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Bill seeks U.S. apology for 'hundreds of thousands' of fired LGBTQ government workers

At least 100,000 service members were forced out of the armed forces between World War II and 2011 for being LGBTQ, the bill says.
Demonstrators Protesting Treatment of Gay People in the Military
American gay rights activist Frank Kameny, second in line, protests with others outside the White House on Armed Forces Day, on May 15, 1965. Bettmann / via Getty Images

LGBTQ civil servants and service members were systematically fired or forced to resign due to their sexual orientation or gender identity over the past seven decades, and a proposed bill is seeking to have the federal government issue an official apology acknowledging its past discriminatory policies.

The bill, introduced Thursday by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., says the federal government "discriminated against and terminated hundreds of thousands" of LGBTQ people who served in the armed forces, the foreign Ssrvice and the federal civil service for decades, "causing untold harm to those individuals professionally, financially, socially, and medically, among other harms."

Kaine and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the country's first openly gay U.S. senator, led the introduction of the resolution.

“Throughout our history, far too many people serving our nation have lived in fear of retribution or persecution because of their sexual orientation,” Kaine said in a statement. “It’s time to acknowledge the harm caused to these Americans, their families, and our country by depriving them of the right to serve as federal civil servants, diplomats, or in the Armed Services. I’m proud to introduce this Senate resolution during Pride Month to reaffirm our nation’s commitment to treat everyone, including LGBT Americans, with equal respect and fairness. I will continue working toward advancing equality for all LGBT people in Virginia and across our nation.”

Thousands of federal employees were fired or forced to resign from the late 1940s to the 1960s during what has been called the Lavender Scare — when the federal government sought to investigate and purge employees thought to be gay.

The American Psychiatric Association declared homosexuality a mental illness in 1952, and in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued an executive order that said "sexual perversion" was a fireable offense. It wasn't until 1973 that the association changed its position and declared that "homosexuality does not meet the criteria for being a psychiatric disorder.”

Historians have estimated that at least 100,000 service members were forced out of the armed forces between World War II and 2011 for being LGBTQ, according to Kaine's resolution. More than 1,000 State Department employees were also dismissed due to their alleged sexual orientation, and others were prevented from joining due to discriminatory hiring practices, the resolution states.

Many others had to hide their identities or risk losing their jobs.

In addition to the Department of State, the National Security Agency and the CIA "continued to harass and seek to exclude lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals from their ranks until 1995," the resolution continues. At that time, then-President Bill Clinton issued an executive order that prohibited the government from denying security clearance based solely on sexual orientation.

According to the bill, transgender service members and civilian employees were also "harassed and excluded" from federal civil service until 2014, when then-President Barack Obama issued an executive order prohibiting the federal government and contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

LGBTQ people continued to serve "honorably," the bill says, "upholding the values, and advancing the interests, of the United States even as the country discriminated against them." 

Baldwin said the resolution shows respect for LGBTQ Americans who have served the country.

“As we celebrate Pride Month, I take great pride in being a part of this effort to move our county forward as we join together with a shared commitment to the idea that with each passing day, and each passing year, America should become more equal, not less,” she said in a statement.

Democratic lawmakers have attempted to pass similar measures in the past. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland in 2017 and Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey in 2019 introduced the LOVE Act, which would have expunged the records of State Department employees who were fired during the so-called Lavender Scare.

The LOVE Act also sought to set up a permanent museum about the Lavender Scare in the U.S. Diplomacy Center and a board to review difficulties facing LGBTQ diplomats and their families, among other actions, though the bill never passed.

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