Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Lavender Scare

Times change, thankfully.

This year is the 60th anniversary of The Lavender Scare. Sixty years ago today, on April 27, 1953, President Eisenhower signed an executive order outlawing the employment of LGBT people in the federal government. This set off a 30-year witch-hunt where thousands were fired from their jobs just for being gay. Many committed suicide rather than being exposed to their families.

A few brave souls, like Frank Kameny(who I was lucky enough to meet shortly before he passed away in 2011) fought back and it is due in no small part to people like him that we have some of the protections we do today.

But LGBT people like me still face risks in employment. Sexual orientation could used as a reason to strip someone's security clearance until 1992 (and President George W. Bush briefly attempted to quietly weaken the Clinton's removal of sexual orientation as a reason to revoke someone's clearance by changing the wording of the order from could not be the reason for denial of a security clearance to could not be the sole reason for denial of a security clearance. The original language was restored pretty quickly.)

And it wasn't until Secretary Clinton took office that same-sex partners were treated at least somewhat like opposite sex partners. I still couldn't get insurance for my wife if she weren't employed by the Department, and she still couldn't get expedicious naturalization if she weren't American. But at least now, she could be on my orders, work at post, be evacuated from post, and get a band-aid at the nurses office. So some things are better.

But we are the lucky ones. It is still legal in 29 states to fire someone just because they are gay or lesbian. That number rises to 34 if they are transsexual. Which for mean for us, there is no safe employment in my home state of SC. I could be the best employee at a company and they could decide to fire me at any point just for being gay. Like the teacher in Ohio who was fired after 19 years because her partner was mentioned in an obit when the teacher's mother died. Some anonymous parent alerted the school...such bravery, such conviction, to destroy a woman's life without even revealing your name. (Thankfully, other parents and students are fighting to have her re-instated...she is much loved at her school.)

This is why, as Josh Howard, the director of an upcoming documentary about the Lavender Scare, commented in his editorial for the Human Rights Campaign, that the story of the Lavender Scare is just as relevant today as it was then.

That is why while we are thankful for how much better things are now, we must still fight for full equality for LGBT citizens.

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