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A Return to 1950s Anti-Gay McCarthyism 16 March 2006

Posted by Todd in Gay and Lesbian History, Gay Rights, History, Homosexuality, Inequality & Stratification, Politics.
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Salon.com's War Room reports this morning that the Bush Administration has changed the wording in the guidelines for legitimate reasons to deny security clearances. Apparently, whereas the guidelines used to say that it was unlawful to deny a security clearance based on sexual orientation, the new guidelines have added the wording "solely based on" sexual orientation. While this may not seem like that big of a change, it opens a loop-hole that will allow the administration to deny or revoke security clearances to individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. To highlight why this is problematic, consider how one might react if the guidelines read that security clearance could not be denied "solely based on" the race of the individual.

During the 1950s, thousands of gay men and women in Washington, D.C., were fired from their jobs, because of their sexuality. Police raided bars, followed men in parks, and even surveilled private homes for evidence. More commonly, the FBI blackmailed individuals by interrogating them and threatening to out them publicly and fire them unless they gave lists of people who were homosexual. The witch hunt was not unlike the current atmosphere in the military. (For an excellent history of this period, I highly recommend David K. Johnson, Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians by the Federal Government.)

And equality for sexual minorities takes yet another step backward.

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Comments

1. Randy - 16 March 2006

Hmm. I can see it now:

“Mr. X. was seen coming out of Usama bin Laden’s cave, and we found receipts for Russian nuclear material in Mr. X.’s closet. More importantly, we think he might be gay. Security clearance denied.”

What an odd bunch the Bushies are. Bush and Cheney don’t strike me as particularly homophobic–Bush’s exploitation of the gay marriage issue was pure political cynicism (notice he hasn’t said boo about it since the election)–but they don’t do anything to dissuade those among their followers who are gay-haters.

2. Todd - 17 March 2006

Their public face is pretty neutral, but their actions are anything but. Cynical-politics or not, the effect of using gays as the rallying cry for the wingnuts of the far right has had an incredible effect, both in relegitimating public homophobia, just as we were moving beyond it, and in the avalanche of anti-gay laws passed in the past two years (the most agregious being in Nebraska, Ohio, and Virginia). Also, for the record, one of the first things the Bush Administration did was issue an executive order removing sexual orientation from the Federal non-discrimination policy in hiring and firing. It is pretty clear where this administration stands; and the broader effects around the country will reverberate for years to come.

3. Todd - 17 March 2006

Also, snarky example aside, it would probably be more along the lines of what it was in the 1950s: “You’re mentally unstable and you’re gay.”


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