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Great Events from History: GLBT Events
President Eisenhower Prohibits Lesbian and Gay Federal Workers
U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1953 executive order prohibited the employment of gays and lesbians in federal government, an action that reflected a perceived risk to national security if gays and lesbians were to work as federal employees. The Civil Service Commission changed this discriminatory policy, however, in 1975.
Also Known As: Executive Order 10450
Date: April 27, 1953
Locale: Washington, D.C.
Categories: Civil rights; government and politics
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), U.S. president, 1953-1961
Harry Truman (1884-1972), U.S. president, 1945-1953
Kenneth Spicer Wherry (1892-1951), Republican senator from Nebraska
Joseph Lister Hill (1894-1984), Republican senator from Alabama
Joseph Raymond McCarthy (1908-1957), Republican senator from Wisconsin
Clyde Roark Hoey (1877-1954), Democratic senator from North Carolina
Summary of Event
On April 27, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450: Security Requirements for Government Employment. The order listed "sexual perversion" as a condition for firing a federal employee and for denying employment to potential applicants. Homosexuality, moral perversion, and communism were categorized as national security threats; the issue of homosexual federal workers had become a dire federal personnel policy concern.
Although President Harry Truman had set broad standards for dismissal from federal employment during his administration before Eisenhower, his policy toward dismissing homosexuals was criticized as too weak. Eisenhower ordered the government to hire and retain employees only when "clearly consistent with the interests of national security."
Removing homosexuals from federal employment had been common practice. Since the nineteenth century, Civil Service regulations instructed the bureaucracy to deny examinations and refuse appointments to eligible applicants and to fire employees from their jobs for conduct unbecoming. Records indicate that several federal employees, including poet Walt Whitman, had been dismissed for being homosexual. Whitman had been fired for immoral behavior from a clerical position at the Interior Department in 1863, and Henry Gerber, founder of the gay political organization the Society for Human Rights, had been dismissed from the postal service in 1925 for "conduct unbecoming" a postal worker.
The investigations of Republican senator Joseph McCarthy moved the issue of gay federal employees to the top of the national agenda. Capitalizing on news reports about morality and communism, McCarthy claimed that a "homosexual underground" was aiding the "communist conspiracy." In June of 1950, Republican senators Kenneth Wherry and Lister Hill, with McCarthy's support, formed a subcommittee to study the effects of the Truman administration's employment policy concerning homosexuals. Expert testimony gave the senators enough evidence to argue that "moral perverts [were] bad national security risks because of their susceptibility to blackmail and threat of exposure."
The committee concluded that the bureaucracy had inadequate procedures to prevent homosexuals from resigning from one federal job and taking up employment in another part of the government. The Civil Service Commission, in response to the committee's recommendations, instructed federal agencies to document the reasons why employees left or lost their federal jobs, including any moral issues that could affect employees' suitability for reemployment. Civil Service commissioner Harry Mitchell suggested that local police departments report any "moral" arrest in detail to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the FBI in turn would send the information to the Civil Service Commission for further action.
Senator Clyde Roark Hoey, a Democrat, followed these recommendations with an extensive investigation into the supposed reasons why homosexuals made undesirable federal employees. His committee concluded that the immorality and emotional instability of homosexual behavior, and the propensity for gays and lesbians to seduce "normal" people, especially the young and impressionable, constituted significant reasons to justify the prohibition of homosexuals from federal jobs. The committee recommended that the Civil Service Commission use arrest records more diligently to root out homosexual employees. Hoey argued that arrest records were desirable because a number of U.S. cities were in the process of conducting extensive sting operations against sexual deviants. The Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, police forces averaged between one thousand and twelve hundred gay-related arrests per year in the early 1950's.
During his 1952 presidential campaign, Eisenhower promised to eradicate communists and other security risks from government and defense-industry employment. He suggested their presence had been too easily tolerated by the Truman administration. On February 2, 1953, during his first State of the Union address, Eisenhower promised a new system "for keeping out the disloyal and dangerous." On April 27, 1953, he signed Executive Order 10450. McCarthy, who had been invited to the signing ceremony by the administration, praised the new order as a "pretty darn good program." The New York Times reported the next day that, "The new [personnel security] program will require a new investigation of many thousands of employees previously investigated, as well as many more thousands who have had no security check."
During the 1960's and 1970's, gays and lesbians turned to the court system for protection against federal job discrimination. The court cases of Norton v. Macy (1969), Vigil v. Post Office Department (1969), Schlegel v. United States (1969), and Society for Individual Rights v. Hampton (1973), as well as changing public attitudes concerning homosexuals and homosexuality, helped undermine the Civil Service Commission's policy. In 1975, the commission officially ended job discrimination against lesbians and gays for most federal jobs except those within the FBI and other intelligence agencies.
President Eisenhower's order not only made it much harder for gays and lesbians to obtain and hold federal employment but also affected civilian government contractors. The order barred gays and lesbians from 20 percent of the nation's jobs and led to the firing of fifteen hundred and the resignation of six thousand federal employees. Many business owners and bureaucrats were so afraid of being accused of protecting "subversives" that they began to quickly dismiss homosexual workers. From 1947 to 1950, dismissals of homosexuals averaged about five per month in civilian government jobs. In 1950, there were 720 dismissals, and in 1955, there were 837 dismissals. Through the late 1950's and 1960's, dismissals lowered to an average of twenty-five per year.
Although the Civil Service Commission curtailed the discriminatory policy in 1975, the United States as a nation still lacks a general sexual orientation nondiscrimination policy. In 1998, President Bill Clinton had signed Executive Order 13087, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in federal employment. Many U.S. states and municipal governments, like the federal government, prohibit discrimination against lesbians and gays in areas such as employment, but many states and municipalities also prohibit discrimination in housing, health care, and other critical areas.
Jamie Patrick ChandlerFurther Reading
D'Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970. 1983. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Brown, Ralph S., Jr. Loyalty and Security: Employment Tests in the United States. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1958.
Federal GLOBE: Gay, Lesbian, Bi, and Transgender Employees of the Federal Government. http://www.fedglobe.org. Accessed on May 2, 2006.
Johnson, David K. "`Homosexual Citizens': Washington's Gay Community Confronts the Civil Service." Washington History 6, no. 2 (1994): 44-63.
_______. The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Koppelman, Andrew. The Gay Rights Question in Contemporary American Law. Chicago; University of Chicago Press, 2002.
Lewis, Gregory B. "Lifting the Ban on Gays in the Civil Service: Federal Policy Toward Gay and Lesbian Employees Since the Cold War." Public Administration Review 57, no. 5 (1997): 387-395.
Winfeld, Liz. Straight Talk About Gays in the Workplace: Creating and Inclusive, Productive Environment for Everyone in Your Organization. 3rd ed. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2005.
March 15, 1919-1921: U.S. Navy Launches Sting Operation Against "Sexual Perverts"; 1972-1973: Local Governments Pass Antidiscrimination Laws; July 3, 1975: U.S. Civil Service Commission Prohibits Discrimination Against Federal Employees; 1978: Lesbian and Gay Employees Workplace Movement Is Founded; May-August, 1980: USS Norton Sound Incident; November 30, 1993: "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don’t Pursue" Policy Is Implemented; 1994: Attempted Passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
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