John Kerry Apologizes For Anti-LGBT Witch Hunts At State Department

"These actions were wrong then, just as they would be wrong today."

As one of his last acts as Secretary of State, John Kerry issued an apology for past anti-LGBT discrimination by the State Department.

Over the decades, hundreds of employees were fired during the “lavender scare,” when State Department officials believed gays and lesbians were vulnerable to blackmail by America’s enemies because of their sexuality. (There was also a belief that gays were in cahoots with the Communists.)

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kiev in a signal
Sergii Kharchenko/Pacific Press/LightRocket

“As far back as the 1940s, but continuing for decades, the Department of State was among many public and private employers that discriminated against employees and job applicants on the basis of perceived sexual orientation, forcing some employees to resign or refusing to hire certain applicants in the first place,” Kerry said in a statement. “These actions were wrong then, just as they would be wrong today.”

He added: “On behalf of the Department, I apologize to those who were impacted by the practices of the past and reaffirm the Department’s steadfast commitment to diversity and inclusion for all our employees, including members of the LGBTI community.”

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, who plans to introduce legislation acknowledging the “lavender scare,” called the practice “a deep stain on our national history and that of the State Department.”

DURHAM, NC - MARCH 10:  Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign event at Hillside High School on March 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Clinton is campaigning in Florida, North Carolina and Illinois.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Under the Obama administration, the State Department has been a key tool in spreading LGBT equality globally. As Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, declared in a landmark 2011 speech, “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”

“People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face,” she added. “That is certainly true for my country. And you have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people.”

Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, has raised concerns among Democrats and Republicans alike, as he has no political or diplomatic experience and has worked extensively overseas on behalf of his petroleum company.

Tillerson refused to include LGBT people in ExxonMobil’s anti-discrimination policy until President Obama signed an executive order banning anti-LGBT bias by federal contractors. (An order Trump promises to repeal.)

JAN 6 1971, JAN 7 1971; Seventeen members of the State Senate, some of them new, many of them re-?elected to new four-year terms, take the oath of office Wednesday from Justice Donald E. Kelley of the State Supreme Court (not shown). Chief Justice Edward Pringle swore in the 65 House members.;  (Photo By Dave Buresh/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Dave Buresh/The Denver Post

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a Trump advisor, has called on Tillerson to go back to the days of the “lavender scare” and fire all current LGBT employees at the State Department.

“The incoming administration needs to make clear that these liberal policies will be reversed and the ‘activists’ within the State Department promoting them will be ferreted out and will be replaced by conservatives.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.