Last week I spoke at the first ever institutionally organized and federally-funded, backed and supported, LGBT pride event at a federal correctional institution for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. This was huge! I spoke about the history of LGBT federal employees and the importance of coming out in the workplace.
The national affirmative action theme for LGBT Diversity Awareness was "The Power of Out at Work" I worked for the federal government for 13 years for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as I said before, this was huge. This month alone, the federal government has made great progress in recognizing and respecting LGBT rights and diversity.
When I arrived at the prison, I was greeted by a straight man who leads the overall affirmative action program at that facility and is the co-leader of the LGBT group. After clearing security I was taken to a room that was decorated with rainbow colored balloons, had signs up with LGBT pride symbols and explanations of the symbols' origins.
I was told that the inmates were allowed to participate in this project and painted the rainbow flags, pink triangles, etc. and made the signs explaining the history. I knew this was an important step forward to because it meant that the LGBT inmates had a chance to feel proud and included, truly radical in a prison environment, since most prison environments are known for their homophobia.
The notion of "The Power of Out At Work" is a complicated one for LGBT federal employees since from 1953-1985 "homosexuality" was considered incompatible with government employment and LGBT employees were fired from their positions and "open homosexuals" were denied employment.
Here's a bit of what I shared that day.
We have made such great strides in our country and continue to do so, but let me contextualize for you what once was the plight of the LGBT federal employee.
In 1951, the U.S. Senate Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Department issued a report on "The Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government." In this report, 91 people were identified as gay and fired.
In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs Executive Order 10450, which required that all federal employees determined to be guilty of "sexual perversion" be fired. FYI Sexual perversion meant an LGBT federal employee. Hundreds of people were fired, quit, or committed suicide.
During the McCarthy Era and the Red Scare, the hunt for Communists in the United States, there was also the Lavender Scare, which was the hunt for LGBT federal employees. It lasted from 1953 to 1995. Before it was over, more than 10,000 Federal employees lost their jobs!
Check out this new documentary entitled The Lavender Scare. There's a trailer at the end of the post.
Even when LGBT people did heroic deeds in service to our country, they were denied recognition.
On September 22, 1975 when Sara Jane Moore, who was once an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin where I spoke, took aim at President Ford in San Francisco, she was quickly disarmed by a man named Billy Sipple. Sipple was a decorated Marine and Vietnam Veteran. He was also a gay man.
Sipple was not out at work and not out to his family and he asked the press to keep his sexual orientation off record. However, obviously President Ford had access to that information and this was likely the reason that Sipple was not given the recognition that he deserved. According to Harold Evans, author of The Imperial Presidency: 1972-1980, Harvey Milk publicly took issue with this and a few weeks later, Sipple received a brief note of thanks.
Before 1995, an openly gay person could be denied federal employment. I was hired by the BOP in June 1996. I stated to the OPM investigators that I was openly gay. It was documented in my background check and verified when they interviewed my landlord and my former boss. It's amazing that only one year before I could have been denied federal employment simply because I am not straight.
Thankfully our country is finally coming to respect diversity.
In addition to the invitation to speak about LGBT rights at the federal agency I worked at for 13 years, the week prior LGB servicemembers were acknowledged for their contributions by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta who thanked gay and lesbian service members and LGBT civilians for their dedicated service to the nation. Panetta said "You can be proud of serving your country and proud of who you are in your uniform."
On Friday, June 15th, President Obama spoke at a reception marking LGBT pride month where he invited LGBT people, including LGB servicemembers and their spouses and partners, to the White House! A historic event after last year's repeal of DADT.
President Obama subtly reminded us to vote for him this November when he said "We still have a lot to do, but we will get there. As long as I am in the White House, you have an advocate for an America where no matter what you look like, where you come from, or who you love, you can dream big dreams."
I went on to share with them why being out at work is important. Employees that are out and trust their employers are happier and stay with the company longer. LGBT people are highly motivated, well-educated, and dedicated employees. I, of course, had facts and figures to back this up quoting from a Center for Work Life Policy study that reported that:
LGBT employees are " a highly desirable labor pool." Ambitious (71%) and committed (88% are willing to go the extra mile for employers). Forty-eight percent of LGBT respondents have graduate degrees versus 40% of their straight counterparts).
LGBT employees who are not out reported significantly greater feelings of being stalled in their careers and greater dissatisfaction with their rates of promotion and advancement.
LGBT employees who are not out are 40 percent less likely to trust their employer than those who are out.
Employees who remain closeted and isolated are 73 percent more likely to leave their companies within the next three years.
I passed out a flyer of the pride event at the Pentagon to show them just how serious the US government was now taking LGBT diversity. I swear my own mouth was open when I passed it around. I'm still utterly in awe of the fact that we are finally here!
I reminded them to think twice before telling gay jokes and I ended the talk with a quote from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in her recorded message honoring LGBT pride month.
"We will not rest until full and equal rights are a reality for everyone. History proves that the march toward equality and justice will overcome barriers of intolerance and discrimination. But it requires a concerted effort from all of us. No matter how long the road ahead, I'm confident that we will travel it successfully together. Wherever you are celebrating this month, I wish you a happy Pride."
I wish all of the employees at the Pentagon a happy Pride. Celebrate and live your lives out loud! We've come a long way, baby.