The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled last week that the Justice Department must search for and release historical records pertaining to a “purge” of gay and lesbian federal employees by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under J. Edgar Hoover.
The documents are related to President Dwight Eisenhower’s Executive Order 10450, which gave the heads of federal agencies the power to investigate and dismiss government workers if they posed a national security risk.
The lawsuit’s plaintiff, along with LGBT historians, however, claim the actual purpose of the program was to allow the Hoover-led FBI legal authority to fire thousands of gay and lesbian employees across the federal government.
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth in Friday’s ruling rejected arguments by the FBI that the search would produce a burdensome number of documents, and he was skeptical of claims that searches relating to Chief Justice Warren Burger — an assistant attorney general at the time who was tasked with enforcing EO 10450 — turned up no relevant results.
“The Government states that there is not a single responsive document amongst the results,” Lamberth wrote in the ruling. “Respectfully, this strains credulity.”
Lillian Faderman, an LGBT historian and author of “The Gay Revolution,” called the district court’s ruling “very significant,” but she noted Eisenhower’s executive order wasn’t the beginning of the U.S. government’s weeding out of gay employees.
“Truman in 1947 had signed [Executive Order 9835, known as the “Loyalty Order”], and that gave enough ammunition to the State Department to begin witch hunting homosexuals,” she said. “Throughout the early 1950s there were firings, but [Eisenhower’s order] gave even more ammunition.”
Faderman said the purge officially continued until 1975, when the U.S. Civil Service Commission (the government entity that actually did the firing) ended it
“It’s important to the preservation of LGBT American history,” said Lisa Linsky a partner at McDermott Will & Emery, the law firm that has been working pro bono with the Mattachine Society for the past five years to get these documents released, “The files are part of a broader story. It’s also important that our allies and other fellow citizens understand what the government did so we could do our best to avoid repeating history.”
“Given the current environment, we need to do everything that we can to identify these historic documents, preserve them and make sure that the public is aware of the story of the government animus and discrimination toward LGBT people,” she explained, “because we’re at a time when the government — this particular administration — is not supportive of the LGBT community and preserving the civil rights that we have obtained.”