State Department personnel who were fired during the so-called “lavender scare” would be able to have their employment records expunged under a bill that U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced on Thursday.
The Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act of 2017 — also known as the LOVE Act — would detail the history of the “lavender scare,” which sought to purge gay men and lesbians from the State Department in the years after the Cold War began.
The majority of the more than 1,000 people who the State Department dismissed for “alleged homosexuality” were forced out during the anti-Communist crusade that then-U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) launched in the 1950s.
Roy Cohn, a lawyer who later represented and mentored President Trump, played a prominent role in McCarthy’s efforts to identify and remove suspected Communists from the federal government. Cohn, who was widely rumored to be gay, died from AIDS-related complications in 1986.
A draft of Cardin’s bill the Washington Blade obtained on Wednesday indicates it would require the U.S. Foreign Service and the State Department to “review all employee terminations that occurred after January 1, 1950, to determine who was wrongfully terminated owing to their sexual orientation, whether real or perceived.” The measure would create a “reconciliation board” that would allow anyone who was forced out of the agency during the “lavender scare” or their families to request an expungement of their employment records.
The bill notes former Secretary of State John Kerry in January formally apologized to State Department personnel who were fired during the “lavender scare.” It would mandate Congress to issue a similar apology and instruct the State Department to create a permanent “lavender scare” exhibit in the National Museum of American Diplomacy.
The bill would require Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to submit a report to Congress on countries that do not issue visas to same-sex spouses of Foreign Service personnel who are stationed overseas. It would also require the State Department to create an Advancement Board that would address “issues faced by LGBTQI Foreign Service employees and their families.”
“The ‘lavender scare’ is a painful but little-known chapter in American history,” said Cardin in a press release. “Through times have thankfully changed in so many ways for the LGBT community, we must have the courage of our conviction to recognize wrong, apologize and move forward with common-sense and compassion whenever it is required.”
“This legislation does that retroactively by seeking to correct employment records and codifying Secretary Kerry’s apology, and proactively by bolstering services and protections for all of the (State) Department’s employees and their spouses, as well as those individuals interested in serving their nation,” he added. “Its passage would demonstrate that we are at our strongest as a nation when we embrace, not turn away from, our values of equality, fairness and justice.”
U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are the bill’s original co-sponsors.
U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) have also co-sponsored the measure. It currently does not have any Republican co-sponsors.