November 24, 2020 at 10:00 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Bill would direct State Department to review ‘lavender scare’ firings

Two Democratic congressmen on Tuesday introduced a bill that would require the State Department to review the cases of personnel who were fired during the so-called “lavender scare.”

A press release the Washington Blade obtained that details the Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration (LOVE) Act of 2020, which U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) introduced, notes upwards of 1,000 people lost their jobs at the State Department during the 1950s and 1960s “due to their sexual orientation.”

The measure would require the State Department to create an independent commission that would review the cases of personnel fired because of their sexual orientation, and “correct employment records.” The press release says the bill would also require the State Department “to report on its action to ensure foreign countries recognize and accredit the spouses of same-sex diplomats serving overseas as well as address the failure of those countries that do not” and require “the establishment of an Advancement Board to address issues faced by LGBTQ diplomats and their families.”   

Congress would also formally apologize for its role in the “lavender scare.”

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and U.S. Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Andre Carson (D-Ind.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) have co-sponsored the bill. The Council for Global Equality, Out in National Security and Foreign Policy for America have endorsed it.

“For too long, LGBTQ individuals were persecuted and wrongfully terminated by our own government for no good reason,” said Cicilline. “Its long past time the government acknowledged this horrific practice, apologize to those who were harmed and commit to full equality for all Americans. This bill inches us that closer to that goal.”

“While many people are familiar with the Red Scare of the 1950’s, history has barely mentioned the ‘lavender scare’ persecution of LGBTQ employees in the State Department that harmed far more people.  Even today, LGBTQ employees at the State Department continue to face significant challenges when serving our nation overseas,” added Castro. “It is long past time that Congress acknowledge this injustice, and for the State Department to reconcile its discriminatory past and address the current challenges faced by LGBTQ employees and their families.  No matter who they love or who they are, our diplomats deserve dignity and respect.”

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry in January 2017 formally apologized to State Department personnel who were fired during the “lavender scare.”

The Obama administration during its second term made the promotion of LGBTQ rights a cornerstone of its foreign policy. The Trump White House did not formalize this directive, but U.S. diplomats continued to support gay rights abroad.

The Trump administration in 2019 tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead an initiative that encourages countries to decriminalize homosexuality. Activists in the U.S. and around the world remain largely skeptical of the campaign, and it remains unclear whether it has had any significant impact. The Trump administration has also faced sharp criticism over its overall foreign policy and its efforts to rollback rights for LGBTQ Americans.

Cicilline and Castro introduced their bill a day after the Council for Global Equality and OutRight Action International applauded President-elect Biden for the nomination of Antony Blinken and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as secretary of state and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. respectively. Castro and Sherman, along with U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y), are among those who are running to succeed outgoing U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“It is long past time to reckon with a disgraceful legacy of discrimination against LGBTI diplomats in our country’s foreign and civil service,” said Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley in the congressmen’s press release. “The LOVE Act begins to make amends for the careers that were ruined and the livelihoods that were destroyed by documenting our shameful history.”

“It also creates accountability mechanisms at the State Department to ensure equal opportunities for future LGBTI diplomats to serve our country in every region of the world,” added Bromley. “The distinguished service of LGBTI diplomats in the years to come is likely to be the far most meaningful tribute to those who suffered quietly over so many previous years.”

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

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