The Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., an LGBT rights group, is suing the U.S. Justice Department for the release of documents linked to what it says was a massive purge of gay and lesbian employees of the federal government in the 1950s and 1960s.
The group says in a statement that it filed a lawsuit on April 27 asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to order the DOJ to release all documents linked to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1953 Executive Order 10450.
The executive order, among other things, associated homosexuals with “infamous, dishonest, immoral, or notoriously disgraceful conduct” and asserted they posed a security risk and were unsuitable for federal government employment.
“Executive Order 10450 legalized the discrimination of homosexuals,” the lawsuit states. “It is estimated 7,000 to 10,000 federal employees were terminated for homosexuality in the 1950s alone” as a result of the executive order, according to Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.
The group’s statement says its pro bono attorneys with the law firm McDermott, Will & Emery filed the lawsuit exactly 63 years after Eisenhower issued the executive order on April 27, 1953.
“The lawsuit, filed pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, is the culmination of three years of delay and government excuses for withholding documents which the department has identified and refuses to release,” the Mattachine statement says.
“Among other things, the lawsuit specifically requests all files in the FBI’s possession created by and communications to, or from, Warren Burger concerning Executive Order 10450,” it says.
It states that then-Assistant U.S. Attorney General Burger, who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was designated by Eisenhower to implement and enforce the executive order.
The lawsuit charges that DOJ officials incorrectly cited five exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act that allow the government to refuse to release certain documents on grounds that releasing them could jeopardize national security, breach confidential government sources, violate the confidentiality of a grand jury, or jeopardize law enforcement investigations.
“On information and belief, the requested agency records have been improperly withheld in that the FOIA requires their disclosure and they do not fall within any of FOIA’s exemptions from required disclosure, including but not limited to those exemptions cited by defendant,” the lawsuit says.
Court records show that the case has been assigned to Senior U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan. Although Lamberth has been criticized for siding too often with the government in cases authorizing electronic surveillance, he has also on occasion ruled harshly against government officials, according to the Washington Post.
The Post has reported that in a case where the Interior Department was accused of repeatedly failing to account for money owed to Native Americans, Lamberth held two cabinet secretaries in contempt.
The Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. was co-founded by pioneering gay rights leader Frank Kameny in the 1960s as the city’s first gay rights organization.
After being dormant for many years, gay rights advocate Charles Francis played a lead role in reactivating the group in recent years several years ago. He currently serves as its president.
Francis and others working with him have established the group’s new mission as one of “archive activism” aimed at uncovering long hidden documents showing how gays were persecuted by the federal government in past years.
“It is now time for the Department of Justice to remove the seal from this dark chapter of LGBT American history,” Francis said. “This is a history that has been sealed or destroyed for decades,” he said. “Our federal government owes it to the untold thousands of men and women whose careers were destroyed to come clean and produce these records now.”