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News | June 9, 2022

Overcoming LGBTQI+ Discrimination in the Federal Civil Service

On April 27, 1953, President Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10450 – a broad order that dealt with many aspects of federal employment including banning LGBTQI+ Americans from civil service positions. In particular, among others, any of the following could be used as grounds for dismissal:

  • Any criminal, infamous, dishonest, immoral, or notoriously disgraceful conduct, habitual use of intoxicants to excess, drug addiction, sexual perversion
  • Any illness, including any mental condition, of a nature which in the opinion of competent medical authority may cause significant defect in the judgment or reliability of the employee, with due regard to the transient or continuing effect of the illness and the medical findings in such case

The previous year, the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) (a reference put out by the American Psychiatric Association to develop standards for the diagnosis of mental disorders) classified homosexuality as a mental disorder under the “Sociopathic Personality Disturbance” umbrella along with Antisocial reaction, Dyssocial reaction, and Addiction.

This guidance remained largely intact for the following decades, and in the process thousands of civil servants were fired from their positions including Frank Kameny, an astronomer fired in 1957 from the Army Map Service, a predecessor to today’s NGA. He would go on to fight his dismissal in the courts and, although losing, his efforts would contribute to kick starting the LGBTQI+ civil rights movement in the United States. Untold numbers of talented Americans either never had the opportunity to work in the civil service, or had to keep hidden an important part of themselves in order to remain employed.

Activist movements in the 1960’s and 1970’s contributed to the amelioration of LGBTQI+ discrimination practices. In 1975 the Civil Service Commission redrafted language on suitability for federal employment such that it no longer effectively excluded LGBTQI+ Americans. However, as late as 1990, the United States Court of Appeals ruled that the DoD was allowed to reject security clearances on the basis of LGBTQI+ status, in part due to the belief that being LGBTQI+ made a potential government or contractor employee more likely to be targeted by foreign intelligence agencies. In 1995 Executive Order 12968 was issued which stated that:

  • The United States Government does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation in granting access to classified information
  • In determining eligibility for access, “no inference” may be raised solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the employee

Further Executive Orders in 1998 and 2014 would explicitly eliminate discriminations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identify in the competitive service. However it was only in 2020, with the Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County and a subsequent executive order in 2021 which would bring sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination under sex discrimination as defined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that the same protections would be extended to the excepted service which includes Intelligence Community employees.

As we celebrate Pride Month, it is important to reflect not only how far we have come, but also the recent struggles to end discrimination. It remains vital to show solidarity with each other, whether you identify as LGBTQI+ or as an ally, in order to continually foster a culture where “everyone at NRO [can] apply their authentic selves to the success of our vital national security mission”.