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Gay History – August 1965: Washington Post Reports Federal Workers Can Claim Disability For Being Gay

In July of 1950, Senator Clyde Hoey of North Carolina conducted a full-scale Congressional inquiry into homosexuals in the government. The content of the testimony heard by the committee was ambiguous about the dangers posed by homosexual individuals and provided no instances of homosexuals who had been blackmailed into revealing American secrets; however, as Johnson writes, “The Hoey Committee’s final report, issued in December 1950, ignored this ambiguity and stated emphatically that all of the intelligence agencies of the government that testified ‘are in complete agreement that sex perverts in the Government constitute security risks.’ It asserted that Russian intelligence agents had been given orders to find weaknesses in the private lives of American government workers. And, while acknowledging that other weaknesses might pose as much of a threat, it asserted that such comparisons were beyond the committee’s mandate. Through the Hoey Committee’s final report, the notion that homosexuals threatened national security received the imprimatur of the US Congress and became accepted as official fact.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration further expanded and routinized the hunt for homosexuals in the federal government. His Executive Order 10450, signed in April 1953, affirmed that “[a]n individual would be disqualified for employment for ‘any behavior which suggests the individual is not reliable or trustworthy.’” While proscriptions of “criminal” and “immoral” conduct were already written into civil service policies, and were already in use to bar homosexuals from federal employment, “the inclusion of the more specific reference to ‘sexual perversion’ was unprecedented.” The Executive Order “effectively expanded the security authority originally given to the State Department and a few military agencies at the start of the Cold War to the entire federal government.” Since “security risk” was, as Johnson argues, a term that applied almost exclusively to gay men and lesbians, Executive Order 10450 put even more emphasis on finding and expelling homosexual employees from federal service.

The changes in Civil Service Commission policies and Executive Order 10450 affected millions of American employees, whether or not they were federally employed. Johnson estimates that “as many as five thousand suspected gay or lesbian employees may have lost their jobs with the federal government during the early days of the Cold War.” The use of the term “security risk” to describe firings means that arriving at a precise figure is nearly impossible since, while this term was applied almost exclusively to gay men and lesbians, it also included other types of “undesirable” employees. Many employees preemptively resigned when news reached them about an investigation into their sexuality, and no figures were kept about how many of these apparently voluntary separations resulted from impending charges of homosexuality. Finally, the estimate of five thousand federal employees does not take into account the individuals who were never hired because their pre-employment background checks raised suspicions about their sexuality, or the number of individuals who did not even apply for federal jobs for fear of having their homosexuality discovered.

But in 1965. Jerry Kluttz, writing for the Washington Post’s “Federal Diary” column, revealed that more than fifty alcoholic Federal employees, who would have normally been fired, were instead placed on retirement “for physical disability” which Kluttz described as “a more liberal approach to their problems.” He also noted that the program was also available for gay employees because of their “disability”:

At that time the Government policy to fire overt homosexuals remained unchanged under the policy that their conduct tends to discredit the Federal service. Known homosexuals would probably be ousted before the could be retired on either physical or mental disabilities.

Fired employees, Kluttz stated, had the year following their dismissal to file for disability retirement, and “several sex deviates have taken advantage of this provision”.

The civil service had previously ruled “unconventional sex behavior” as willful misconduct, and were thus ineligible for disability retirements under federal law. But with the commission’s new openness to extend disability retirement benefits for those suffering from mental illnesses, gay employees were increasingly falling under that category in accordance with the APA’s classification of homosexuality as a mental illness. But that would change in 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. The American Psychological Association Council of Representatives followed in 1975. Thereafter other major mental health organizations followed and it was finally declassified by the World Health Organization in 1990.

In 1975 the Civil Service Commission formally reversed its discriminatory hiring policy against gays and lesbians. In 1995, President Clinton issued an executive order forbidding the US government from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation in granting security clearances. Three years later, he banned anti-gay discrimination against all federal civilian employees.

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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