Senator McCarthy’s federal employment list, much of the Red Scare rhetoric also invoked the ideas of morality connected with queer and homosexual people to those of communists. At the time, homosexuals were viewed as sinful and perverted and the public perception of homosexuality shared many similarities with the public view of communists, who were similarly viewed lacking in both moral and mental strength. For the federal government, LGBT employees began to pose a security risk: if they were living double lives, then they may not be loyal nor mentally stable enough to keep government secrets.

Eventually, Senators Wherry and Hill, who were supported by McCarty, interrogated the two LGBT individuals on McCarty’s list, leading to their discharge. In March 1952, the federal government announced its removal of 162 civil servants suspecting of being homosexual. And about a year later on April 27, 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, expanding on Truman’s federal employment regulations with a statement to exclude federal employees of “sexual perversion.” Because of this Executive Order, it is estimated that at least ten thousand civil servants lost their jobs.

The Lavender Scare made being publicly LGBT difficult. Although homosexuals were largely closeted before the Lavender Scare, being publicly LGBT during the 1950s was largely challenging and near impossible without staggeringly high consequences. Not only were LGBT federal employees fired, but many others were also simply fired for “guilt of association” in knowing someone who was LGBT. Because of the resulting stigma within federal government as well as in larger public culture, many of the federal investigations and resulting firings lead to dismissed employees’ suicides — most of which were later covered up by the federal interrogators.

Several LGBT people later stepped up to challenge federal government’s “sexual perversion” components, including civil servant Frank Kameny who took his case to the Supreme Court. Although Kameny lost, a few federal courts began ruling in his favor by 1969. More gay rights organizations also developed such as the Mattachine Society (1950) as well as the Daughters of Bilitis (1955). The Lavender Scare’s effects, however, were still lasting.

The Lavender Scare not only broke up and quieted the cities’ queer communities who were afraid of federal employment discrimination and potential hate crime, but it also resulted in a largely conservative, homogenous culture within the government. While most federal organizations overturned their policies on LGBT discrimination, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and National Security Alliance (NSA)’s bans on homosexuals lasted into the 1990s, until they were officially overturned by President Bill Clinton in 1995. Later, as recent as 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry apologized to the LGBT community on behalf of the federal government’s Lavender Scare interrogations, stating: “I apologize to those who were impacted by the practices of the past and reaffirm the department’s steadfast commitment to diversity and inclusion for all our employees, including members of the LGBTI community.”

Homosexuals at the State Department

In the 1950s and 60s, security within the U.S. government, including the State Department, was on high alert for internal risks, particularly Communists and what were considered to be sexual deviants—homosexuals and promiscuous individuals. Investigating homosexuality became a core function of the Department’s Office of Security, which ferreted out more people for homosexuality than for being a Communist.

In 1950, a subcommittee chaired by Maryland Senator Millard Tydings convened to investigate Joseph McCarthy’s notorious list of “205 known communists.” Tydings worked to discredit McCarthy’s claim, but, in the process, the subcommittee concluded that the State Department was overrun with “sexual perverts,” part of the so-called “Lavender Scare.” 

During the hearings, Nebraska Senator Kenneth Wherry memorably claimed that as many as 3,000 homosexuals were employed at State. By the end of 1950, 600 people had been dismissed from positions at the State Department on morals charges. In 1973 a federal judge ruled that a person’s sexual orientation alone could not be the sole reason for termination from federal employment; two years later, the Civil Service Commission announced that it would consider applications by gays and lesbians on a case-by-case basis.

The following excerpts give a glimpse behind the curtain as individuals in the Security and Personnel offices discuss how they interrogated suspected homosexuals, who were then forced to leave the Service. Norman V. Shute served as the Administrative Officer of the Near East Asian Affairs (NEA) Bureau at the State Department from 1958-1961. His memoir was given to ADST in July 1995. Robert J. Ryan, Sr. served as the Assistant Chief for Foreign Service Personnel from 1953-1955. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning November 1991. Robert Woodward served as the Chief of Foreign Service Personnel from 1952-1953 and was interviewed by Kennedy beginning May 1987.

Joseph C. Walsh served as the Director of the Security Office from 1953-1957. He was interviewed by G. Lewis Schmidt beginning April 1989. Charles Anthony Gillespie Jr. served as the Regional Security Officer (RSO) in Manila, Philippines and Jakarta, Indonesia from 1965-1966. He was interviewed by Kennedy beginning September 1995. Edward L. Lee II served as an Agent in the Field Office of the Security Office in the State Department from 1971-1972. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning June 1999.

“Homosexuality in the Service has always been a problem”

Norman V. Schute, NEA Administrative Officer, 1958-1961

SCHUTE:  Homosexuality in the Service has always been a problem. I voice no personal opinion on this. Basically, officially it is believed that homosexuality can lead to the compromise of U.S. Government security.

Both German and Soviet intelligence use homosexuals to establish a close relationship with homosexuals in other countries’ services including our own. Those who cohabited on the outside were developed into informants by their lovers.

Others were or were likely to become targets for blackmail and thence informants. “Traitor” is another term used for it. Back in 1946 as I recall, [someone] had to inform Secretary of State Cordell Hull that a very senior officer had been arrested for pederasty [homosexual relationship between an adult male and a minor male] in Lafayette Park [near the White House].

In Rome, two of my colleagues after interviews confessed and were released from the Service. Three members of the original Foreign Service Security group were reported to be deviants and on interview were promptly released.

And in 1947…, Foreign Service Chief Inspector Merle Cochran, later an Ambassador, sent home seven communications personnel, a veritable “daisy and chain” as it is known. And that’s the way it is, or at least was, in my day.

“’How many homosexuals has the Department fired this year?’”

Robert J. Ryan, Sr., Assistant Chief for Foreign Service Personnel, 1953-1955

RYAN: When I was in Departmental Personnel, we had an individual who had been arrested and then the Security Office ran an investigation on him and found that he was an active homosexual. I remember Arch Gean, who was then the Chief of Departmental Personnel, telling me about going up with Jack Peurifoy, who was the Assistant Secretary for Administration, to see General [and Secretary of State George C.] Marshall and going over the file with him.

When they finished their discussion, as it was reported to me, General Marshall said, “Fire the bastard.” And that was where the policy was inaugurated of terminating people with homosexual backgrounds….

On the issue of the homosexuals, of course, one of the unfortunate incidents that occurred following that is that each year at the time the State Department went up for its hearing before the Appropriations Committee, one of the questions from Congressman [John J.] Rooney [D-NY,  pictured], who was Chairman of the State Department Committee, always was “How many homosexuals has the Department fired this year?”

That was a usual question, so it was a matter of public knowledge each year of how many people left the State Department because of allegations of homosexual activities. The Security Office actually had one guy, John Finletter, who spend his full time following up allegations of homosexuality among the employees of the Department.

Robert Woodward, Chief of Foreign Service Personnel, 1952-1953

WOODWARD: The Security Division was caused to set up standards which were very specific and arbitrary. For example, I had gone to great effort to get a deputy Chief of Mission for Saigon….

Ed Gullion was a very able fellow, and I was hunting for a replacement for him. I found a very, very able guy and this was one of the duties of the Chief of Foreign Service personnel, was to try to get very able people for very important assignments. I went to quite a lot of effort to get this man, and I wanted to persuade him — he’d never been in the Far East — I wanted to persuade him of the importance of the assignment. This was, as I recall, just before Dien Bien Phu. It was a very critical time for the French….

Anyhow, the man was going to take up his duties that I considered important, and I think that he’d been persuaded were important. He was about to depart from the United States. I think he was in New York, when I was suddenly informed through Bob Ryan (see above), who was in constant liaison with the security division, that the man had resigned.

Well, I couldn’t understand it, because I had had several talks with him just a few days before, and everything was going according to plan. I discovered that the security division had brought him in and had a very tough interrogation with him.

They had a criterion that if any person in the Foreign Service were found to have had any kind of a homosexual relationship after a date six months after his 21st birthday, that he must be discharged from the Foreign Service. This man that was going to Saigon was 45- 46 years of age, happily married, had children. There was no question of his homosexuality whatever.

But in the course of the interrogation he admitted some kind of a homosexual incident within that narrow margin just after the cut-off date, six months after his 21st birthday. And he was out of the Foreign Service. Of course, there was nothing I could do about it, and I had to find somebody else to go to Saigon.

Joseph C. Walsh, Director of the Security Office, 1953-1957

WALSH: There were multiple problems. When Congress created USIA [U.S. Information Agency] they directed that everyone then in the Agency be cleared for top secret information. Thus, all were subjected to “full-field” investigations by the FBI to determine whether or not their employment was to be continued.

Also, all applicants for employment with the Agency were subject to the same regulation. This investigational processing consumed long 3 periods of time — as much as four months in some cases — which created untenable problems in the hiring procedures.

As a result of these long delays, the Agency lost many especially suitable applicants for employment. The great bulk of the job didn’t set well with the FBI and, with Congressional approval, transferred the full-field investigations to the Civil Service Commission with the stipulation that should an investigation reveal affiliation with Communism or its organizations, such would be returned to the FBI for their more extensive handling.

This measure reduced considerably the waiting time before the required clearance could be made for an individual’s appointment. The clearance process, of course, fell upon the Office of Security. The staff received the FBI and/or Civil Service reports, studied them carefully and, with no obstacles extant, stamped them with full clearance.

The standard of measurement, our bible, was Executive Order 10450 issued by President Eisenhower shortly before our Agency was formed in 1953. The essence of this Order related to Federal employees as affecting the country’s National Security — denial of such employment was spelled out to include anyone associated with communism, homosexuals, drunks and other social aberrants who might be considered threats to the security of the USA.

All this, I’m sure you remember, happened within the days of the broiling McCarthy investigations so thoroughly exposed under TV lights and avidly consumed by a national audience intrigued and scared by the Wisconsin Senator’s accusations.

As to the denials of the security clearances: It seems to be — now, thirty-plus years later — there were, within our Agency, extremely few individuals (employees or applicants) who were denied security clearance due to their association with communism, or its organizations. By far, the major shares of the total number were those admitted homosexuals.

It was a nasty business, seeking out and identifying people suspected of homosexuality. Disquieting features to me — there were several awfully decent and intelligent people who worked within the Agency whom I got to know well and enjoyed working within the Agency programs who, suddenly and peremptorily, dropped out of the picture — disappeared! Under investigation, they had admitted their homosexuality and had resigned.

“The whole idea was to develop information so that you could confront the individual. Then he would resign.”

Charles Anthony Gillespie Jr., RSO, Manila and Jakarta, 1965-1966

GILLESPIE: I learned when I came into security affairs that there were two sorts of secret or highly sensitive, investigative units – or maybe it was one unit with two parts in the State Department security system. One of these units had to do with real, honest to God, counterintelligence….

Either a separate unit or a part of the same unit dealt with nothing but homosexuality. I remember the first time that when I went into that unit and talked to two or three of the people assigned, I felt almost intimidated myself. They were briefing me on the unit’s activities. There were special code words for the special kinds of investigations. These were formal investigations.

We use a code word system today on the distribution of sensitive policy messages. We have “NODIS,” which means “no distribution outside the State Department.” These security units also used “NODIS CHEROKEE,” “NODIS GREEN,” and so forth, which meant that the message dealt with a particular subject. It could involve China, and so forth. In any event, in the security investigative area, communications were labeled. I don’t remember quite what the label was, but a certain label meant that it concerned a homosexuality case.

The whole idea was to develop enough information so that you could confront the individual and get him to agree that he was a homosexual, if that was what you believed. Then he would resign from the Foreign Service. If he didn’t resign, you would pull his security clearance.

I was never directly involved with one of these cases. I don’t know what it was really like to handle one. However, that confrontation technique as described to me was to face these people, get them to admit what they were, and then they would leave the Foreign Service. That was the whole idea.

It was a little more precise than [looking for somebody who was unmarried or talked with a lisp], although those factors were never far away, because I think that people believed in those days, as they probably have for some time, that in terms of our ethic in the United States, you could probably identify people like that. They were visible if you just looked hard enough.

What I was told when I was briefed in this unit was that I should try to find out whether there were any homosexual hangouts, e.g., nightclubs at my post.

If I heard of anybody from our mission who hung out at these places, I should immediately take the following steps:  find out what they were doing at one of these hangouts. Was the allegation really true? If it was true, they told me, notify us, and we’ll open a case on the person concerned. So that was it, and this unit would undertake follow-up action.

When you did a background investigation on someone or you were updating an investigation on a Foreign Service Officer — let’s say, age 43 or 44 — who had never been married, you were enjoined to make sure that you asked all the right questions which would cover what we today would call sexual orientation. The question might be asked, “Why isn’t he married?” “Does he go out with women?” Really subtle, penetrating questions like that — just as we used to ask questions about drinking.

When I first started in as a Security Officer, questions on drug use were practically never asked. I left the security area in the late 1960s when questions about drugs became very important. Investigations of homosexuality were very important matters. They were big deals.

I don’t think that the homosexuality issue would ever have loomed large in most people’s minds. However, for many of them it was a distasteful area…

The idea was that if an individual engages in any behavior which is prohibited by his social or cultural group, and does it surreptitiously, knows that it’s wrong, by that very fact he or she is now susceptible to pressure. That was the whole theory of it.

Now, I will be very blunt and say that I detected, as a human being talking to other human beings — and this is an intuitive kind of judgment — that there were some people who were firmly and solidly convinced that certain kinds of behavior were not only wrong but abominable.

They considered that this kind of behavior should be ferreted out and eradicated. Some of the people holding those views were certainly in the State Department security system at this time. I think that they gravitated to charges of this kind.

“If a person said they were homosexual, that usually meant terminating the interview”

Edward L. Lee II, Field Agent, Security Office, 1971-1972

LEE: There was a law that is still in place called Executive Order 10450. That goes back to the ‘60s. It authorized federal agencies to investigate people that were coming to work for the U.S. government.

There were certain criteria that you would look at. We did not want at that time people that were involved in activity of moral turpitude. We did not want people that were not loyal Americans. What a loyal American is or is not was never quite well defined.

But we were hoping that people would hold up their hand and say they would be loyal to the Constitution and the system of government, they would not attempt to overthrow it, and what have you. Even in the early ‘70s, the Cold War was well underway. There was a threat of communist aggression worldwide. There was a threat of nuclear superiority. So, there were a lot of things we did not want. We did not want spies or homosexuals.

The belief at that time was that if your sexual orientation was other than heterosexual, you could be co-opted, recruited, blackmailed. Thereby, a very senior person in the Department of State could be forced, co-opted, coerced to turn over documents, violate their loyalty to the United State and what have you. We’ve learned a lot since then.

But we did not want people with bad credit, criminal records, homosexuals, drunks… These were all risks that we were not prepared to accept. Unfortunately, during the early periods that I was in the Foreign Service, people didn’t have that many rights. If the Department chose to turn you down for a position, the ability to get equal treatment under the law was not guaranteed…

The period of free love, the period of Haight Ashbury and Woodstock and free expression sort of helped us become who we later were. There was a lot of jaundiced eye looks at people even if their academic background was good and they scored well on the Foreign Service exam and did well on the orals and what have you.

When they got to the point of getting the clearance, that became a very unpleasant experience. There were no real guarantees of what could and could not be asked. If you were asked, “How would you describe your sexual orientation,” quite often people that were raised in the ‘50s or ‘60s would not lie, they would simply tell the truth.

We’d always been told that if you tell the truth, how can you be wrong? Well, in telling the truth, you end up not being hired. So, people really looked at the security organization, SY, the Office of Security, as this potential group of thugs that could deprive you of being employed. During the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, we grappled with those things….

If a person said they were homosexual, that usually meant terminating the interview, documenting what had been said, and that would be reviewed by a higher authority. Usually, a woman that was living with someone was viewed very negatively. A woman who was divorced was almost looked at as a prostitute in some circles within the old SY organization. It was a very black-and-white environment