Listen: Rick Valelly ’75 on "The Cold War Construction of A Heterosexual State in America"
Why and how did members of Congress, Presidents, and bureaucrats decide to condition military and administrative service on sexual orientation -- and why and how were they actually able to do that between 1945 and 1953?
In November, Rick Valelly '75, Claude C. Smith '14 Professor of Political Science discussed these questions, many of which have fairly surprising answers. One of which is that societal pressure for a heterosexual state was not in fact a major determinant, contrary to what many have argued. This is part of Valelly's ongoing book project, Uncle Sam's Closet: LGBT Enfranchisement and the American State.
Valelly is the author of the award-winning The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement (2004), American Politics: A Very Short Introduction (2013), and Radicalism in the States: The American Political Economy and the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party (1989). His current research focuses on the political development of LGBT rights in the U.S. with a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies.
David: Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to the faculty lecture series. Good to see all of you here. I'm David Harrison, currently serving as Associate Provost and it's my pleasure to help organize this lecture series, which is an opportunity for our faculty who have recently returned from funded sabbatical leave to share with the college community what they've been working on. Our lecture today is Rick Valelly. He is the Claude C. Smith Class of '14 Professor of Political Science. He's taught at Swarthmore since fall of 1993, and previously taught at MIT.
Rick has published scholarly articles in peer reviewed journals such as "The Annual Review of Political Science", "Politics in Society", and "Studies in American Political Development". He is the author of a number of books, "American Politics: A Very Short Introduction", "The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement", that's University of Chicago Press, and "Radicalism in the States: The American Political Economy in the Minnesota Farmer Labor Party". Several of these books are so popular that they are permanently on reserve.
Rick: Where at?
David: I had trouble getting them myself. He is the author, co-editor and contributor to "The Oxford Handbook of American Political Development", and in 2009 he published "The Princeton Readings in American Politics". His current book project, which he's gonna be talking to us about today, is titled, "Uncle Sam's closet: LGBT Enfranchisement in the American State", and that will be published by the University of Chicago Press.
Here at Swarthmore Rick teaches courses on congressional, judicial, presidential, electoral and party politics, and an honor seminar called, "The State of American Democracy". We're currently nearing the conclusion of LGBTQ Pride Month, here at the college, and so Rick's lecture is also very timely, as we think about the need to reclaim LGBTQ histories that have been erased or were never adequately researched in the first place. In this current era when we seem to be making political and social gains, only to see a roll-back of some of those advances, knowing this history is so much more important, and for that reason, I'm grateful for Rick's work on this topic. Please join me in welcoming Rick Valelly.
Rick: Thank you David for that lovely introduction. And thank you all for coming out right before you have to go away for your Thanksgiving recess or taking time out from working on your papers that are due tonight, or due tomorrow morning, or due before you go. So it's really great that you all could come out. This also gives me an opportunity to thank the college, which I want to do as many times as I can, but the college is really a very special place to be a scholar teacher. The college supports research and scholarship as much as a faculty member wants to devote himself or herself to it. The library is particularly supportive and it's great that I see Sarah Elichko and Peggy Seiden here, and Pam Harris, because they've been such a huge help for me, and the library system in general has been such a huge help to me in doing the work that I've been doing over the years.
I also want to thank David for pointing out that in addition to doing this very important work of bringing faculty to come and talk about their work, also situating the work I'm gonna be talking about today in the LGBTQ Pride Month that we're in the middle of. It gives me special pleasure to be doing a presentation in that month and I think this is the first month that we've done this consciously at the college. And so for me, this is a wonderful and welcome change in the life of the college.
The book that I've been working on, "Uncle Sam's Closet", with a subtitle, "LGBT Enfranchisement in the American State" starts at a certain point in time and there's a story in the book that runs from 1945 until the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and into the present administration. David is right to emphasize that the present administration is very hostile to transgender individuals and their military service and there may be other ways in which it's rolling back some of the gains that were made in appointments during the Obama administration. So one of the things I do wrestle with in the book is whether successors to the Democrats freeze, reverse or advance the status quo that they inherit, and we're in the middle of watching. Going through that cycle once again. We've been through it before with Reagan, we've been through it before with George H. W. Bush, who actually was, in many ways, and very quietly, quite gay friendly. And we've been through it with George W. Bush, who was pretty good about it too, in some ways.
I found out that this was the story when I talked to the guy who had been the advisor to the Obama campaign in 2008, and had been the LGBT advisor, he's a professor at Penn Law School. He said at the end of the interview, he said, "You know, there are all these amazing changes going on in the Obama administration." I said, "Really?" He said, "Yeah, there are about 300 of them." I said, "300?" He then said, "Yeah, I can get you a list." And I said, "Please do." Well it turned out there was no such thing as a list, it's very hard to track down. But once I got into it I realized, wait a minute, this story had a beginning. So I'm gonna start with the beginning of the beginning, and that's why I've got the first slide on the screen.
There is a sudden explosion that occurs in the salience and in the importance of the sexual orientation of people who are in government service and who are in the military, and it happens in the immediate post war period. A way to get a sense of how this story starts out, in a very small and kind of completely unnoticeable way, is to take a look at a letter which was unearthed and summarized in 1965, when gay rights activists started fighting with the Civil Service Commission about its prohibitions on the service of gay men and women in the United States Civil Service.
The Civil Service Commission is the predecessor agency to the Office of Personnel Administration, it was founded in 1883 during the Chester Arthur administration, and the act had for a very long time a prohibition on the service in this [inaudible 00:07:28] civil service of people who engage in infamous or immoral conduct. And when the gay activists in 1965 began to fight with the Civil Service Commission about, what I call, the orientation boundary that existed in public service, the Civil Service Commission decided to figure out, wait a minute, when did we start doing this? And it turned out that they started doing it ... and so you'll see here that one of the people in the commission is saying; you know, we had this discussion, and I did some research. And what he found out is that prior to 1945, there was no policy, and then in 1945, a sheet of paper was put in the Federal Personnel Manual, which was a ring binder, there were literally hundreds of them in the archives that went through constant changes, sheets were always being put in. And these were sheets that examiners used and other officials used when they were trying to assess whether someone should actually be given a probationary job in the Civil Service of the United States.
At that time, in 1945, this letter, in November, was added to the ... this is what they discovered 20 years later. The fact that they didn't know about it is itself an important fact that tells you that, indeed the letter that was put into the binder was really no big deal in a certain sense. What I mean by that is that it actually couldn't have had any consequence because at the time, separately, the Oversight Committee in the House was trying to investigate whether the Civil Service Commission actually had any investigative capacity. And it issued a report, I've just taken a little snippet from it here, from the committee report that said, no, they just don't have any investigative capacity.
So one way to think about what I just showed you, this letter that was put into the Federal Personnel Manual, is it's a little bit like Bishop Berkeley's tree falling the forest, right? Somebody thought this up, they stuck it the Personnel Manual, it's hard to see how it could've had any effect whatsoever in the immediate post war period. And suddenly, fast-forward, eight years later, and the President of the United States is giving a television address, this is Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Dwight D. Eisenhower is excited about the fact that his press secretary, James Hagerty has ideas about how to use this new medium to communicate. You think of Kennedy as the first telegenic candidate. In fact the first person to really start taking it seriously, about how to use television to communicate with the American public, was Dwight D. Eisenhower, and he had help, as I said, from his press secretary.
And he decided that he was gonna have a meeting of the Cabinet on TV and they were gonna be talking in an informal way, in a kind of chat with the American public - clearly channeling Roosevelt to a certain extent here, with the fireside chats - about what it is that the Cabinet is doing. In the middle of this press conference - this is happening at 9:30 at night, we don't know how many people watched this, but we know that millions of people must have been watching this. I can't be any more specific than that, I tried to figure out whether there was a Nielsen rating for this and it's very hard to find out, but we'll assume that a very large number of Americans in the middle of the night. There wasn't anything else to do, you didn't have MSNBC, you didn't have Rachel Maddow, you didn't have any of the wonderful things that we have now, the choices that we have that polarizes us in so many ways. And so conversation turns to the Attorney General, Herbert Brownell.
Herbert Brownell is basically a good guy. How do we know that? His daughter was a political scientist, that's why. And she was president of a small liberal arts college in the Boston area. Herbert Brownell is speaking into the camera, and he's saying, "Well, Mr. President, we're in the business of weeding out all of the security risks on the federal payrolls, and what we mean by that are people whose - well, their personal habits are such that they might be susceptible to blackmail." This is code for gay people. We'll begin to see that that's a story in itself, why it is that this is code. It's very unclear that people who are watching this could figure out the code, except for a small number of people who've been paying attention and reading the newspaper, news from Washington assiduously. Most people must have been sitting there going, "Huh? Personal habits, what does that mean?" They like to walk their dog at 3:00 in the morning? And then he adds, "We believe that without fanfare ..." That's a very supremely confident kind of statement. "We're gonna be able to weed everybody out over the next few months." Which is also an amazing statement.
At the beginning of the story, 1945, there's this minor change in the manual, and eight years later, the President of the United States is saying to the American public, "I'd like you to listen to my Attorney General. Please speak." Attorney General says, "We're getting rid of these people who are susceptible to blackmail. And we're gonna be able to do this quickly and we're gonna be able to do it without any fanfare." This is a general, rest assured, we're on the case, we really know what we're doing. And what they're doing is they're implementing an executive order that had just been made effective in May, and it was issued in April, and the executive order starts out - this is a little known executive order, although for people who are into this history, it's an important milestone. And the President writes on the basis of language that was probably drafted for him by Warren Burger.
Some people I work with at the Vanishing Society in Washington, which is this gay rights organization have a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, and their trying to figure whether Warren Burger really did it, did the drafting. I tried to find out, it's very hard to figure out who actually wrote it, because we know the President doesn't write it, and we certainly know that with this President. But somebody wrote this for him and the language starts out saying; I have all this authority, and in addition to the departments and agencies - look at section one - specified in the Set Act of August 26th, 1950, we'll get to that in a little while - and then an executive order that is not particularly important or relevant. The provisions of that Act; a statute shall apply - so this is interesting, something has happened between 1945 and 1953, which is a Congressional Statute that the President of the United States suddenly sees as very useful for dropping a security clearance system over the entire federal government. The appointment of each, each, civilian office or employee, in any department or agency of the government shall remain subject to investigation. And the criteria are listed in section eight.
Later in the order, it turns out that ... so textually these criteria are prioritized over desirous of the revolutionary, overthrowing the United States for instance, so there's a bunch of other criteria. It turns out that you've decided that you want to overthrow the United States by violence, we'll get rid of you too. But in the meantime, we're gonna find out whether you have any behavior activities or associations which will show that you're not reliable or trustworthy. Any deliberate misrepresentations, falsifications or omissions of material facts - that's the provision that Jared Kushner completely ignored, and Michael Flynn. Any criminal, infamous, dishonest, immoral, or notoriously disgraceful conduct - that's drawn from the Civil Service Act of 1983 - habitual use of intoxicants to excess, drug addiction, or sexual perversion. So that's the reference to homosexuality.
There are many other things going on in the executive order. It's not an executive order mainly about homosexuality, but what's clearly happened is that from 1945 to 1953 there's been a transformation in the pre-occupations of the people in Washington, and the President of the United States has decided to think about sexual orientation and the sexual orientation of the people who work for the United States. The military has already done this, but now this has happened in the civilian sector.
It turns out that there isn't any other literature that asks the question that I've asked here, with those two questions, in precisely the way that I've asked them, so that's one thing that you need to know. But that isn't to say that there isn't a literature that bears directly and I have found enormously helpful and useful to me in trying to understand what happened. My story is gonna be different about what happened than a story that exists about what happened, that can be extended to this case. But let me tell you what the existing - and I hate to say this in front of my dear colleague Bruce Dorsey, who's an historian, but I'm gonna be a little hard on historiography, even though I'm also incredibly indebted to the historians.
It's political regulation of sexuality, is the argument. There's a whole literature about how, in the immediate post war period there was an elite preoccupation with containing the new explorations in sexuality and sexual freedom and sexual expression that had occurred starting in the 1930s and it really began to take off in the 1940s. The back story for the Kinsey report, which reported that Americans were incredibly sexually active in all kinds of ways that nobody knew about. And the person who made the argument that what was really going on was top down - and I'm using this quite advisably - straightening out of society, was John D'Emilio, who is a great historian from the University of Illinois, and he's now in retirement. He's the person who argued that what is really going on is that a lot of history is over the regulation of sexuality. We have class conflict, we have other kinds of conflict, but we also have conflict over sexual expression and sexual freedom, and that's a motor, an historical motor. And one of the things that's happening here is the straight elites are scared and are using the state to crack down on new forms of sexual expression.
A very good and fantastic 2004 book was made into a movie, I'm so jealous, and this movie is now available, the guy is Dave Johnson, David K. Johnson is an LGBT historian at the University of Central Florida, and the movie is based on his book, "The Lavender Scare". On the University of Chicago Press website, there's a wonderful interview, and the interviewer asks him, what's going on, what happened then? He says at the end, very emphatically, "We shouldn't forget that the Lavender Scare was a reaction to an earlier time of openness and visibility for the gay community. Such periods of progress are always subject to a backlash." Again, very similar to the domestic containment argument.
There is a very subtle and sophisticated argument by the historian Margot Canaday, she teaches at Princeton University. This book actually won an award from the American Political Science Association, "The Straight State", it has a great title, which it took me a while to figure out what could I come up with that would be just as good. I'm not sure that "Uncle Sam's Closet" is just as good, but I'm hoping it's a contender. But she got to "The Straight State" first, and what she shows in "The Straight State" is that starting in the early 20th century, officials in all kinds of agencies are finding men and women who just seem real different, and they don't have any vocabulary, they don't ... they just know that they're different, and so they start trying to come up with language and labels, start trying to figure out; how do we understand who these people are? And what they do over a period of 20, 30, 40 years, is that the state constructs the binary. The binary didn't exist until the state constructed it. It's an incredibly daring argument, that the binary is the construction of bureaucrats. No wonder she won a prize. And in fact, she says that the construction of the binary really begins to get going in the 1940s, during World War II. Very exciting claim.
So quickly did the impetus to police homosexuality spread across the federal bureaucracy - and this is marvelous praise, it turned out to be wrong, but I hope to persuade you on this - that it might seem as though a switch was suddenly thrown during the World War II period. So this is a critical mass argument that she's making. And then there's this absolutely wonderful book, this also was made into a documentary, "Coming Out Under Fire".
One of the little known, but for LGBTQ historians this is well known, but for most people this isn't known, the expansion of the military during World War II meant that the military was incredibly gay friendly. All these men and women were pulled into the military. About 5,000 were kicked out, that's true, but throughout the military, it was widely recognized that many of the people whom you were fighting with if you were straight, were either lesbians, or homosexuals. And that there was no particular shame about this. Off-base, they would be in gay bars or in lesbian bars, and the military police didn't worry about this. The officers didn't worry about this. The top brass didn't worry about this. Some did, and they stuck people in what were called queer stockades in some bases in the Pacific. But for most of the military, the military was wide open to people being different and not having to hide it. It was a liberalization. And that's why it's called "Coming Out Under Fire".
One other little note, it turns out the military psychiatrists - military psychiatry comes into its own - military psychiatrists were asked, "Hey, is this a problem for us?" The military psychiatrists came back and said, "No, everybody's different, people have all kinds of issues, and this kind of ..." I mean, they understood it clearly as a clinical problem. So to that extent it's homophobic, but it was no different than any of the number of other clinical problems that soldiers and men and women in uniform would have. So there's a crackdown. Again, political regulation of sexuality. So the Department of Defense, in 1949, suddenly says, it's all over, done, and by the way, you don't get to enjoy any of the G.I. Bill either. So we're gonna give you a certain slip, which is an incredibly cruel thing to do, because it means then you can't get a job. And you can't make your way back into the employment market. That's why a lot of people ended up in cities where they then tried to find ways of working as best they could.
So there's a bottom up explanation that political scientists, in my experience, always like, and you won't find this explanation really in the historiography, which is very elite sided and very top down. But the political scientists, when I give this talk, political scientists say, "Well wasn't there a moral panic?" Or, "Didn't society really want this?" One person at a talk I gave said, "[By Rustin 00:23:27] was arrested on a beach in Los Angeles. There was a moral panic, people were really upset about gay visibility and gay expression." And so in that story, the state is responding to society. So they're different versions of the argument.
Let me just run through some problems that I think these arguments face. One is, no one said, in so many words, look let's regulate sexuality in order to straighten out our society. No one said it. There was a lot of bigotry, there was a lot of homophobia, there's was a lot of fear, there was a lot of hatred, but there wasn't anything sophisticated going on, like "Gee, we have to re-shape society, re-cast it." The was elite hysteria, but it was mainly confined to one party, the Republican party, for reasons that have to do with party competition. There was no switch thrown. That is to say, there were just too many bureaucracies for that to happen. Sex perverts are not a campaign issue in 1950, or in 1952.
Let me just go a little bit further into this. This is federal civilian employment as a percentage of government employment, as a percentage of the civilian labor force, and you can see that there just an enormous increase. So right away, Canaday's argument that a switch was thrown - she's right about the agencies, and she looks at the idea that this happened in all the agencies, they were federal agencies, they were suddenly growing all over the place; emergency agencies. This is one of the reasons why - even though I love the book, and even though I think [inaudible 00:24:59] is very daring and very interesting, the argument that suddenly there's this critical mass of bureaucracies, and that's what's the foundation for what Eisenhower did in 1953, doesn't seem to me to actually work, as a kind of causal arrow. And as for social hysteria, well there was social hysteria in Los Angeles.
This is taken from William Eskridge, "Gaylaw: The Apartheid of the Closet", from one of his appendices, appendix C1, C2, and these are sodomy arrests. He's a very assiduous researcher, and you find a slight uptick in sodomy arrests, but you don't see an explosion of sodomy arrests, and so the moral panic story that the political scientists like, really can't wash. All the political scientists think, well it must be an opinion survey. Okay. Yeah, there is an opinion survey. It's really weird.
It turns out that at the same time that there was this preoccupation about sexual orientation going on in Washington, state legislators were very worried about people like Judge Roy Moore. That is to say, they were worried about pedophilia, they were worried about violent rape, in other words, now that we had schools, now that people were in daycare, and now we had people in suburbs, and strange locations, there was a surge across the state legislatures. And so these reputable surveys, that National Election Survey and the University of Chicago survey, NORC, asked people - this is a very weird question, it came out of a meeting of Theodor Adorno, and they took this directly from Theodor Adorno's research on the authoritarian personality, and as an experiment, the NES and NORC put this question in, and the question is totally weird; "Sex criminals deserve more than prison." Which is generally the policy that the state legislatures were producing was. "They should be whipped publicly, or worse. Prison is too good for sex criminals, they should be publicly whipped or worse." You could make an argument that this is tapping moral panic about sexual expression, but what we know from surveys is that the survey has to be real clear before you can make any inferences about what the survey's actually telling us.
This isn't to say that the moral panic argument or the switch thrown argument or political regulation of sexuality argument is off, I'm just saying that I think we need to supplement this story, and that's what I propose to do. And I certainly believe that the people in the Eisenhower administration and the people in Congress whom you are about to see, they were acting in a context which favored their action. If people had known about what they were doing, and following closely, and it was a subject of mass discussion, they wouldn't have disapproved. I think that's certainly true.
So here's my roadmap; what did happen? There was bureaucratic ... so what we'll see next is bureaucratic propagation of security risk, of a security risk idea. There's a new idea that begins to take over official Washington besides loyalty. As that bureaucratic propagation happens, members of the oversight committees, especially the committee that oversees the State Department, want to know what's happening to the security risk idea, and its implementation. So what happens is that then there is an alarmed discovery by Republicans in 1950, of the fact that there are sex perverts. And the Truman administration and congressional Democrats agree that security risk criteria ought to be applied in 13 agencies - so that's the statute that Eisenhower's referring to from summer 1950. They pass a statute, and Truman signs it, and everywhere else, there's no issue. But on a separate track, the Senate is calling for total expulsion of sex perverts. So there's a hybrid loyalty security risk model by 1952, and there are people saying, "That's not enough, we need to go all the way." And they're very concerned about sexual orientation.
Then we'll see that Eisenhower makes a big difference. I think that Eisenhower was studying what was happening very carefully, and once it was clear to him that he could win the nomination, it was also, I think, very clear to him that he would be the next president. And he would be thinking about this, because it was an open seat, Truman wasn't running and Republicans had been waiting for five presidential elections. Their time was gonna come, and it was gonna be 1952.
So take a look at some initial statutes, these are summary dismissal statutes. They were intended to be applied to security risks. And here is the security risk idea taking off in the "New York Times". "The New York Times" had a tool called a chronicle tool, in which you could enter a phrase, and another phrase, and then you would get a plot that would show you on the y axis the percentage of stories by year. And you can see that it begins to take off in 1950 and through the Eisenhower administration, security risk takes up 20%. You'll find the phrase in 20% of "New York Times" stories. So this is an idea that didn't exist, wasn't on the radar screen, and suddenly takes off, and in the 1950s is a hugely important idea.
I didn't get the actual origin of this. I just wanted to show with this piece of a clip from an AP story that was published in - I'm not entirely sure at this point, what newspaper it was, nor for this - but the idea that I'm trying to get across here is that as the oversight is occurring, the under secretary of state for security affairs, inside the State Department, is inveigled into answering a question about; "Could you tell us how many people who have been security risks have been dismissed?" "Well to tell you the truth Mr. Senator, of those in that special category, you know that special category?" "Yes, I know what special category you're talking about." "Can you tell us how many of those?" "91, sir." "What were they now?" "Homosexuals, sir." "Homosexuals you say?" That's exactly how the transcript of the hearing goes.
And so this guy gets really excited. This guy is a very prominent Republican, he's from Nebraska, he was once considered presidential material, he died in 1952, otherwise you would know him better, because he's extremely active, extremely talented politician, and he thought he recognized an issue that was just as good as the Red Scare. And that he could make a big deal out of this. It got him into trouble later. He was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame, and then was pulled out once it was discovered that he was the Joe McCarthy of gays, that he had led this Lavender Scare. And he along with another senator created an initial inquiry, that they managed to dream up the idea that there are 3,500 deviants in the District of Columbia alone.
There's a cartoon in a Washington newspaper, "Report to me on the traitors and the queers in my administration, and I might tell the people." So suddenly Washington is agog with this news. There's an editorial in "The Washington Post" about the 'abhorrents', and the abhorrents are very different people. Interestingly you'll see here, in the past the State Department in particular was believed to contain colonies of such persons. There was a "New Yorker" cartoon at the time where someone is at a job interview, and he says, "Yeah, but I left the State Department for other reasons, not for the one you think." So this was widely believed about the State Department. If you've seen the movie about Julia Child, you'll know that there's a hint of Lavender Scare in the movie. "The Washington Post" editorial goes on to say, "All these people, yeah, they really are problems, because they're susceptible to blackmail. They're not disloyal. It's just who they are, they can't help it. And they're susceptible to blackmail, and so they have to be fired." This is the sober opinion of a Washington newspaper.
So what happens over the summer, is that in the wake of this controversy, the Democratic Party decides to come up with a summary dismissal statute. This is a plot from a database that arrays the votes in two dimensional space, the basic take-away is that when someone stands up, makes a motion to take the bill, the summary dismissal statute, to send it back to committee, it was just to kill it. Actually a lot of people say, yeah, we should kill it. But then when it wins, everybody says, okay, we're on board with the summary dismissal statute. And "The Chicago Tribune" writes a story about it. And then you'll see the subtitle that it's a bill [inaudible 00:34:47] perverts. So what's then is that the Congress, the Democratic Party, has decided to rationalize summary dismissal authority, extend it to 13 agencies, and the President has signed this.
We'll get back to this in just a second, but the result is that there's a hybrid system. There's a loyalty system left over from Truman's loyalty boards, and there's a security risk system. And Truman has his Director of the National Institute of Mental Health give seminars at the White House in which he explains that it's okay for us to have this system, because sex perverts are a security risk in security sensitive agencies, so we'll kick them out, but everyone else, we're not gonna bother with. That's what the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health says. "Trust me, I'm a psychiatrist. I run the National Institute of Mental Health. I'm an expert. You don't have to worry about this."
But senators, in part because of Wherry, that guy we saw earlier, have said, okay, we're gonna have a hearing, we're gonna look into this. Making sure the report - the report is written by an FBI agent, who is a staffer at the General Counsel, and he just writes it. They don't want to touch what he writes. McCarthy didn't even want to be in the committee. He simply writes, "We'll just have to get rid of them." And so by 1952, there is something of a debate, gee what are we gonna do? We've got some senators who want to fire everyone who's a sex pervert if we can find them. And then there are other people who are happy, and the Truman White House is happy with the hybrid system. And Truman realizes, "Okay, I'm gonna punt on this. I'm gonna have a study commission." And he creates a commission that studies it. And the study commission meets and basically says, "Yeah, there should be some sort of rationalization."
It turns out that Eisenhower, in his memoir about this period says, "I was watching, and I was really thinking about this." He claims in the memoir, falsely, that the public was demanding a change. I can't find a single Eisenhower speech in which he refers to what he does. During the political campaign I pledged to do just this, having been openly critical of the government's attitude. I can't find it. Maybe it is on radio somewhere, I just haven't gotten the tape, but I can't find it. "Loyalty is only an aspect of security, I felt that the double standard [inaudible 00:37:30] to be inadequate. It appeared to me to reflect either a complacency or a skepticism towards security risks in government." He's really, actually, genuinely worried, is one way to interpret this, about security risks in government. "The platform says we will overhaul loyalty and security programs. Immediately after inauguration I set to work to close the gap in our defenses. It is important to realize the many loyal Americans by reason of instability; alcoholism, [and he emphasized] homosexuality, or previous tendencies to associate with Communist front groups, are unintentional security risks. They can become subjected to the threat of blackmail by enemy agents." He issues the executive order that we saw earlier.
Why are they so confident about actually being able to suddenly, within a month, make this work? It's because Truman has already organized every agency to set up a loyalty board. So if you instruct every agency to set up a security board, they've done it already. They've been through a dress rehearsal.
So the take-away. This is the part where I was worried whether Bruce was gonna show up. So I think the political regulation story, regulation sexuality story is wrong because the story emphasized so much intentionality to straighten out society, whereas the story that I've told is that there was an establishment of a government-wide orientation boundary, in addition to the military crackdown, okay? But I see it much more conjuncturally as coming in part because of the unusual nature of the New Deal hegemony. The Democratic Party's hegemony, such that Republicans were looking for anything. Wherry was desperate. He was a homophobe, but he was desperate for anything. Just like McCarthy was looking for anything to discredit the Democratic Party. And it was gonna be a success once Truman decided he wasn't gonna run. It's not clear if Truman could've won if he'd decided to run again, but once he was through, there was no question that a Republican was gonna win, political science tells us. In an open seat election, the probability of a change in party is .5.
Meanwhile there's an ideational, ideological discussion, some very weird ideas, susceptibility to blackmail, security risk, people are doing this kind of strange work, it's different from the binary construction work that [inaudible 00:40:01] candidate talks about. There's an acute elite awareness and anxiety - tremendously paranoid. And you have to remember - this doesn't excuse it, but we do have to remember that in fact there were very serious instances of espionage, and that the atomic bomb was given to the Soviets by Communists. So a conversation in official Washington about how to make the government invulnerable, in a dangerous geopolitical context was interlaced with homophobia and hatred and bigotry, but it was also interlaced with geopolitical anxiety, and with concerns about making sure that we have a government that is literally impenetrable. That's what Eisenhower really had in mind, a kind of cordon sanitaire around the government.
The government stigma and humiliation of gay women, men and women, certainly was an effect of this. And it's no accident that you began to see gay rights consciousness emerge for the first time with the Mattachine Society, founded by Harry Hay, in Los Angeles. There is a gay veteran's association that briefly exists in New York City, it's records have disappeared. The first work of gay political thoughts since Walt Whitman, Donald Webster Cory, which is a fantastic book, weird in many ways, in the sense that it's written in kind of John Gunther inside homosexual America style, and then there are all these passages about democracy that are incredibly interesting. And so we begin to see ... so in that sense the argument that people like Allan Berube or David Johnson made, which is what's happening at the top begins to create a politics, which eventually leads to a long quest to change the American government so that LGBT people can serve openly. And that quest did not end until 2011.
At one time, it was not axiomatic, as the federal judge said, that sexual orientation has no relevance to a person's capabilities as a citizen. At one time this was not axiomatic at all, it was very contested. The contest begins in the '60s. What I've taken you into is a time when the opposite idea was taken very seriously and came to govern public and military administration.
So thank you. I think I told you that I wasn't gonna talk this long, but I ended up talking this long, so anyway, I did end within 45 minutes, or 40 minutes, so thank you.