More than 150 people turned out at D.C.’s E Street Cinema Monday night for the premiere showing of the documentary film “Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government’s War on Gays.”
The 30-minute film produced by Yahoo News and its chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff depicts a little-known 1950s-era campaign by the FBI and other federal government agencies to purge gays from the federal workforce.
Isikoff, a former investigative reporter for ABC News, takes viewers on a dramatic ‘tour’ of some of the thousands of documents unearthed by the recently resurrected gay rights group Mattachine Society of Washington and its leader Charles Francis. The documents, including several written by former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, depict homosexuals as “sex perverts” and a dire threat to national security.
“Each Supervisor will be held personally responsible to underline in green pencil the names of individuals mentioned in any report, letter, memorandum, newspaper article or other communication who are alleged to be sex deviates,” Hoover wrote in one of the FBI documents shown in the film.
In an interview in the film, Francis notes that gays were referred to repeatedly as “sex deviates” in many of the documents, which his group obtained through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests from government agencies. The group obtained other documents by persuading the presidential libraries of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson, among others, and the National Archives, to release them.
Actor George Takei of “Star Trek” fame, who’s gay, speaks in the film as Hoover’s voice, reciting in a somber and angry tone Hoover’s writings warning of the threat gays posed for the government.
Francis has credited the law firm McDermott, Will & Emery with providing pro bono legal help for the Mattachine Society in its effort to secure the release of many of the documents through its Freedom of Information Act requests.
In a panel discussion moderated by Washington Post editorial board member Jonathan Capehart, which took place after the film viewing, Isikoff said he was taken aback by the degree of animus directed at gays in the documents Francis showed him.
One document – a 1964 memo written by then-U.S. Civil Service Commission official John W. Steele – is representative of the views of gays shared by many government officials, Isikoff told the gathering.
“Some feel that ‘once a homo, always a homo,’” Steele wrote in the memo. “Our tendency to ‘lean over backwards’ to rule against a homosexual is simply a manifestation of the revulsion which homosexuality inspires in the normal person,” Steele wrote.
The film reports that thousands of gay men and lesbians were fired from or refused jobs with federal government agencies during the height of the anti-gay purges that took place from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Others speaking on the panel were Francis; Douglas Charles, author of the recently released book “Hoover’s War on Gays: Exposing the FBI’s ‘Sex Deviates’ Program”; and JoDee Winterhof, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for policy and political affairs.
Yahoo News says it will release the film for nationwide viewing on June 22 on Yahoo.com.