Are America’s Absurdly Homophobic Ways Just Buried in History?

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U.S. sentiment regarding LGBTQ rights and gay marriage, as well as general comfort level with the spectrum of gender and sexuality in the U.S., has improved tremendously over the years. Historically, though, things have been incredibly difficult for the LGBTQ community, a truth worth acknowledging and remembering as we consider policy and social sensitivity going forward. Difficult may not be the most illustrative word — bigoted and homophobic serve better. A series of government papers recovered from where they’ve lain since the 1960s gives a pretty startling and clear example of the institutional prejudices in place not so many years ago.

One set of documents shows a correspondence that took place in 1963 between an administrative official and a fellow employee. The official asked whether or not a formerly gay employee could be “rehabilitated” through years of marriage and therein become an acceptable employee once more. The answer? While it was not impossible for “rehabilitated” gays to continue employment, it was a rarity. “Some feel that ‘once a homo, always a homo,’” said John W. Steele, in charge of government personnel matters with the Civil Service Commission, according to The New York Times.

“Our tendency to ‘lean over backwards’ to rule against a homosexual is simply a manifestation of the revulsion which homosexuality inspires in the normal person,” said Steele. Four months prior to this exchange, President L.B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which disallowed discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or country of origin.

The New York Times reports that government practices and considerations like the example given went on for ten years after that. In explaining why homosexuality posed a workplace problem within the federal government, Steel stated that, “Although there are some dissenting voices, our society generally regards homosexuality as a form of immoral conduct,” going on to note that “sexual perversion” constitutes a national security concern in that it opens employees up for greater risk of extortion and blackmail.