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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 4, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 31
Federal judge to FBI: Produce the documents on 1950s Gay purge
Section One
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Federal judge to FBI: Produce the documents on 1950s Gay purge

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A federal judge has ordered the FBI to conduct a new search for documents related to a Fifties-era program to purge Gays and Lesbians from government jobs.

The July 28 ruling by US District Judge Royce Lambeth covers thousands of documents and could expose the anti-Gay roles played by President Dwight Eisenhower, FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover, and Chief Justice Warren Burger, then an Assistant Attorney General.

As president, Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, which included the words 'sexual perversion' - understood at the time as referring to same-sex attraction - as one of the grounds for stripping federal workers of their security clearances.

Sexual orientation thus became a career-ending issue, along with the previously-barred drug addiction, unspecified 'immoral' conduct, and 'sympathetic association' with a 'saboteur, spy, traitor, anarchist, or revolutionist.' The premise behind the order was that Gays and Lesbians would be susceptible to blackmail by Soviet agents and therefore couldn't be entrusted with national security secrets.

According to the Mattachine Society, as many as 7,000 to 10,000 Gay and Lesbian federal workers lost their jobs in the 1950s alone as a result of the executive order. The order was not formally rescinded until 1998, when President Bill Clinton signed a new executive order barring discrimination in the federal workforce based on sexual orientation. Last year, as part of its mission to uncover the 'erased history' of anti-Gay purges, the Mattachine Society filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for all government records on Eisenhower's executive order and how it was implemented by the FBI, under the direction of Burger, the federal official in charge of the purge.

The FBI responded with an affidavit saying it had found 5,500 documents potentially responsive to the request but that it would be unduly 'burdensome' to search through them to determine what must be made public.

The bureau also claimed that it found no documents at all about the role of Burger, an assertion that the judge found 'suspicious' and 'stretches credulity.'

'The Court finds it nearly impossible to believe that a search for every permutation of the name of the man who was charged with carrying out EO 10450, a robust federal mandate that built upon an established FBI initiative, yielded zero responsive documents,' Lamberth wrote in his ruling.

Lamberth also strongly criticized the FBI for its inadequate records search, noting that the bureau only searched for the key words 'Executive Order 10450,' 'Sex Deviate,' and 'Sex Deviate Program,' language based on the wording of an earlier program ordered by J. Edgar Hoover and intended to root out suspected 'sex deviates' working for the government.

Lamberth, a Ronald Reagan appointee, concluded that the response was insufficient given that the Eisenhower executive order used a completely different phrase to identify the targeted conduct - 'sexual perversion' - and the bureau never searched for records using that phrase.

'The language of EO 10450 uses the term 'sexual perversion' rather than 'Sex Deviate' and the FBI's affidavit does not address this shift in institutional language,' Lamberth wrote.

The executive order did in fact grow out of the FBI's 'sex deviates' program. That program was launched in a 1950 memo from Hoover directing agents to file reports on all 'sex deviates' and 'suspected sex deviates' working for the federal government. Agents were instructed to underline their names in green pencil in reports back to FBI headquarters and then identify the suspected 'deviates' to their agency employers, in some cases by 'blind memorandum,' in other words anonymously.

'In terms of FBI abuses, this ranks near the top. It was an effort to silence [gays], it was an effort to ruin their lives. Because if you were exposed as gay in the 1950s or 1960s, your life as you knew it was over,' Penn State University historian Douglas Charles noted.

Charles is the author of a book on Hoover's 'sex deviates' program.

'Thousands of LGBT Americans were ruthlessly investigated, interrogated and fired because of this order,' said Charles Francis, the president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, DC, which asked for the FBI documents.

Francis, formerly a Republican lobbyist, added that historians still do not know the full extent of the executive order's implementation and enforcement, including the roles of officials like Warren Burger.

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