New book explores the history of Fire Island

A new book released this week titled “Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington” draws the attention of LGBTQ rights activists and longtime Washington insiders for its untold stories of dozens of locked-up gay men and at least one lesbian who has worked for 10 US presidents, from Franklin Roosevelt to George HW Bush.

The book ends with the role LGBTQ people played under the 11th president it covers – Bill Clinton – by highlighting that Clinton was the first president to openly appoint gay or lesbian people to high-level administrative positions.

The book’s author, gay journalist James Kirchick, says he chose to end the book with his Clinton cover because Clinton, for the most part, ended restrictions on gays and lesbians serving in jobs. sensitive government civilians by lifting the long-standing ban on endorsing the government. security clearances for homosexuals.

In an interview with The Blade, Kirchick said he began his research for the book over a decade ago in his role as a reporter in Washington with a lifelong interest in the Cold War and the struggle of the US government. to deal with the perceived threat of communism promoted by the then Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

He said that before that time homosexuality was seen as a “sin, a very bad sin”, but not as a threat to the safety and security of the country. But that changed at the start of World War II when the country developed what Kirchick calls a bureaucracy to manage the military and government secrets needed to protect the country from outside threats.

“From World War II until the end of the Cold War that followed, the specter of homosexuality haunted Washington,” Kirchick writes in the introduction to his book. “Nothing posed a more potent threat to a political career or wielded a more formidable grip on the nation’s collective psyche than the love expressed between people of the same sex,” he wrote.

Kirchick notes the development widely observed by historians and LGBTQ activists that gay people in prominent government positions were seen as a threat to national security because societal biases and official government restrictions forced them to hide their sexual orientation and made them vulnerable to blackmail by foreign government agents. seeking to uncover US military secrets.

In his 2006 book, “The Lavender Scare,” gay historian David K. Johnson reports that large numbers of gay men have been denied security clearances and forced out of their jobs for fear of abuse. to security that Johnson says never happened.

Kirchick, who said he was inspired by Johnson’s book, expands on ‘Lavender Scare’ reporting by providing detailed stories of dozens of individual gay people or people mistakenly thought to be gay who have been caught up in investigations. about their alleged sexual orientation while working for at least 10 US presidents.

Presidents covered in the book include Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, and Bill Clinton.

A statement announcing the book’s release says Kirchick obtained thousands of pages of declassified documents, interviewed more than 100 people, and consulted documents from libraries and presidential archives across the country to get the information he needed to “Secret City”.

Among those forced out of their jobs was Sumner Wells, a senior State Department official and diplomatic adviser under Franklin Roosevelt. In “Secret City”, Kirchick recounts how despite Wells’ reputation as an invaluable adviser to Roosevelt, the President made it clear that Wells could not stay in the administration after learning he had solicited one or more young men for sex who worked as porters on the passenger trains that Wells rode to different parts of the country.

Not all stories in the book involve government officials. In one story, Kirchick tells the story of Oliver Sipple, a former U.S. Marine who saved President Gerald Ford’s life by deflecting the gun of a woman who was trying to shoot Ford as he exited a event in San Francisco. The widely publicized incident prompted some gay activists to publicly reveal that Sipple was gay and should be hailed as a hero.

The book reports that Sipple had not come out publicly and became emotionally distraught after being outed. His parents reacted hostilely after learning from news reports that their son was gay and told him he was no longer welcome to visit his parents, according to the book.

A much more positive story emerged under the administration of President Jimmy Carter. The book captures a development reported by the Washington Blade and other media around the time it became known in 1979 when Jamie Shoemaker, a gay man who worked as a linguist with the US National Security Agency, or NSA, is seen having his security clearance revoked. and was told he would be fired after top secret agency officials found out he was gay.

Shoemaker took issue with the effort to fire him and retained the services of DC gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, who was a noted expert in helping gay people challenge efforts to revoke government security clearances, to represent it. In a development that surprised many political observers, former Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, whom Carter had made director of the NSA, determined that Shoemaker was not a threat to agency secrets and could retain his clearance. safety and his job.

Inman made the decision after Kameny and Shoemaker made it clear that Shoemaker was a gay man who had no problem disclosing his sexual orientation at work if it didn’t jeopardize his job. Shoemaker became the first known gay person to be allowed to maintain a high-level security clearance with a US government intelligence agency such as the NSA and eventually any government agency or department.

Shoemaker, who has since retired, told The Blade that in recent years a group of LGBTQ NSA employees invited him back to agency headquarters as a guest speaker for the LGBTQ event. Pride from the group with the full approval of NSA officials. Shoemaker’s welcome to the NSA in recent years is seen by activists as a development illustrating the dramatic changes that have taken place to support LGBTQ workers at security agencies like the NSA, CIA and FBI.

But Kirchick includes in her book a slightly less positive story about one of Carter’s White House aides, Midge Costanza, who Kirchick says was known to political insiders to be a lesbian who never publicly acknowledged her orientation. sexual. Costanza became widely known and praised by LGBTQ activists when she invited LGBTQ leaders from around the country to the White House to provide her and the Carter administration with a briefing on LGBTQ issues. The meeting became the first known time that gay and lesbian rights advocates had been invited to the White House for an official meeting.

Carter himself was out of town at the time of meeting for a pre-scheduled visit to the Camp David presidential retreat, White House officials said at the time.

Kirchick reports that over the next year or two, during Carter’s first and only term as president, senior White House officials who Kirchick says were known as “Georgia Mafia” due to their association with Carter during his time as governor of Georgia. , disparaged Costanza, saying she was pushing positions too far to the left. Among other things, White House officials moved Costanza’s office from a prestigious location near the Oval Office to a secluded basement. Costanza resigned shortly thereafter and returned to Rochester, New York, where she began her political career.

Despite what Kirchick said was something of a setback for the LGBTQ cause by the outcome of Costanza’s tenure in the White House, he writes in his book that the situation quickly improved for gay people working in the federal government in Washington. .

“The story of the Secret City is also the story of a nation overcoming one of its deepest fears,” Kirchick writes in the final chapter of “Secret City.”

“It wasn’t until homosexuals began to live their lives openly that the hysteria began to become apparent for what it was,” he writes. “In the whole of American history, no minority group has experienced a more rapid transformation of its status, in the eyes of its fellow citizens, than homosexuals in the second half of the 20th century,” concludes Kirchick.

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Angela C. Hale