January 3, 2017 at 8:23 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
State Department mum on formal ‘lavender scare’ apology

John Kerry, GLIFAA, gay news, Washington Blade

Secretary of State John Kerry has yet to respond to requests that he publicly apologize on behalf of the State Department to employees who were fired during the “lavender scare” after the Cold War. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State John Kerry has yet to publicly respond to requests that he apologize to the State Department employees who were fired during the so-called “lavender scare.”

State Department spokesperson John Kirby told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during his daily press briefing that he doesn’t “have an update specifically . . . on a response” to the letter that U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) sent to Kerry on Nov. 29.

“We will, of course, respond to the senator appropriately about that,” said Kirby.

Cardin notes in his letter that “at least 1,000 people were dismissed from” the State Department “for alleged homosexuality during the 1950s and well into the 1960s before the ‘scare’ ran its course.” The Maryland Democrat cites 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.”

The State Department also had a screening process in place that Cardin said sought to “prevent those who ‘seemed like they might be gay or lesbian’ from being hired.”

“The men and women who serve in our nation’s diplomatic corps represent some of the finest public servants America has to offer,” he told the Blade last month in a statement. “Not too long ago, however, many were harassed, hunted and forced out of their jobs by their own government because of their perceived sexual orientation. This unacceptable and un-American behavior, called the ‘lavender scare,’ has never been fully acknowledged by the federal government.”

The Human Rights Campaign cited Cardin in a separate letter it sent to Kerry on Dec. 22.

“While the policies and practices of that era have been reversed and the State Department has recently made enormous progress to provide equal opportunities and conditions for LGBTQ employees and their families, the State Department has never issued a formal apology for the actions taken during that time,” wrote HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy.

Stacy also urges the State Department to create a permanent exhibit in the National Museum of American Diplomacy “to memorialize the victims and help to ensure that no other vulnerable group be targeted in the future.”

“We all recognize that this was a troubled part of our history here at the State Department,” Kirby told the Blade on Monday. “But beyond that I don’t have a specific update for you.”

Trump urged to remove pro-LGBT State Dept. officials

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins last month urged President-elect Trump 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.” Kirby told the Blade during his Dec. 19 press briefing that the statement was “pretty succinct, pretty clear, pretty concise about where they stand on discrimination.”

“You know very well our views on human rights at large, not just here at the State Department but around the world,” said Kirby.

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

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