Sixty years ago this month, Eisenhower signed the risible Executive Order 10450 banning gay people and other 'perverts' from government service. It established the falsehood that lgbt employees were security risks, authorized FBI investigations of suspected deviants, and destroyed thousands of careers and lives. In an essay posted today, Charles Francis explores its inception and its awful legacy. He investigates the demise of the order's patient zero, Arthur Vandenberg Jr., son the of Senate Foreign Relations Chair. The younger Arthur organized Citizens for Eisenhower and the new administration had already announced his appointment as Secretary to the President, until Hoover smeared him with details of Arthur's hidden gay life, forcing him to abandon public service and leave Washington forever. The essay cites David Johnson, author of The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, with the White House's 1953 press release stating that within the first four months of the new Order, 1,456 employees had been 'separated from Federal service' for security reasons.
Charles' essay also reveals the dismaying extent to which this crucial antigay flash point has been erased from history. He read the three most recent Eisenhower tomes -- by Jean Edward Smith (Random House, 2012), Evan Thomas (Little, Brown, 2012), and Jim Newton (Doubleday, 2011) -- only to discover each author had ignored it. The books never mention Executive Order 10450. Pressing further, Charles traveled to the Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum in Abilene, Kansas. He writes:
"The Eisenhower Museum's version of events appears on a bright-red text board under the heading 'Personal Freedom vs. National Security.' It reads, 'Eisenhower believed that personal initiative and freedom lay at the heart of the American way of life.' Later it continues, 'Eisenhower recognized that internal threats to American national security existed. ... Investigators reviewed thousands of government workers deemed possible security risks, and dismissed around 1,500 between 1953 and 1957. Another 6,000 resigned rather than undergo often far-reaching questioning of their personal lives.'
"I had found my answer. The Eisenhower Museum interprets the executive order by not mentioning the word 'perversion.' The visitor must decode the phrase 'questioning their personal lives.' LGBT Americans remain the invisible human wreckage. Newly declassified documents reveal that the "questioning" was a systematic, sometimes obsessive investigation, managed by Hoover himself, as part of the FBI's 'Sex Deviates in Government Service' program.
In his final paragraph, he calls for the museum to rewrite its official text and include the LGBT citizens excluded by Ike's order.
"There is no remedy for the thousands whose lives were destroyed, the searing and humiliating personal investigations, the untold numbers of men and women driven from public service. But, as in any 'truth and reconciliation' project, let us at least tell the story. The National Archives and Records Administration working with the curators at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum should take down that text board for review and a rewrite. Add the words 'sexual perversion.' Following the word 'thousands' insert 'homosexuals.' Then add 'LGBT Americans.'"
As far as Band of Thebes knows, the Eisenhower family has never spoken about Executive Order 10450 and the decades of unjustified government animus against gay and lesbian Americans initiated by their ancestor. Of course no one can be asked to answer for their forerunners, yet in the spirit of greater inclusiveness and simple historical accuracy, we welcome the next generation's thoughts on this aspect of his legacy the next time they are called upon to celebrate his heroics.
(photo by Charles Francis)