Truth Can Empower
And Lead to Great Progress
A strong culture can survive the truth, lies can weaken it and in these difficult times, when it seems our very way of life is on a razor’s edge, it is important to examine the truth and to understand there has been progress in the past that offers hope for the future.
One area where there has been significant progress has been in the LGBTQ community. In the 1950s, the government perpetuated the big lie that homosexuals were perverts who were a danger to the American way of life and should be kept out of public service largely because they could allegedly be blackmailed into revealing secrets to enemy countries, specifically Russia. The subject was considered by a special congressional committee in a report issued on July 14, 1950 but it was kept secret for 42 years, before it was declassified on March 18, 1992.
Before the special congressional committee was created, Sen. Kenneth Wherry, R-Neb., lead an initial congressional investigation into homosexuality in the federal workforce and emphasized fears of the Communist connection.
“Only the most naïve could believe that the Communists’ fifth column in the United States would neglect to propagate and use homosexuals to gain their treacherous ends,” Wherry said.
Persecution of the LGBTQ community, particularly the effort to kick all homosexuals out of government service, peaked in the early 1950s, in an effort known as the Lavender Scare, a crusade that coincided with an equally offensive effort, the communist witchhunt, known as the Red Scare, orchestrated by the soon to be disgraced, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis. McCarthy also was homophobic and linked homosexuality with communism. His equally rabid anti-communist lawyer, Roy Cohn, later died of AIDS and was believed to be homosexual. Cohn also later was a close confidant of Donald Trump before he was elected president.
Beginning in the late 1940s and continuing through the 1960s, thousands of gay employees were fired or forced to resign from the federal workforce because of their sexuality. The wave of repression was bound up with anti-Communism and the power of congressional investigation. The U.S. Park Police also initiated a “Sex Perversion Elimination Program” in 1947 which targeted gay men for arrest and intimidation. In 1948, Congress passed an act “for the treatment of sexual psychopaths” which allowed for arrest and punishment of people who acted on same-sex desire.
In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association’s first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders officially classified homosexuality as a “sociopathic personality disturbance.”
The Subcommittee on Investigations held a series of hearings, chaired by Sen. Clyde Hoey, D-N.C., was an avowed segregationist, racist and homophobe who opposed statehood for Hawaii in 1950 because he said it would be “inconceivable” to grant statehood to a territory with “only a small percentage of white people.” Three university buildings in North Carolina were named for Hoey, but have been renamed.
The report by the Hoey committee shaped government agency security manuals for years to come and was the foundation for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1953 Executive Order that explicitly added sexuality to the criteria used to determine suitability for federal employment.
Among the strongly homophobic senators was Sen. Kenneth Wherry, R-Neb., who was the focus of a book by Randolph W. Baxter, examining the issue and titled “‘Homo-Hunting’ in the Early Cold War: Senator Kenneth Wherry and the Homophobic Side of McCarthyism.” Wherry openly opposed homosexuals in the government and told journalist Max Lerner in a 1950 interview that “You can’t hardly separate homosexuals from subversives.” Wherry also said he feared that Adolf Hitler had given Joseph Stalin a list of closeted homosexuals in government, which he believed Stalin would use to blackmail these same homosexuals into becoming Soviet spies.
Another federal official testifying before the committee was Roscoe Henry Hillenkoetter, director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
“Experience indicates that perverts are vulnerable to interrogation by a skilled questioner,” Hillenkoetter testified. “In addition homosexuality frequently is accompanied by other exploitable weakness, such as psychopathic tendencies which affect the soundness of their judgment, physical cowardice, susceptibility to pressure and general instability.”
Hillenkoetter said homosexuals had “a definite similarity to other illegal groups such as criminals, smugglers, black marketeers, dope addicts and so forth.
“One pervert brings other perverts. They belong to the lodge, the fraternity. One pervert brings other perverts into an agency, they move from position to position and advance them usually in the interest of furthering the romance of the moment,” he said.
Hillenkoetter said homosexuals had common characteristics but he didn’t know what they were.
“I don’t not know what they are but from questioning a lot of them, one homo can pick out another one. What traits there are, I do not know,” Hillenkoetter testified.
The CIA director didn’t limit his public comments to homosexuals. He also believed in aliens and UFOs. As a board member of the National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena, Hillenkoetter said that “high-ranking Air Force officers are soberly concerned about UFOs. But through official secrecy and ridicule, many citizens are led to believe the unknown flying objects are nonsense.”
Senators Karl Mundt, R-S.D., a member of the Senate committee, waxed philosophical after questioned about whether homosexuals could tell if another was a homosexual.
“A poet of somewhat lesser stature than either Milton or Shakespeare who said ‘Pity the fly upon the wall who hasn’t any sex at all. He cannot tell he from she but she can tell and so can he,’ ” said Mundt.
The Senate committee also heard from Roy Early Blick, then director of the Morals Division of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. Without any evidence, Blick claimed that 5,000 homosexuals lived in D.C. and that about 3,700 of them were federal employees. Many were later fired from their jobs.
After years of institutional bias against gay people, in 1973, a federal judge ruled a person’s sexual orientation could not be the sole reason for termination from federal employment. In 1995 President Bill Clinton instituted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for admittance of gays into the military. In 2017 President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13764 which removed all prohibitions against gays serving in federal positions, including the military.
So there has been progress much but there is much to do before the LGBTQ community is treated as equal partners in the U.S. But in these dark days, it is helpful to remember the progress that has been made.