June 28, 2021

To Celebrate Pride Month, Menendez Pushes State Department to Establish Permanent “Lavender Scare” Exhibit in the National Museum of American Diplomacy

“A permanent exhibit on the ‘Lavender Scare’ at the National Museum of American Diplomacy will not only represent a long-awaited acknowledgment of the sufferings of LGBTQIA+ federal employees, but also provide an in-depth understanding of this history for all Americans who visit the museum, an essential element of preventing such a history from repeating itself.”

WASHINGTON – In honor of Pride Month and on the 52nd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken requesting that the State Department establish a permanent exhibit on the “Lavender Scare” in the National Museum of American Diplomacy to memorialize the wrongful dismissal of at least 1,000 State Department personnel in the 1950s and 1960s due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

During the “Lavender Scare,” State Department personnel were ousted under the pretense that their sexual orientation or gender identity made them vulnerable to blackmail and rendered them security risks. Many other patriotic Americans were barred from serving in the Department due to a screening process that explicitly sought to prevent the hiring of individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The ‘Lavender Scare’ is a stain upon the reputation of the U.S. Government and it runs counter to our nation’s most fundamental beliefs regarding individuality and equality of opportunity. But just as importantly, by limiting who could serve at the Department of State, this terrible part of our history prevented the Department from developing a workforce that drew on the expertise and excellence of all of the American people, and from truly representing America in its work,” Chairman Menendez wrote. “Throughout my 28 years in Congress, I have seen firsthand the role that diversity plays in strengthening our military, diplomatic, and foreign assistance efforts by expanding the pool of experiences, options, and ideas that we as a nation can draw on. In the 21st century, diversity must be a strategic imperative for the State Department.”

Today’s letter builds on Senator Menendez’s various efforts to address diversity and discrimination at the State Department. In 2019, Senator Menendez introduced the Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act, or LOVE Act, to recognize the shameful purge of people from the Department during the 1950s and 1960s on the basis of their sexual orientation and to protect today’s State Department employees from such discrimination. The Chairman announced in his letter he will reintroduce the LOVE Act this year as part of his State Department Diversity and Inclusion Act of 2021, which builds on his Department of State Inclusivity Act of 2020 and calls for exhibits similar to the “Lavender Scare” exhibit to ensure that history is not forgotten.

“A permanent exhibit on the ‘Lavender Scare’ at the National Museum of American Diplomacy will not only represent a long-awaited acknowledgment of the sufferings of LGBTQIA+ federal employees, but also provide an in-depth understanding of this history for all Americans who visit the museum, an essential element of preventing such a history from repeating itself,” Chairman Menendez added, raising concerns that even following the “Lavender Scare” itself, the Department continued with patterns of behavior and practices that have created significant challenges for LGBTQIA+ individuals pursuing careers in foreign policy. “Most importantly, to members of the LGBTQIA+ community, especially those aspiring to join the U.S. diplomatic corps, such an exhibit will show that the Department is committed, in both words and deeds, to incorporating the views and ideas of all Americans in the crafting of our foreign policy.”

Find a copy of the letter HERE and below:

Dear Secretary Blinken,

In recognition of Pride Month, I write to request that the State Department establish a permanent exhibit on the “Lavender Scare” in the National Museum of American Diplomacy to recognize the wrongful dismissal of State Department personnel in the 1950s and 1960s due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2019, I introduced the Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act, which I intend to re-introduce this year as a part of my State Department Diversity and Inclusion bill, which calls for such an exhibit to ensure that this history is not forgotten.

During the “Lavender Scare” in the 1950s and 1960s, at least 1,000 people were wrongfully dismissed from the Department under the pretense that their sexual orientation or gender identity made them vulnerable to blackmail and rendered them security risks. Many other patriotic Americans were barred from serving in the Department due to a screening process that explicitly sought to prevent the hiring of individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Even following the “Lavender Scare” itself, the Department continued with patterns of behavior and practices that made careers for LGBTQIA+ personnel challenging. As an example, well into the 1990s, the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security continued to investigate the employment of State personnel who were deemed “security risks” on the basis of their sexual orientation. 

The “Lavender Scare” is a stain upon the reputation of the U.S. Government and it runs counter to our nation’s most fundamental beliefs regarding individuality and equality of opportunity. But just as importantly, by limiting who could serve at the Department of State, this terrible part of our history prevented the Department from developing a workforce that drew on the expertise and excellence of all of the American people, and from truly representing America in its work.

Throughout my 28 years in Congress, I have seen firsthand the role that diversity plays in strengthening our military, diplomatic, and foreign assistance efforts by expanding the pool of experiences, options, and ideas that we as a nation can draw on. In the 21st century, diversity must be a strategic imperative for the State Department. I am pleased that you have taken on a commitment to improve diversity as one of your top priorities as Secretary, and I look forward to working with you to strengthen the diversity of Department personnel. To properly pursue our diplomatic objectives in the future, we must address and reflect upon our history.

A permanent exhibit on the “Lavender Scare” at the National Museum of American Diplomacy will not only represent a long-awaited acknowledgment of the sufferings of LGBTQIA+ federal employees, but also provide an in-depth understanding of this history for all Americans who visit the museum, an essential element of preventing such a history from repeating itself. Most importantly, to members of the LGBTQIA+ community, especially those aspiring to join the U.S. diplomatic corps, such an exhibit will show that the Department is committed, in both words and deeds, to incorporating the views and ideas of all Americans in the crafting of our foreign policy. I look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

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