December 6, 2017 at 2:22 pm EST | by Charles Francis
No LGBT history, no equality
Lavender Scare, gay news, Washington Blade

The government sought to fire gay and lesbian workers in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Historical Society)

Justin Trudeau’s epic apology to sexual minorities in Canada for decades of “systemic oppression, criminalization and violence” stands as a stark reminder for LGBT Americans that our history of ruinous discrimination remains officially unrecognized —much less apologized for — in the United States. LGBT political history here is either ignored, mocked, rewritten or simply erased.

For Canadians, this is an exciting time of “truth and reconciliation,” an honest recognition by the government of a terrible history so that it may not be repeated again and society can move on.

For LGBT Americans, confronted by the hostility of the Trump/Pence administration, we must insist that our history, in all of its shameful dimensions, be recognized at least by legislators and the judiciary. Only in this way, may we lay the groundwork for a formal federal recognition in years to come. Our equality depends upon it. No history. No equality.

All of us must answer the fundamental question faced by citizens when it comes to “Truth and Reconciliation”: Do you want to remember? Or do you want to forget? In her authoritative book on non-judicial truth seeking, “Unspeakable Truths,” Priscilla Hayner asks leaders of countries who have suffered the worst state-sponsored crimes, this direct question. It is easy enough to forget. Most recently, here in Washington, our major LGBT film festival Reel Affirmations declined this year to screen the award-winning documentary “The Lavender Scare,” the story of a homosexual witch-hunt at the State Department. The investigations and terminations rose in part from Sen. Joe McCarthy’s and his Counsel Roy Cohn’s vile demagoguery. Even today, we live in the shadow of Cohn, President Donald Trump’s attorney and closeted mentor who died of AIDS in 1986. Do we want to remember or forget Roy Cohn in Donald Trump’s Washington?

Do we want to remember or forget the fate of tens of thousands of federal workers investigated and fired, professional lives ruined, personal lives shattered by the animus administered by the U.S. Civil Service Commission and the Office of Personnel Management attorneys? Want to remember or forget J. Edgar Hoover’s “Sex Deviate” national investigation program? Do we want Chief Justice John Roberts to remember or minimize this awful era of animus, as when he mocked our history by characterizing it as mere “snippets” in his dissent in the same-sex marriage case U.S. v. Windsor?

Compared to Canada, we have taken baby steps. When the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director John Berry officially apologized in 2009 to gay civil rights pioneer Dr. Franklin E. Kameny, he delivered a heartfelt and personal statement, but without reference to the thousands of LGBT Americans who were branded perverts, investigated and ruined right there in the OPM building.

Years later, in 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a strong formal apology to those State Department employees who were investigated and fired during the “Lavender Scare,” but that was only about the couple of hundred employees fired by the State Department.

Taking a different route, in 2015, The Mattachine Society met with the OPM General Counsel. We briefed her on the ugly story revealed by hundreds of pages of never-before-released memoranda, legal briefs and correspondence from the Office of the General Counsel of OPM and its predecessor the Civil Service Commission. These documents revealed massive legal resistance to LGBT civil equality, laden with vile insults about “nasty” homosexuals.

We asked for a statement of recognition and apology. No such statement was ever issued. We later learned that such a letter had been drafted and approved. However, due to an unprecedented hacking of OPM records in 2015, a new leadership team was brought in, who along with career attorneys, killed the letter of apology altogether.

As part of its Truth and Reconciliation initiative, Canada will construct a memorial to the many individuals who suffered the animus and discrimination of a hostile government. Can you visualize such a memorial here? Would it be a lavender splash of paint splattered onto the exit of the Office of Personnel Management where so many thousands were ushered out? Or might it be a picket carried high by Frank Kameny, Lilli Vincenz and other members of the Mattachine Society who picketed their way into a meeting with hostile government lawyers? Might our best Truth & Reconciliation project be a renewed determination by all of us to simply learn and remember?

 

Charles Francis is president of The Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., mattachinesocietywashingtondc.org.

  • MichaelBedwell

    BRAVO, Charles!

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  • Jim Driscoll

    Kudos, Charles! Truth and reconciliation is the most important challenge facing our community. It is the key to restoring full rights and dignity, the elixir for healing wounded souls and hearts. Until recently LGBTs were routinely denied equal protection, which is implicit in “all men are created equal” and political extension of “do unto others.” Those who suffered by the denial of God given and constitutionally guaranteed rights are entitled to the truth of their suffering and of their lives, to the truth about who we are. There must be no statute of limitations on truth, on violations of human rights and dignity. Unless the truth is acknowledged, there can be no healing, and there will be no forgiving or forgetting. The oldest among us have suffered most. Past discrimination in government hiring is just the tip of an iceberg in archipelago of festering evils. Decades ago my academic career was destroyed by a tenured bigot who believed no gay should be allowed to teach in a university. At least one of his other victims committed suicide. I have survived, but that university has steadfastly refused truth and reconciliation against his and its LGBT victims. Par for the course throughout society today. Charles, your call needs to go out to the world. Your Blade piece is great, but the message should also be in the Post, NYT and WSJ! All areas of American life need to be challenged to give LGBT people truth and reconciliation. As long as LGBTs are denied the truth of who we are, what we have suffered, we fail in our great national struggle to treat all our citizens equally.

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