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Better late than never:

On the eve of gay pride weekend, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has apologized to veteran activist Frank Kameny for firing him in 1957 solely because of his homosexuality. The letter, from the director of OPM, says in full:

Dear Dr. Kameny:

In what we know today was a shameful action, the United States Civil Service Commission in 1957 upheld your dismissal from your job solely on the basis of your sexual orientation. In one letter to you, an agency official wrote that the Government "does not hire homosexuals and will not permit their employment..." He went on to say that "the homosexual is automatically a security risk" and that he "frequently becomes a disruptive personnel factor within any organization."

With the fervent passion of a true patriot, you did not resign yourself to your fate or quietly endure this wrong. With courage and strength, you fought back. And so today, I am writing to advise you that this policy, which was at odds with the bedrock principles underlying the merit-based civil service, has been repudiated by the United States Government, due in large part to your determination and life's work, and to the thousands of Americans whose advocacy your words have inspired.

Thus, the civil service laws, rules and regulations now provide that it is illegal to discriminate against federal employees or applicants based on matters not related to their ability to perform their jobs, including their sexual orientation. Furthermore, I am happy to inform you that the Memorandum signed by President Obama on June 17, 2009 directs the Office of Personnel Management—the successor to the CSC--to issue guidance to all executive departments and agencies regarding their obligations to comply with these laws, rules, and regulations.

And by virtue of the authority vested in me as Director of the Office Of Personnel Management, it is my duty and great pleasure to inform you that I am adding my support, along with that of many other past Directors, for the repudiation of the reasoning of the 1957 finding by the United States Civil Service Commission to dismiss you from your job solely on the basis of your sexual orientation. Please accept our apology for the consequences of the previous policy of the United States government, and please accept the gratitude and appreciation of the United States Office of Personnel Management for the work you have done to fight discrimination and protect the merit-based civil service system.

Sincerely yours, John Berry, Director

How times have changed since 1957. Kameny's papers are now archived at the Library of Congress and were the subject of a special Smithsonian Exhibit. You can see some of the more interesting correspondence, photos, and 1960s picket signs from the Kameny papers here. He organized protests in front of the White House in 1965, when sodomy was still criminalized in 49 states. He lobbied the APA to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, finally succeeding in 1973. And so much more. No single living American has advanced the cause of equality for gays and lesbians more than he.

It has been my privilege to know Frank for about ten years. Now in his 80s, he is principled, fearless, cantankerous, and relentless.

Frank's answer to OPM: "Apology accepted."

UPDATE: With a Kameny-esque mix of humor, seriousness, and defiance, Frank emails this:

I responded too "quickly on the draw" in saying only "Apology accepted."

In 1957-58, I appealed my firing to the chairman of the Civil Service Commission — John Berry's predecessor several steps removed. The bureaucracy sometimes moves slowly, but, after 52 years, my appeal has apparently now been granted.

THEREFORE, as of noon, yesterday, June 24, I consider myself re-hired, and am inquiring as to when and where I should report for work — or to whom a letter of retirement resignation should be addressed.

Further, I am looking forward to receipt of a check for 52 years of back pay, which I can well use.

But, more seriously, in a phrase that I've used in a related connection recently, all this is like a story-book ending where all issues are resolved. I'm usually not very emotional, but I haven't really come back down to ground yet in all of this.

Monty:
Any chance he has a claim for 52 years of back pay?
6.25.2009 1:20pm
Randy R. (mail):
His modest house, which he has lived in since the 50s, has also been named an historic landmark. He's truly a wonderful man.

And, you didn't mention that he was fired from the position of an astronomer. Apparently, he was one of the leading astronomers of his day, and the country lost his valuable services because of that silly policy. His achievements in science would have been far greater, no doubt, had he retained his position. He became an activist out of necessity, I suppose.

Which just goes to show you -- a great man will achieve greatness no matter what the subject is.
6.25.2009 1:22pm
Thales (mail) (www):
Maybe this is the first inkling of the "Fierce Advocate" in chief starting to rumble toward a change in federal policy. Now a stay of the don't ask don't tell policy, and a statement that he will sign a bill repealing DOMA if it passes would be a good start. Gay rights has been the biggest disappointment to me of Obama's presidency so far. I see almost no political risk in him taking either one of these steps.
6.25.2009 1:47pm
RPT (mail):
This was obviously a right action. Re the sexual activity/security risk rationalization, and because there may not be any comment-able VC posts on the legal ramifications of the Governor Sanford escapades, it is reported that his paramour is reportedly employed by the Argentine government. Should anyone be concerned? Did he violate any statutes besides the South Carolina adultery law? And, re the international law and norms issue, would that law apply to his admitted conduct in Argentina?
6.25.2009 1:53pm
Throbert McGee (mail):
Kamen means "rock" in Russian (I assume his name is of Slavic origin), which seems fitting.
6.25.2009 2:01pm
Danny (mail):
How times have not changed. What happened to Mr Kameny could still happen, today in 2009, to anyone in 37 US States. We lag behind even ex-Soviet countries in this regard.

I hope Mr Kameny will be invited if/when ENDA is finally signed and the US reaches the barest minimum level of civilization
6.25.2009 2:35pm
Oren:

"the homosexual is automatically a security risk"

I had no idea astronomy was such a high-security operation!
6.25.2009 2:44pm
Losantiville:
There was always an alternative approach in any case:

"How to get rid of the communists in the government? Easy. Just abolish the jobs." -- Frank Chodorov

What do we need a government Astronomer for?
6.25.2009 2:49pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
I had no idea astronomy was such a high-security operation!

If the Commies had found out the precise degree of Mercury's perihelion, we'd all be speaking Russian now!
6.25.2009 2:55pm
U.Va. Grad:
What do we need a government Astronomer for?

He didn't do astronomy per se. He was employed by the Army Map Service.
6.25.2009 2:57pm
Lymis (mail):
"What do we need a government Astronomer for?"

Figuring out where to point them thingies NASA shoots in the air?
6.25.2009 3:02pm
Randy R. (mail):
Thales: "Maybe this is the first inkling of the "Fierce Advocate" in chief starting to rumble toward a change in federal policy."

Don't hold your breath. John Berry is the highest appointed official in the Obama Adm. that is openly gay, and he's been defending Obama's reticence and brief on DOMA and his blithe concern about gay issues in general.

So, in order to placate the gay community, they figure it's a lot easier to throw us some crumbs than to actually do anything substantive. This isn't meant to diminish Mr. Kameny's apology -- it is richly deserved under any circumstances. But it is apparent that this adminstration will do whatever it takes to keep us happy, so long as it doesn't actually have to do anything of substance.
6.25.2009 3:05pm
Ken Arromdee:
And, you didn't mention that he was fired from the position of an astronomer. Apparently, he was one of the leading astronomers of his day, and the country lost his valuable services because of that silly policy. His achievements in science would have been far greater, no doubt, had he retained his position.

Wouldn't a different astronomer have been hired after he was fired? And, since he would then have had a job, wouldn't he have had a chance to produce achievements in science too?

So if you want to figure out how much we lost in achievements in science, you'd need to figure out the difference between what he might have achieved and what his replacement achieved instead. Of course, it would be a personal loss to him, but it isn't necessarily a loss to the country unless his replacement was inferior, and even then, only to the degree that he was inferior. If his replacement did 90% as well, we really lost only 1/10 of an astronomer's worth of achievements. If his replacement was better, we could even have gained.
6.25.2009 3:11pm
Eric Rasmusen (mail) (www):
When the political circle turns again, will some new Administration apologize for hiring homosexuals? Or maybe, apologize for hiring tax cheats?

Also, will Obama apologize for the Jackson Administration firing of all the non-Jacksonite civil servants back in 1828?
6.25.2009 3:14pm
Danny (mail):

This isn't meant to diminish Mr. Kameny's apology -- it is richly deserved under any circumstances


It does diminish the apology, actually I would say it invalidates it entirely. When people apologize for things, they mean that they wish they had not done them and promise not to do them again. But the US government has not changed. It continues to allow employment discrimination against gays and lesbians, just like in Mr, Kameny's case. This is akin to a husband apologizing to his wife for cheating, but refusing to end the affair.
6.25.2009 3:26pm
Randy R. (mail):
Ken: "Wouldn't a different astronomer have been hired after he was fired? And, since he would then have had a job, wouldn't he have had a chance to produce achievements in science too? "

I don't know who or if he was replaced. Kameny had a Ph.D. from Harvard in Astronomy, and taught at Georgetown University before taking the Map job. (He also served in WWII, which delayed his education).

I recall reading that he had made several important observations as an astronomer, which is why he was considered a leading light. But those were in books, and I have a hard time finding the reference.

Of course, we don't know whether Kameny would have produced a lot for our country, or more than who replaced him. But the fact that he was fired despite his obvious qualifications, no doubt put a chill on other highly qualified gay people looking for jobs. So the firing wasn't just about him, but sent a message to others that the feds don't want you. And of course, that was official policy in the gov't until the 70s.

So although the loss to the country is likely, yet speculative, the cummulative loss of all those talented people who might have served in the gov't is certain, although undocumented.
6.25.2009 3:34pm
Randy R. (mail):
Eric: "When the political circle turns again, will some new Administration apologize for hiring homosexuals?"

Or better yet, let's have a future adminstration apologize for hiring people who cheat on their wives. 'Course, that would mean we'd have to fire half of congress.
6.25.2009 3:37pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
If Civil Service is all about merit then should be not bring back the Civil Service exam that the Clinton Administration abolished?
6.25.2009 4:55pm
Putting Two and Two...:

I had no idea astronomy was such a high-security operation!


In the 50s...
6.25.2009 5:12pm
Tatil:

It does diminish the apology, actually I would say it invalidates it entirely. When people apologize for things, they mean that they wish they had not done them and promise not to do them again. But the US government has not changed.

Federal government does not fire gays any more except for the military personnel, so the office apologizing did change. I'd say glass more than half full.
6.25.2009 5:51pm
Oren:



I had no idea astronomy was such a high-security operation!





In the 50s...

Were the stars a bigger threat back then or am I missing something?
6.25.2009 5:57pm
Oren:

Or better yet, let's have a future adminstration apologize for hiring people who cheat on their wives. 'Course, that would mean we'd have to fire half of congress.

The Administration (thankfully) doesn't hire Congress. The People of the various districts can decide whether their philandering Congresscritters are worthy of reassignment.
6.25.2009 5:58pm
Putting Two and Two...:
Were the stars a bigger threat back then or am I missing something?

I was just alluding to paranoia about the Space Race possibly encompassing astronomy.

(Side note: it strikes me that living in an era of Fill-in-the-Blank Races, as opposed to Wars on Fill-in-the-Blank, would have been more fun...)
6.25.2009 6:05pm
LarryA (mail) (www):
"the homosexual is automatically a security risk"
It bears repeating that the only reason being gay made anyone vulnerable was because of the government policy of firing those outed. No one can blackmail you with information you don't need to keep secret.
6.25.2009 6:13pm
Danny (mail):

Federal government does not fire gays any more except for the military personnel, so the office apologizing did change. I'd say glass more than half full.


OK, I looked it up and you're technically right, there is a 1998 executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation for US federal workers. The class is 10% full, not 0% full like I thought.

It would be nice to be included in an actual federal anti-discrimination laws though. And on the state level there are no such protections.

I think it is well-intentioned but also hypocritical and ridiculous for any US gov't office to start apologizing to gay people given how little the situation has changed.
6.25.2009 7:26pm
Pro Natura (mail):
Let's also have a moment of silence for Alan Turing, who suffered a similar fate and whose ensuing suicide deprived humanity of a a first-rank mathematician.
6.25.2009 8:16pm
Matthew Carberry (mail):



I had no idea astronomy was such a high-security operation!

In the 50s...


Were the stars a bigger threat back then or am I missing something?


Didn't you see the films? Read the warnings?

WATCH THE SKIES!
6.25.2009 8:20pm
Randy R. (mail):
Pro: "Let's also have a moment of silence for Alan Turing, who suffered a similar fate and whose ensuing suicide deprived humanity of a a first-rank mathematician."

Absolutely!

Although it's a little off topic, one of the saddest cases I know is that Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor just has he had two hit plays running on the west end in London. One of them was The Importance of Being Ernest, often called the most perfect play ever written. He was a broken man by the time he finished his sentence, and died in Paris not long afterwards. What wonderful plays he would have written that we are now deprived of!
6.25.2009 11:34pm
Jesse (the guest):
Thus, the civil service laws, rules and regulations now provide that it is illegal to discriminate against federal employees or applicants based on matters not related to their ability to perform their jobs, including their sexual orientation.

So why are federal employees subject to drug testing? If you can't tell whether someone is a drug user without testing his bodily fluids, then surely it isn't affecting his ability to perform his job, right?
6.26.2009 12:47am
Cornellian (mail):
It's great that he got his apology but this looks a lot like one of those purely symbolic gestures that politicians wheel out as an excuse for not doing anything substantial.

To quote the great sitcom Yes, Minister, the less you intend to do about something, the more you need to talk about it.
6.26.2009 12:48am
David M. Nieporent (www):
So why are federal employees subject to drug testing? If you can't tell whether someone is a drug user without testing his bodily fluids, then surely it isn't affecting his ability to perform his job, right?
They're generally not.
6.26.2009 6:07am
Malvolio:
It bears repeating that the only reason being gay made anyone vulnerable was because of the government policy of firing those outed. No one can blackmail you with information you don't need to keep secret.
You can repeat it, but that doesn't make it true.

The US security apparatus was (and to an extent still is) paranoid about homosexuality because of the Cambridge Five -- five very senior British government officials who were actively spying for the Soviets, and at least three of whom and possibly all five were actively having sex with each other. They weren't motivated by fear of blackmail, they were just awful human beings, and the spycatchers of the time reasoned that their orientation might be tied up with that.

And even if true that the blackmail issue were the only reason to deny a closeted homosexual security clearance, what of it? The OPM isn't in a position to remake societal preferences, now matter how irrational they may currently be nor how more just or more convenient different preferences would be.
6.26.2009 9:20am
Cornellian (mail):
The US security apparatus was (and to an extent still is) paranoid about homosexuality because of the Cambridge Five -- five very senior British government officials who were actively spying for the Soviets, and at least three of whom and possibly all five were actively having sex with each other. They weren't motivated by fear of blackmail, they were just awful human beings, and the spycatchers of the time reasoned that their orientation might be tied up with that.

They were also all upper crust white men who went to Cambridge but for some reason it never crossed the minds of the "US security apparatus" to carve out for suspicion categories of people matching any of those adjectives. If they had a knee jerk suspicion of their difference that may be an understandable reflection on human nature but is hardly the mark of a savvy intelligence organization.

And even if true that the blackmail issue were the only reason to deny a closeted homosexual security clearance, what of it? The OPM isn't in a position to remake societal preferences, now matter how irrational they may currently be nor how more just or more convenient different preferences would be.

The issue was whether government as a whole should have adopted that position, not just an obscure government agency that most people don't even know exists.
6.26.2009 10:54am
Randy R. (mail):
Malvolio: "They weren't motivated by fear of blackmail, they were just awful human beings, and the spycatchers of the time reasoned that their orientation might be tied up with that."

If any federal officials reasoned that they were awful human beings because they were gay, then not only where they wrong, but they weren't very good investigators. There have been plenty of people who spied for enemies who were straight.

"And even if true that the blackmail issue were the only reason to deny a closeted homosexual security clearance, what of it? The OPM isn't in a position to remake societal preferences, now matter how irrational they may currently be nor how more just or more convenient different preferences would be."

IT isn't about remaking societal preferences. It's about national security.

Gays were being blackmailed because if anyone found out they were gay, they would be fired from their job. Eliminate that threat of being fired, and you eliminate the threat of being blackmailed. Why would any government want to set up a system whereby it's employees may be blackmailed into handing its secrets over to the enemy? Yet, that is exactly what the feds were doing. So by doing the right thing, which is allowing openly gay people to hold jobs in the gov't, they completely eliminated that threat. Proof? Since the policy has been changed, not a single accused traitor has ever been found to be gay.
6.26.2009 11:45am

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