It is a good thing there will be no speeches in front of the White House on April 17, the 50th anniversary of the first gay and lesbian picketing of the White House. Anniversary fatigue can set in with the procession of 50-year events that mark the tumultuous Sixties. From the powerful “Bloody Sunday” in Selma to the dreaded “Woodstock 50th” coming in 2019, eyes can glaze over with too much commemoration. We don’t need speeches. What we need are more facts.
Branded by their government as “deviates”, the Mattachine Society of Washington and its allies suited-up in jackets, neckties and skirts to carry their pickets with dignity into American history. Today, it takes an act of imagination to appreciate this moment organized by Frank Kameny, Jack Nichols, Barbara Gittings and others who protested the orthodoxy that gays and lesbians were “immoral,” “disgraceful” and “unsuitable” for federal employment.
So it is amazing after 50 years how much we still do not know about what was actually happening to these pioneers and the untold thousands of other gay men and lesbians whose careers and lives were destroyed by federal persecution. For example, most of the personal papers of the U.S. Civil Service Commission Chairman John W. Macy—the leader of the government’s gay ban at what is now the Office of Personnel Management — today remain unavailable to researchers at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin.
John Macy was a giant in Washington in 1965. He identified or cleared every political appointee and significant promotion in the Johnson administration. He reported directly to the president, often through the President’s Special Assistant Bill Moyers (yes, that Bill Moyers). How could Macy’s papers not be available for historical research?
Working with our pro bono legal counsel McDermott, Will & Emery, The Mattachine Society of Washington has learned that John Macy’s personal papers are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. He donated them to the National Archives prior to the passage of the Presidential Records Act of 1978 that governs the official records of presidents created or received after 1981. In this way, John Macy to this day has been able to tie up his personal papers with restrictions supposedly to protect the privacy of individuals.
Macy went on to become the first chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and never discussed what happened during 20 years of homosexual investigations and ruined careers. Kameny’s nemesis to the end, Macy failed even to mention the word “homosexual,” “deviate” or “Kameny” in his message perfect memoir, “The Human Side of Government” (1971), in which he portrays himself as a progressive.
“The Civil Service should be, and is, recruiting and upgrading more blacks, women, physically handicapped and mentally retarded persons than in the private sector,” he wrote. Macy was at the peak of his powers when the gay and lesbian pickets assembled at the White House. He could send his memos upstairs to Bill Moyers with the names of all the “suitable” appointees. Downstairs, he would send his letters to gay America. He wrote the Mattachine Society of Washington one of the most animus-drenched policy statements ever crafted by the minds of government attorneys:
“Pertinent considerations here (for maintaining the ban on homosexuals in government) are the revulsion of other employees by homosexual conduct and the consequent disruption of service efficiency, the apprehension caused other employees by homosexual advances, solicitations or assaults, the unavoidable subjection of the sexual deviate to erotic stimulation through on-the-job use of common toilet, shower and living facilities, the offense to members of the public who are required to deal with a known or admitted sexual deviate.” (Macy letter to the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., 1966)
According to the LBJ Library, there are 47 linear feet of boxes containing Macy’s “unprocessed” personal papers. None of them are specifically labeled as pertaining to LGBT, they say. How would these files be labeled with the words pervert, deviate, immoral and unsuitable? These boxes include the 1965/1966 period when Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, Paul Kuntzler, Lilli Vincenz, Kay Lahusen, Jack Nichols and others stood outside the White House fence demanding a meeting. Working with the National Archives, whose archivists understand the importance of the sealed boxes of gay and lesbian history, let’s open up the Macy papers as the best way to honor the men and women who took their case to the American people on a sidewalk with pickets, April 17, 1965. Frank would love it.
Charles Francis is president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.