Tuesday, January 10, 2017

An Apology That Was Overdue and Right On Time

It is long overdue and just in time.

Secretary Kerry, in what is undoubtedly one of his last official acts, formally apologized for the "Lavender Scare." You can read the complete apology below.

Lots of you may not know what the Lavender Scare was, but I bet you would be hard pressed to find an LGBT employee who doesn't.

The apology came at the request of Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who sent Secretary Kerry a letter on November 29 reminding him that “at least 1,000 people were dismissed from” the State Department “for alleged homosexuality” during the 1950s and 1960s. According to an article in the Washington Blade, "The Maryland Democrat cited the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security that says employees “were forced out . . . on the ostensible grounds that their sexual orientation rendered them vulnerable to blackmail, prone to getting caught in ‘honey traps’ and made them security risks.” Cardin wrote the State Department also had a screening process to “prevent those who ‘seemed like they might be gay or lesbian’ from being hired.""

Although the policy of firing or not hiring LGBT employees dates to the 50s and 60s, current State Department employees who are members of GLIFAA (formerly Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies and now LGBTI+ in Foreign Affairs Agencies) recall that even in the 80s and 90s, they were warned in A-100 that homosexuals would not be tolerated in the Department. In fact, it was only in 1992, the same year GLIFAA was founded, that prohibitions against openly LGBT employees having a security clearance were lifted. And basically, if you can't hold a security clearance, you can't work for the State Department.

In addition to the apology, Secretary Kerry also sent a 21-page memo highlighting some of the achievements the Department has made on LGBT rights at home and abroad over the past eight years. Among those are UN resolutions on LGBT rights and the appointment of Randy Berry as the first ever envoy for LGBTI rights.

I say the move has come just in time because with the new administration and Republican control of the White House and both houses of Congress have come renewed calls to clamp down on LGBT rights and even to roll them back. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council sent a letter to supporters calling on the new administration to “to make clear that these liberal policies will be reversed and the ‘activists’ within the State Department promoting them will be ferreted out and will be replaced by conservatives who will ensure the State Department focuses on true international human rights like religious liberty which is under unprecedented assault.” And former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called for the new administration to end the State Department's “evil” gay agenda in other countries.

To its credit, the President-elect's transition team responded to Perkin's call by saying that it was absurd to think they would tolerate discrimination of any kind. But can we expect continued support for LGBT rights or could we have expected such an apology? I doubt it.

So thank you, Secretary Kerry. It was right on time.

Thank you too for your leadership and support. You will be missed.

Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
January 9, 2017
Apology for Past Discrimination toward Employees and Applicants based on Sexual Orientation
Throughout my career, including as Secretary of State, I have stood strongly in support of the LGBTI community, recognizing that respect for human rights must include respect for all individuals. LGBTI employees serve as proud members of the State Department and valued colleagues dedicated to the service of our country. For the past several years, the Department has pressed for the families of LGBTI officers to have the same protections overseas as families of other officers. In 2015, to further promote LGBTI rights throughout the world, I appointed the first ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons. 
In the past – as far back as the 1940s, but continuing for decades – the Department of State was among many public and private employers that discriminated against employees and job applicants on the basis of perceived sexual orientation, forcing some employees to resign or refusing to hire certain applicants in the first place. These actions were wrong then, just as they would be wrong today.
On behalf of the Department, I apologize to those who were impacted by the practices of the past and reaffirm the Department’s steadfast commitment to diversity and inclusion for all our employees, including members of the LGBTI community.

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