Posts Tagged 'LOVE Act'

Ending the Lavender Scare: Why the Love Act of 2017 Matters

By Michael Guest

On June 22, Senator Cardin introduced legislation to mitigate the consequences of the “Lavender Scare” – the1950’s-era witch hunt that resulted in the dismissal of hundreds of State Department employees owing to their perceived sexual orientation.

Cardin’s bill (the Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act, or “LOVE Act”) accepts overdue Senate responsibility for the its role in spurring on that witch hunt – responsibility shared of course by the State Department, and for which former Secretary Kerry apologized earlier this year. It directs that a “reconciliation board” be established to clear the names of those who were wrongly dismissed. And it asks the Department to commemorate the period with a suitable display in State’s soon-to-be-opened Museum of American Diplomacy.

Cardin deserves credit for his leadership in setting the record straight on the injustices of that period directed at gay Americans. Many Americans were victimized in the McCarthy era, of course. But at a time when homosexuals already were closeted and marginalized, few if any groups were more systemically impacted by anti-communist hysteria than was the LGBT community.

At the State Department, the Lavender Scare ruined careers (and arguably lives) of men and women who wanted nothing more than to serve their country. It deprived that country of foreign policy expertise and talent. And it helped ensconce a Foreign Service that, for many decades, remained a bastion of conservative, straight white men – an image of America that was hardly representative of the country as a whole.

The Lavender Scare ended long before I began my quarter-century Foreign Service career in 1981. The Department’s imperfect record of dealing with diversity, including LGBT diversity, did improve. But for many years there appeared to be a “lavender glass ceiling” at the ambassadorial level, and how one looked and acted was seen as impacting promotions. Most glaringly, regulatory discrimination persisted too – not directed against gay and lesbian employees per se, but at inequalities in how regulations accommodated their families. The very organization charged with proclaiming American fairness and equality to other countries, in other words, honored those principles only in the breach.

It wasn’t until 2009 that the State Department, under then-Secretary Clinton’s leadership, equalize the Department’s accommodations to gay and straight families – a step I’m proud to have helped spur through my work on the State Department Transition Team after the November 2008 election.

In that respect, Cardin’s bill rightfully tackles a lagging problem that still deeply impacts gay Foreign Service personnel: homophobic countries’ denial of family visas to spouses of our gay and lesbian diplomatic personnel. By bowing to this disrespect toward our country’s judicial institutions, we’ve allowed other countries to dictate our personnel policies.

Resolving this problem needs high-octane attention. If a solution can’t be found, perhaps it’s time for our country to apply reciprocity by denying visas to the spouses of those countries’ diplomats, duly married in their own legal systems.

Secretary Tillerson has shown no attention to this problem to date, so perhaps this bill’s push from the outside is needed. Tillerson was uncommonly slow in overturning LGBT-discriminatory policies during his leadership at Exxon, after all, and his embrace of deep budget cuts at State, paired with failure to fill leadership positions, shows a reckless disrespect for the needs of his workforce more broadly.

It’s time to support equality and fairness for those who work tirelessly to advance American ideals – and for that support to enjoy a non-partisan, all-American embrace. Notably, Cardin’s bill has no Republican co-sponsors – a fact that puzzles us as much as it disappoints. Surely that should change. We hope, too, that the new Administration will embrace the purposes and goals of Cardin’s bill with the same pride that those of us who are LGBT have embraced the call of representing our country’s ideals abroad.

Michael Guest is Senior Advisor to the Council for Global Equality. America’s first openly gay, Senate-confirmed Ambassador (to Romania, 2001-04), he ended his career in 2007 in protest of the Department’s unfair family policies for gay and lesbian personnel.

RELATED CONTENT:

Read more about how our embassies are now supporting LGBT Efforts.

Cardin Introduces Bill to Address Former Sexual Orientation Discrimination by State Department


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