Friday, April 27, 2018

Today in 1953, Eisenhower Signs Executive Order Banning Gay and Lesbian Federal Workers

President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10450 today, April 27, in 1953. Under the order, thousands of lesbian and gay applicants were barred from federal employment and more than 5,000 federal employees were fired under suspicions of being homosexual. It came as a part of the U.S. "Lavender Scare" witch hunts which contributed to and complemented the McCarthyist Red Scare. 

From 1947 to 1961 the number of firings based on sexual orientation were far greater than those for membership in the Communist party. It was not until 1973 that a federal judge ruled that a person's sexual orientation alone could not be the sole reason for termination from federal employment, and not until 1975 that the United States Civil Service Commission announced that they would consider applications by gays and lesbians on a case by case basis.

Astronomer Frank Kameny (pictured in 2010) was fired from
his government job in 1957 for being gay. He would later sue
the government in a case that went to the US Supreme court
and would found the gay rights Mattachine Society.
Previously, the criteria used to define a security risk were largely political, that is, affiliation with suspect organizations or a clear demonstration of disloyalty. Executive Order 10450 added more general estimations of character, stability, and reliability. Its language was broad: "Any criminal, infamous, dishonest, immoral, or notoriously disgraceful conduct, habitual use of intoxicants to excess, drug addiction, or sexual perversion." 

Without explicitly referring to homosexuality, the executive order responded to several years of charges that the presence of homosexual employees in the State Department posed blackmail risks. The executive order had the effect of banning gay men and lesbians from working for any agency of the federal government.

The press recognized the revolutionary nature of the new executive order. The Washington Post said that it established not a loyalty test but a "suitability test." Some in government referred to their new "integrity-security" program. Some of those the press expected to be excluded from federal employment included "a person who drinks too much," "an incorrigible gossip," "homosexuals," and "neurotics."

In 1975, the U.S. Civil Service Commission ended a ban on gays and lesbians in the federal civil service. In 1977, the State Department lifted a policy barring gays from employment in the Foreign Service. Around the same time, the IRS ended its policy of requiring "homosexual education and charity groups to publicly state that homosexuality is a 'sickness, disturbance, or diseased pathology'" before obtaining section 501 tax-exempt status.

The order's language restricting national security access based on sexual provision was also repealed in 1995 when President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12968, which stated that "The United States Government does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation in granting access to classified information." The order's language concerning employment and sexual provision was also repealed when Clinton signed executive order Executive Order 13087 in 1998.

The order was explicitly repealed in 2017, when President Obama signed Executive Order 13764, the last of his Administration.

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