White House backs formal ‘lavender scare’ apology

Secretary of State John Kerry (Photo courtesy of the State Department)
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the State Department apology for the “lavender scare” firings is a “pretty strong message.” (Blade file photo by Michael Key)
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the State Department apology for the “lavender scare” firings is a “pretty strong message.” (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday formally apologized to State Department personnel who were fired during the so-called “lavender scare.”

- Advertisement -

“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,” he said in a statement. “These actions were wrong then, just as they would be wrong today.”

“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,” added Kerry.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) noted in a letter he sent to Kerry on Nov. 29 that “at least 1,000 people were dismissed from” the State Department “for alleged homosexuality” during the 1950s and 1960s. The Maryland Democrat cited the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security that says employees “were forced out . . . on the ostensible grounds that their sexual orientation rendered them vulnerable to blackmail, prone to getting caught in ‘honey traps’ and made them security risks.”

Cardin wrote the State Department also had a screening process to “prevent those who ‘seemed like they might be gay or lesbian’ from being hired.”

Secretary of State John Kerry (Photo courtesy of the State Department)
Secretary of State John Kerry (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

Kerry issued the apology less than two weeks before President-elect Trump’s inauguration. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing on former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s nomination as secretary of state.

“Although it is not possible to undo the damage that was done decades ago, Secretary Kerry’s apology sets the right tone for the State Department as it enters a new and uncertain time in our country under a new administration,” said David Stacy, director of government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement.

GLIFAA, which represents LGBT Foreign Service members, also welcomed Kerry’s apology.

“Secretary Kerry’s acknowledgment of historic discrimination against LGBT employees at the State Department comes as GLIFAA celebrates its 25th anniversary,” said GLIFAA in a statement to the Washington Blade. “We wish more of our LGBT colleagues targeted by discrimination were alive to see the progress our country has made, and we celebrate their legacy by continuing to work for full equality for LGBT employees of Foreign Service agencies.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins last month urged the incoming administration to remove State Department officials who support the promotion of LGBT and reproductive rights abroad.

A spokesperson for the Trump transition team said in response to Perkins’ request that it is “simply absurd” to “think that discrimination of any kind will be condoned or tolerated in a Trump administration.” State Department spokesperson John Kirby described the statement to the Blade as “pretty succinct, pretty clear, pretty concise about where they stand on discrimination.”

White House backs Kerry apology for 1950s-era gay firings

BY CHRIS JOHNSON   |  White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that Secretary of State John Kerry’s apology to the LGBT community for the “lavender scare” firings of the 1950s sends “a pretty strong message,” but no plans are in motion for President Obama to issue an apology himself for the discrimination.

Earnest made the remarks just moments after the State Department issued a formal apology for the 1950s-era purging of gay employees under which at least 1,000 people were removed from the federal government.

In response to a question from Yahoo News, Earnest said he’s “not aware” of any other U.S. agencies planning to issue apologies for the 1950s-era firings, but wouldn’t rule it out and said the State Department’s action is consistent with Obama’s views.

Asked whether the State Department issued the statement at Obama’s direction, Earnest said the decision belonged to Kerry, comparing the move to President Obama’s action to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Obviously, that decision was made by Secretary Kerry today and his statement today is entirely consistent with the president’s view of these issues, and certainly is entirely consistent with some of the work that the president and his administration have done in the United States military and the Department of Defense with regard to Americans that have previously been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation,” Earnest said. “So this is obviously consistent with the kinds of values the president has given voice to, but this is a decision that belonged to the secretary of state.”

The apology comes weeks after the anti-LGBT Family Research Council said in a blog post President-elect Donald Trump should remove “activists” from the State Department, an apparent reference to the work on international LGBT human rights conducted by the Obama administration. In response, a Trump spokesperson said the president-elect would seek to govern the country with unity and “to think that discrimination of any kind will be condoned or tolerated in a Trump administration is simply absurd.”

But according to the New York Times, the Trump transition team asked employees at the State Department to submit details of programs aimed at promoting gender equality, which rattled some State Department employees as an indication Trump was seeking to target LGBT initiatives.

Earnest deferred to the State Department when Fox News Radio asked why the State Department apology over the “lavender scare” firings was handed down with less than two weeks remaining before Obama leaves office.

“For the timing of this statement, I’d refer you to the secretary of state’s office,” Earnest said. “I read the statement, but I’m not aware of all of the machinations that went on in the background to make it a reality. Obviously, it does send, I think, a pretty strong message to all Americans that people should be judged not based on who they love or who they are, but based on their capacity to serve this country.”

As Fox News Radio noted, the State Department isn’t the only U.S. agency that sought to remove gay people from the federal government. President Dwight Eisenhower issued a executive order that declared homosexuality a “sexual perversion” and former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered agents to identify gay people working for the federal government.

Earnest said no plans are in motion when asked if Obama himself owes LGBT people an apology for this government-wide history of discrimination, but wouldn’t rule out such action. The question, Earnest said, was the first time he heard about those 1950s efforts targeting gay employees.

“I think President Obama has throughout his tenure as president worked hard to stand up for the rights of LGBT Americans, and he’s proud of his record,” Earnest added. “Some of that is certainly a consequence of the profound changes in our society that have taken place under a rather short period of time in a way that has made America a more perfect union. The president has certainly welcomed those developments, the president has certainly encouraged those developments.”

—  This article was provided to The Pride LA by the National Gay Media Association and Washington Blade.



  1. Hi would you mind letting me know which web
    host you’re utilizing? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different
    browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most.
    Can you recommend a good web hosting provider
    at a reasonable price? Many thanks, I appreciate it!

  2. Hey there! Quick question that’s entirely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile
    friendly? My website looks weird when browsing from my
    iphone 4. I’m trying to find a template or plugin that might be able to correct this
    issue. If you have any suggestions, please share.
    Thank you!

  3. Its such as you read my thoughts! You seem to understand so much
    about this, such as you wrote the book in it or something.

    I feel that you simply could do with some p.c.
    to power the message home a bit, but instead
    of that, that is fantastic blog. An excellent read.
    I will definitely be back.

  4. I loved as much as you’ll receive carried out right
    here. The sketch is attractive, your authored subject matter stylish.

    nonetheless, you command get got an nervousness over that you
    wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come further
    formerly again since exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this increase.

  5. Wonderful items from you, man. I’ve be aware your stuff prior
    to and you are simply extremely magnificent.
    I actually like what you’ve bought here, certainly like what
    you’re stating and the way in which wherein you assert it.
    You’re making it entertaining and you still take care of to
    stay it smart. I can’t wait to learn far more from
    you. That is really a wonderful web site.

  6. Thanks for another informative blog. The place else may
    just I am getting that type of info written in such an ideal method?
    I’ve a venture that I’m just now operating on, and I’ve been on the look
    out for such info.

  7. I do consider all of the concepts you have
    introduced on your post. They’re really convincing
    and will definitely work. Still, the posts are
    very short for starters. May just you please extend them
    a little from next time? Thanks for the post.

  8. I think this is among the so much significant information for
    me. And i am happy studying your article. However should observation on some common issues, The website style is perfect, the articles is really great : D.
    Just right task, cheers

  9. Howdy! I realize this is somewhat off-topic however I needed to ask.
    Does operating a well-established blog like yours require a lot
    of work? I am brand new to writing a blog however I do write in my diary daily.
    I’d like to start a blog so I can easily share my experience
    and views online. Please let me know if
    you have any suggestions or tips for new aspiring bloggers.
    Appreciate it!

  10. That is very fascinating, You’re a very professional blogger.
    I have joined your rss feed and look forward to searching for more of your magnificent post.
    Additionally, I’ve shared your website in my social networks

  11. Superb blog! Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? I’m hoping to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you advise starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any ideas? Bless you!

  12. Hello this is somewhat of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding know-how so I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

  13. What i don’t understood is actually how you are not actually much more well-liked than you may be now. You’re very intelligent. You realize therefore considerably relating to this subject, made me personally consider it from numerous varied angles. Its like women and men aren’t fascinated unless it is one thing to do with Lady gaga! Your own stuffs nice. Always maintain it up!

  14. Hey there! This is my very first comment on this site so I simply wanted to say a quick hello and say I genuinely enjoy reading through your posts. Can you suggest other websites that deal with free instagram followers? I am as well very intrigued by this thing! Appreciate it!

  15. You are absolutely correct. I loved looking through this article and I will certainly get back for more as soon as possible. Our website is on forex robot, you can take a peek if you’re still interested in this.

  16. I’m really intrigued to learn which website system you are using? I’m having several slight safety issues with our latest site dealing with nrmjobs so I would love to find one thing much more safe. Do you have any solutions?

  17. You’re completely correct! I really enjoyed reviewing this info and I will certainly get back for more as quickly as possible. Our internet site is on best mumbai packers and movers, you can take a look if you are still interested in that.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here