Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Kerry formally apologizes for 'lavender scare'


Secretary of State John Kerry
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Secretary of State John Kerry formally apologized Monday to State Department employees who were fired during the "lavender scare" decades ago.

The apology followed Kerry's January 5 exit memo to President Barack Obama, which highlighted accomplishments on LGBT rights within the department and globally by the State Department.

In spite of the accomplishments in recent years there were decades of despair and careers lost simply because the individuals were LGBT.

LGBT diplomats who served in the Foreign Service remained in the closet until the mid-1990s when it became illegal to discriminate and deny security clearances based on sexual orientation in the federal government.

"In the past – as far back as the 1940s, but continuing for decades – the Department of State was among many public and private employers that discriminated against employees and job applicants on the basis of perceived sexual orientation, forcing some employees to resign or refusing to hire certain applicants in the first place. These actions were wrong then, just as they would be wrong today," Kerry said in a statement.

The apology comes less than two weeks before Kerry's departure as secretary of state. President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be the nation's top diplomat. However, Tillerson faces a tough confirmation hearing due to his business connections around the world, particularly his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During the lavender scare, an estimated 1,000 LGBT members of the Foreign Service were "witch hunted" and purged from the State Department and other government agencies, according to David Johnson, the author of "The Lavender Scare." The lavender scare coincided with the so-called second red scare, a campaign fueled by fear of communism led by Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin), who created a black list of individuals he accused of being communists without regard to evidence during the 1950s.

Like the red scare, the lavender scare was fueled by fear of gay people that was justified by supporters' argument to protect the nation. McCarthy and his followers claimed gay people were vulnerable to blackmail and prone to getting caught in "honey traps," that made them security risks, Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) wrote in a letter to Kerry in November. The witch-hunt was dubbed McCarthyism in history. The first red scare occurred in 1919 and 1920.

However, the effects of the lavender scare rippled through the rest of the 20th century long after McCarthy's death in 1957. During the same period a handful of brave gay diplomats organized in 1992. They formed the Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies in order to push for changes to serve openly.

Bob Gilchrist, a gay man who served in the Foreign Service for 22 years, told the Bay Area Reporter in 2012 for the organization's 20th anniversary that there was a time when people would move to the other side of the cafeteria when GLIFAA would celebrate Pride. Gilchrist, who served as president of GLIFAA twice, said it was difficult to find allies in the State Department.

"I was so affronted by the discriminatory treatment I received and humiliation of it, it turned me into somebody who wasn't going to stand for it anymore," David Buss, 64, who retired after a 34-year career in the Foreign Service, told the B.A.R. in 2012.

It wasn't until 1995, when then-President Bill Clinton signed an executive order barring the federal government from discriminating against LGBT employees by denying them security clearances simply because of their sexual orientation, according to the New York Times. Two years later, Clinton appointed James Hormel as the first openly gay U.S. ambassador. He served in Luxembourg from 1999 to 2001. Hormel published a memoir, "Fit to Serve," in 2011.

Clinton later signed another executive order, which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in the competitive service and federal civilian workforce, with the exception of the intelligence community, according to Cardin.

Today, there are six gay ambassadors heading U.S. embassies around the world, although the Trump transition team has issued a blanket mandate for all Obama-appointed diplomats to leave their posts by Inauguration Day.

In 2015, the State Department created the first-ever LGBTQI special envoy position solely to address discrimination against queer people around the world. It was filled by gay veteran Foreign Service member Randy Berry.

"On behalf of the department, I apologize to those who were impacted by the practices of the past and reaffirm the department's steadfast commitment to diversity and inclusion for all our employees, including members of the LGBTI community," Kerry said in the statement.


Why now?

An unidentified journalist questioned State Department spokesman John Kirby about why Kerry chose to issue the apology on Monday.

"He certainly knew the basics of the history of the lavender scare," said Kirby, stating that Kerry didn't consider himself an expert on the history. "It was brought to his attention in recent weeks, and he felt it was appropriate to issue the apology."

Kerry was reportedly under pressure to apologize for the less-than-savory past of the department that he's led since 2013, taking over from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Under both Clinton and Kerry's leadership LGBT rights and the profile of queer State Department employees was elevated around the world.

In December, Cardin urged Kerry to remove the pain of the past by publicly apologizing.

With the start of the new Congress last week, Cardin intends to introduce legislation to extend an apology on behalf of Congress, since he noted that it was largely to blame for the episode.

Additionally, he suggested a permanent exhibit of the lavender scare history at the State Department's National Museum of American Diplomacy.


Olympian weds girlfriend

Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya wed her longtime girlfriend, Violet Raseboya, in a ceremony in South Africa January 7.

It was a perfect birthday present for Semenya, 26, who won a gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Semenya was forced to undergo a gender test prior to competing. She underwent the tests performed by doctors and Olympic officials allowed her to compete. She blew the competition away in the women's 800-meter race.

"I don't give a damn what people say about me," Semenya told You magazine. "I like me the way I am and who cares what other people say?"


Indian trans principal's resignation declined

India's first transgender principal of a women's college will continue to lead the school.

An investigation into claims of non-cooperation among staff and students at the college found that 85 percent of the 12 claims leveled against Manabi Bandopadhyay were baseless, reported the Times of India.

Bandopadhyay made headlines when she was appointed as principal of Krishnagar Women's College in June 2015.

She was informed of the results of the investigation and was requested to return to her post at the college.

"Had the media not highlighted my case, my wait for justice would have been longer. It was because of the media support that the whole of India reacted to my suffering and gave me confidence to fight it out. However, I wish no transgender ever gets cornered this way," she said.

Two of the teachers who allegedly agitated against Bandopadhyay told the newspaper that it had nothing to do with the fact that she is a transgender woman.

"A person who has undergone such a revolutionary change might think that the world is not ready to accept her. But I don't believe that was ever a problem in her case," said Suryendu Chakraborty, Ph.D.

She will be resuming her duties as principal of the Krishnagar Women's College Tuesday.


Pakistan high court rules to include trans in national census

The Lahore High Court in Pakistan ruled that the country should include transgender people in the national population census.

Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah heard a petition against non-inclusion of members of the transgender community in the census and directed authorities to keep a separate box in the national identity card registration form for the sexual orientation of transgender persons.

The judge was assured by representatives of the deputy attorney general and ministry of population welfare, who were at the court, that the members of the transgender community will be included in the forthcoming census.



An item in the December 15 column contained the wrong affiliation for Nigeria's Theresa Okafor. She works for the World Congress of Families. The online version has been corrected.


Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell, or mailto:.


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