June 22, 2017

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

LOVE Act offers mix of reconciliation, apology, advancement measures for former, current employees

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced legislation Thursday to correct the injustice perpetrated against approximately 1,000 people who were fired by the State Department in the 1950s and 60s because of their perceived sexual orientation.

In what came to be known as the Lavender Scare, according to the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, employees were forced out on the ostensible grounds that their real or perceived sexual orientation rendered them vulnerable to blackmail, prone to getting caught in “honey traps” and a general security risk. Many more individuals were prevented from joining the State Department due to a screening process that was put in place to prevent those who “seemed like they might be gay or lesbian” from being hired.

The Senate bears a special measure of responsibility for the Lavender Scare, as the State Department’s actions were in part in response to congressional investigations into “sex perversion of federal employees,” reports on the employments of “moral perverts by Government Agencies” and hearings or pressure placed on the Department through the appropriations process.

Joining the Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act, or LOVE Act, of 2017 as original cosponsors are U.S. Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

Late last year, Senator Cardin wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry, encouraging him to issue an apology on behalf of the Department. The Secretary did so in January.

“The Lavender Scare is a painful but little-known chapter in American history. Though times have thankfully changed in so many ways for the LGBT community, we must have the courage of our conviction to recognize wrong, apologize and move forward with common-sense and compassion whenever it is required,” Senator Cardin said. “This legislation does that retroactively by seeking to correct employment records and codifying Secretary Kerry’s apology, and proactively by bolstering services and protections for all of the Department’s employees and their spouses, as well as those individuals interested in serving their nation. I encourage all my colleagues to join us in moving forward this bill. Its passage would demonstrate that we are at our strongest as a nation when we embrace, not turn away from, our values of equality, fairness and justice.”

“The LOVE Act would begin to right the wrongs done to the men and women who answered the call to serve their country. It is well past time for us to make amends and protect those who serve today against discrimination based on who they are or who they love,” Senator Markey said. “Discrimination of any kind has no place in today’s society, and we must take steps to ensure that the federal government’s workplace is welcoming to all people and that our workforce is representative of all of America.”

“It’s shameful that our nation persecuted and discriminated against dedicated public servants simply because of who they were, or who they were perceived to be,” Senator Merkley said. “Our nation must acknowledge and confront this ugly history—and we should write into law full protections for all Americans, so that no American worker ever again loses a job because of anti-LGBT discrimination.”

“We can never fully repay the victims of the Lavender Scare and their families for the hardship that discrimination caused them,” Senator Van Hollen said. “But we can do everything possible to acknowledge the mistakes of our past and pledge to fight for equal protection and equal rights for the State Department’s LGBTQI community. With this bill, we will ensure the victims of the Lavender Scare are honored for their great sacrifice, and take a step forward in the march toward equality for all federal workers.”

“Virginia is home to many current and former State Department employees who have played a pivotal role in shaping American foreign policy. Some of these dedicated civil servants carried out their tasks in spite of discriminatory agency policies and risked termination simply because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation,” Senator Kaine said. “The LOVE Act helps reconcile this shameful past and provides needed guidance and support for LGBTQ employees.”

“The Lavender Scare was a painful part of our history that is rarely discussed,” Senator Baldwin said. “While decades have passed, it remains a troubling example of the role homophobia and bigotry has played in the history of our nation, including at the highest levels of federal government. I believe that we all have the shared responsibility to pass on to the next generation an America that is more equal, not less – and that starts with acknowledging and learning from the mistakes of our past. This legislation will help shine a light on this dark chapter of our history, honor the men and women that were affected and help us continue the march towards full equality.”

The LOVE Act:

  • Provides a history of the “Lavender Scare” from 1950 until today;
  • Instructs the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources to conduct an internal review of all firings during this period to determine whom State wrongfully terminated due to their perceived sexual orientation, through an orderly and transparent process that safeguards privacy rights;
  • Establishes a “reconciliation board” that would provide State officials and their families who were wrongfully terminated because of their perceived sexual orientation with the opportunity to correct their employment record to reflect their valued service;
  • Acknowledges the apology Secretary Kerry offered for these injustices and issues an apology from the Congress for its role in being complicit in these actions;
  • Instructs the State Department to establish a permanent exhibit on the “Lavender Scare” in the State Department’s National Museum of American Diplomacy;
  • Provides guidance for the Department on issues of assuring visas for the same-sex spouses of Foreign Service personnel posted overseas; and
  • Establishes an advancement board to address issues faced by current Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI) employees at the State Department.

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Press Contact

Sean Bartlett, 202.224.4651