“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.”