In the mid 20th century, the United States government began a campaign to purge gay people from government employment because they were believed to be a threat to the country. It was thought gay people were more susceptible to being manipulated or compromised, particularly by communists. This was running in parallel to the anti-communist campaign known as McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare. I hadn’t heard of any of this until I watched an episode of This is Life with Lisa Ling.
The campaign was both brutal and effective, and it went on for years. Thousands upon thousands of Americans were “purged” from government service until the 1960s. One of the most high-profile examples was Walter Jenkins, LBJ’s long-time top aid who was caught having sex with another man in a bathroom. He, of course, resigned from his top position and quietly moved back to Texas with his wife and six kids.
Then there is the story of Helen James, who was expelled from the Airforce in 1955 for being homosexual. At 90 she sued to reverse her dishonorable discharge and won.
This was a dark chapter in American history, but as we approach Valentine’s day, these stories of brave men and women inspire me. I’m incredibly grateful for their sacrifice that allows me to lead the life I do now with my husband. I’m aware our victories are fresh and we have so much more progress to make, but today I’m celebrating how far we’ve come.