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April 27: Fighting the President on Homophobia

April 26, 2016

6a00d8341c730253ef014e8c313c29970d-800wiPresident Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 on this date in 1953, which listed “sexual perversion,” understood to mean homosexuality, as a condition for firing a federal worker and for denying federal jobs to applicants. Eisenhower also ordered all private contractors doing business with the government to fire their gay employees or risk losing contracts, and he urged allied nations to similarly purge their governments. (Republican National Chair Guy Gabrielson, reported the New York Times, asserted that “sexual perverts who have infiltrated our government” were “perhaps as dangerous as actual Communists.”) Eisenhower’s action enlarged the government campaign against non-heterosexuals that had begun at the close of World War II with police sweeps, public propaganda, and government investigations. Among the thousands of Americans eventually fired from government jobs was Frank Kameny, an astronomer (born 1925) who was a founder of the Washington, DC Mattachine Society. Kameny fought back with a lawsuit and picketed the White House with a sign demanding “first class citizenship for homosexuals.” In 1961, he petitioned the Supreme Court — the first petition to the high court for a violation of civil rights based on sexual orientation (the Court would not hear the case). In 1966, the head of the U.S. Civil Service Commission wrote to President Johnson that Kameny’s firing was justified based on the “revulsion of other employees.” In 2009, Frank Kameny finally received a formal apology from the federal government.

“I took that as a declaration of war against me and my fellow gays and became the first person, to my knowledge, to fight back on this issue.” —Frank Kameny