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"The Homosexual Investigations": Half a Century of CIA Investigations and Discrimination

Published onSep 08, 2022
"The Homosexual Investigations": Half a Century of CIA Investigations and Discrimination


Alongside McCarthyism, a second less known purging of government officials took place beginning in the late 1940s. The “Lavender Scare'' forced thousands of officials to resign and be fired due to their sexuality. During this time, homosexuality was defined as a sexual perversion and thus a form of mental illness. In McCarthy’s famous 1950s speech of corrupted officials, two out of the 205 cases were homosexual men.1 It was believed that communists and homosexuals were intertwined due to similar characteristics such as moral corruption, physiological issues, and, most importantly, the ability to hide and pass as a normal American.2 McCarthy, at one point, stated, "practically every active Communist is twisted mentally or physically in some way,”further intertwining homosexual relationships and communism during this time period. Due to the idea that homosexuality was a mental disorder, homosexual government employees were deemed security risks and morally weak. Public outcry persisted, and government committees dedicated themselves to seek out and document suspected homosexual individuals.3 This smearing of government officials is the start of outing individuals.

The First Homosexual Investigations

Four months after the famous speech from McCarthy, the use of homosexuals to be used for intelligence and/or espionage came to the attention of the CIA. In an untitled 1950’s document curated by one of the founders of the CIA, Walter L. Pforzheimer, the idea of homosexuals possibly being security risks was first documented. Mr. Francis Flanagen was the head of the Council for the subcommittee dedicated to investigating the risk of homosexuals within the CIA and overall government. 4 In September of that year, another document, but in letter format, stated to Mr. Flanagan that the suspicion of homosexual activity in government was correct. Through their investigations, three cases of suspicious officials were accurate, and as the document concludes, these individuals were given the opportunity to resign or be terminated immediately.5 Towards the end of 1950, an official report from the subcommittee dedicated to investigating homosexuals was created. The report titled “Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government” discussed the extent of homosexuals within government official positions and why they are “undesirable” employees.6 Through the subcommittee investigations, it was determined that homosexuals and sex perverts did not meet the standards required for personal conduct and that these individuals are security risks. Due to the social stigma of homosexuality and the fact that homosexual acts were illegal, it was believed that blackmailers could use one’s sexuality in order to gain intelligence from the United States.7 The report’s conclusion reinforced the idea that those without the “accepted standards of morality” were not suitable for government positions.8 Through this report, the need to investigate and question employees was made clear, and guidelines were set to fire and arrest individuals who were deemed sex perverts within all branches of government. Alongside investigations, legal matters were made in order to reinforce the purging of homosexual employees. The power of the CIA to terminate homosexuals due to their perceived “security risk” was reinforced by the modification of the 1947 federal loyalty program. With Executive Order 10450 in September of 1953, the loyalty program was amended to include “sexual perversion” as a basis for removing government agencies, including the CIA. 9 Through this Executive Order, homosexuals could be denied employment until the mid-1970s.

The Case of John William Green

Due to the discrimination against homosexual individuals and the revoking of their security clearances, the CIA faced countless lawsuits beginning in the 1970s. While many of these cases were unsuccessful in their attempt, the court case of John William Green was an unprecedented circumstance not seen yet in court. Green was a strict conservative Republican who worked with the CIA for over 13 years.10 Unlike other cases courts faced, Green was openly homosexual, thus directly contradicting the CIA's supporting reasons for refusing clearance to homosexual individuals. Through Green’s time in the CIA before his removal of clearance, he had a clean security record and posed no risks to the security of classified information. However, the CIA became aware of the sexuality of Green due to his partner using Green as a reference for clearance in an aerospace engineering job. Through the questioning of John Green, the investigator became aware of the homosexual relationship and, in turn, revoked clearance from both men.11 Unbeknownst to CIA officials, Green had been openly gay to his fellow colleagues from the beginning of his time working there. Through his court case, he argued that due to his openness of being homosexual, he could not be targeted for blackmail or foreign espionage, unlike other employees who hid their sexual identity.12 This direct contradiction to the longstanding views of homosexuality being a gateway to the exposure of government intelligence allowed Green to uphold an unprecedented court case. Green sued the CIA for $1 Million U.S dollars for invasion of privacy and the absence of due process. The judge ruled in favor of Green in September of 1984, and he reached a settlement with the CIA. While Green refused to announce his exact settlement due to a court order between Green and the CIA, he had his original clearance reinstated three months later.13

Washington Post news article from November, 1983 describing John Green’s work history and the reason he had a removal of clearance. The article also describes the details of Green’s lawsuit against the CIA.

The Long-lasting Effects of Government Discrimination

While government agencies could legally deny homosexuals employment until the mid-1970s, CIA investigators and officials continued to discriminate against homosexuals in government positions. 14 In a 1985 report titled “Security Implications of Polygraph-Derived Homosexual Practices,” CIA officials discussed the reasons for homosexuality and other sexual perversions. Throughout the beginning of the report, it discussed in detail how the childhood years are formative, and gender and sexuality have not been fully established. Due to this formidable state, he stated that “It is the major maturational task of adolescence, however, to establish with finality the dominance of a heterosexual orientation over a homosexual preference”. 15 The majority of the report goes over three cases of individuals who reported homosexual fantasies or actions during their polygraph test for the “homosexuality question.”16 Although direct termination of homosexual employees was not legal, the report includes that so far, no individual who reported homosexual fantasies during the polygraph test has passed the screening for one reason or another and was, in the end, disqualified. 17 The subject of homosexuals in government, especially the CIA, continued to the early 1990s. In September of 1991, a final report titled “Homosexuality and Personal Security” which questioned the previous beliefs that homosexuals were a security risk. Through the 46 page scientific report, it sought to answer whether homosexuals were untrustworthy and easy targets.18 In the concluding remarks of the report, it concluded that homosexuals were not any more of a risk than those who commit adultery or illegal practices.19 Although homosexuality was deemed immoral for many decades, Theodore R. Sarbin, the writer of this report, concluded that homosexuals were not truly a security risk, but President Hoover’s homophobia led to the idea that homosexuals were deviant and security risks.20 While homosexual employees would be looked at on a case-by-case basis, this report was the beginning of the end for the termination of homosexuals in the CIA.

About the Author

Sydney Falk is a current freshman at Wake Forest University. She plans to major in History and minor in German during her time at Wake Forest.

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