How the US Civil Service tried to expel gays



Charles Francis and some of the documents he uncovered | Stephen Crowley/The New York Times | 14094

Charles Francis has been digging in the US archives and making freedom of information requests to discover the methods used by the US Civil Service to rid itself of gays.

Days after President Lyndon B. Johnson’s election to his first full term, an administration official asked a subordinate to explain the policy on firing gays. In particular, he wondered whether someone with a history of gay liaisons could, through years of marriage, be “rehabilitated” into a trustworthy civil servant.

The response came quickly, and in language that would be shocking by today’s standards. Technically, rehabilitated gays could keep their jobs. But John W. Steele, a staff member of the Civil Service Commission, which handled personnel matters for the government, said that seldom happened.

It was November 1964. Four months earlier, the president had signed the landmark Civil Rights Act banning discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex and national origin. The policies laid out in Mr. Steele’s memo would continue for more than another decade.

As we all know, FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover imparted two obsessions into the FBI he headed: an obsession with communists, and an obsession with homosexuality. Under the “Sex Deviate program” the F.B.I. collected information on people suspected of being gay. They passed it on to government agencies and when it suited them, newspapers. Informants, including doctors, helped alert the FBI to what was seen as a growing national security threat.



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