January 9, 2017 at 12:19 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Kerry issues formal ‘lavender scare’ apology

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Secretary of State John Kerry (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday formally apologized to State Department personnel who were fired during the so-called “lavender scare.”

“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,” he said in a statement. “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,” added Kerry.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) noted in a letter he sent to Kerry on Nov. 29 that “at least 1,000 people were dismissed from” the State Department “for alleged homosexuality” during the 1950s and 1960s. 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.”

Kerry issued the apology less than two weeks before President-elect Trump’s inauguration. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing on former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s nomination as secretary of state.

“Although it is not possible to undo the damage that was done decades ago, Secretary Kerry’s apology sets the right tone for the State Department as it enters a new and uncertain time in our country under a new administration,” said David Stacy, director of government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement.

GLIFAA, which represents LGBT Foreign Service members, also welcomed Kerry’s apology.

“Secretary Kerry’s acknowledgment of historic discrimination against LGBT employees at the State Department comes as GLIFAA celebrates its 25th anniversary,” said GLIFAA in a statement to the Washington Blade. “We wish more of our LGBT colleagues targeted by discrimination were alive to see the progress our country has made, and we celebrate their legacy by continuing to work for full equality for LGBT employees of Foreign Service agencies.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins last month urged the incoming administration to remove State Department officials who support the promotion of LGBT and reproductive rights abroad.

A spokesperson for the Trump transition team said in response to Perkins’ request that it is “simply absurd” to “think that discrimination of any kind will be condoned or tolerated in a Trump administration.” State Department spokesperson John Kirby described the statement to the Blade as “pretty succinct, pretty clear, pretty concise about where they stand on discrimination.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

  • lnm3921

    I doubt you’d get a similar apology let alone acknowledgement of this from someone from the Trump Administration. Let’s see if Trump is mum on GLBT Pride this year. Obama acknowledged it. Will Trump simply ignore it?

    Since we’re on the subject of apologies for past injustices for GLBT, discrimination was not limited to just the state department. We were prevented from pursuing careers in the military and teaching, too as an example. We weren’t wanted in law enforcement either. There are numerous opportunities may of us were denied for choosing to be out.

    We should be talking about reparations for all the lost opportunities, benefits and other careers we were denied. I recall when the only jobs people thought we could have were hairdressers, store clerks or wait staff at restaurant. Leadership role or management role? Forget it. If you were queer you had limited dead-end career path at best.

    Even today in many jobs it’s still more of a don’t ask don’t tell kind of mentality. .

  • Katrina Rose

    Apologies for the obscenity of government-backed repression that are not accompanied by dollars aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

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