Civil Service Decides That Gays Are Fit for Public Service Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The U.S. Civil Service Commission issued new guidelines stating that persons cannot be disqualified from federal employment “solely on the basis of homosexual conduct.” As a result of this policy change, a number of bureaucracies abandoned antihomosexual policies.

Summary of Event

Section 3301 of Title V of the U.S. Code provides the basic standard for regulating federal employment. The section states that the president may prescribe such regulations for the admission of individuals into the civil service as “will best promote the efficiency of that service.” The section also provides that the president may ascertain the fitness of applicants “as to age, health, character, knowledge, and ability for the employment sought.” Pursuant to this statutory authorization, the Civil Service Commission has issued regulations that require federal employees and applicants for employment to provide certain information and that create various mandatory standards of conduct for employees. The regulations at one time forbade “criminal, infamous, dishonest, immoral, or notoriously disgraceful conduct.” Under those regulations, the Civil Service Commission sought to exclude from federal employment those who had engaged in homosexual conduct. One such person was Frank Kameny. Civil Service Commission, U.S. Homosexuality;discrimination Gay rights [kw]Civil Service Decides That Gays Are Fit for Public Service (July 3, 1975) [kw]Gays Are Fit for Public Service, Civil Service Decides That (July 3, 1975) [kw]Public Service, Civil Service Decides That Gays Are Fit for (July 3, 1975) Civil Service Commission, U.S. Homosexuality;discrimination Gay rights [g]North America;July 3, 1975: Civil Service Decides That Gays Are Fit for Public Service[01990] [g]United States;July 3, 1975: Civil Service Decides That Gays Are Fit for Public Service[01990] [c]Civil rights and liberties;July 3, 1975: Civil Service Decides That Gays Are Fit for Public Service[01990] [c]Social issues and reform;July 3, 1975: Civil Service Decides That Gays Are Fit for Public Service[01990] Kameny, Frank Hay, Harry Matlovich, Leonard

Born in New York City, Frank Kameny had attended Queens College, served on the front lines in World War II, and completed the course requirements for a Harvard Ph.D. in astronomy before having his first homosexual experience, at the age of twenty-nine. In 1956, after receiving his doctorate and after teaching at George Washington University, he took a job with the Army Map Service. In 1957, after being told that the government knew he was homosexual, he was dismissed from his Army post. When his fight to have his dismissal reversed through the regular administrative appeals process was unsuccessful, Kameny found a lawyer willing to help him take his case to the federal courts. After losing appeals in two courts, leaving only the Supreme Court for redress, the lawyer gave up, but Kameny did not. Late in 1960, he wrote a brief that argued that “the Civil Service Commission’s policy on homosexuality is improperly discriminatory, in that it discriminates against an entire group, not considered as individuals, in a manner in which other similar groups are not discriminated against.” The Supreme Court denied his petition for a hearing.

Kameny was disappointed at the Supreme Court’s rebuff and resolved to challenge the government’s discriminatory employment practices. The group he formed, called the Mattachine Society of Washington (MSW), became the instrument of his determination to challenge the government.

One of the earliest American gay movement organizations, the Mattachine Society, Mattachine Society founded in Los Angeles in 1950 and 1951, was modeled in part on the Communist Party, in which secrecy, hierarchical structures, and “democratic centralism” were prevalent. As Marxists, the founders of the group believed that the injustice and oppression they suffered stemmed from relationships embedded in the structure of American society. Homosexuals collectively were a “social minority” unaware of its own status, a minority that needed to develop a group consciousness that would give it pride in its own identity. By promoting such a positive self-image, the founders hoped to forge a unified national movement of homosexuals ready and able to fight against oppression.

The Mattachine Society received its name from pioneer activist Harry Hay, in commemoration of a French musical masque group. The name was meant to symbolize the fact that “gays were a masked people, unknown and anonymous.” Such self-designations were typical of the early gay rights movement, in which open proclamation of the purposes of the group through a revealing name was regarded as imprudent.

MSW’s statement of purpose dedicated it “to act by any lawful means . . . to secure for homosexuals basic rights and liberties guaranteed to all Americans.” The group’s first major project was to send to every public official in Washington a news release that called for an end to provisions excluding homosexuals from employment in the civil and military services and for a revision of the regulations governing security clearances. Kameny’s ensuing visits with federal officials were newsworthy firsts. Kameny eventually became a member of the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Commission and helped persuade the U.S. Civil Service Commission to drop provisions excluding homosexuals from federal employment.

There is disagreement as to the actual date of the change in the U.S. Civil Service Commission’s directives and guidelines regarding employment of homosexuals. According to an American Civil Liberties Union American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) handbook, The Rights of Gay People Rights of Gay People, The (Stoddard et al.) (1983), in December of 1973, in response to a number of successful lawsuits brought by federal employees who had been wrongly dismissed, the commission issued a directive to federal supervisors. The directive stated that a person could not be found unsuitable for federal employment solely because that person was a homosexual or had engaged in homosexual acts, nor could exclusion from employment be based on a conclusion that a homosexual person might bring the public service into public contempt. Supervisors were permitted, however, to dismiss a person or find him or her unsuitable for federal employment if evidence established that the individual’s homosexual conduct affected his or her job fitness, excluding from such consideration unsubstantiated conclusions concerning possible embarrassment to the federal service.

According to the ACLU handbook, the commission’s directive recognized that the suitability of employees must be determined individually, not on the supposed characteristics of an entire class of persons. The directive did not guarantee job security for gay workers, the handbook concluded, but it constituted a substantial improvement in the law.

On July 4, 1975, The New York Times published a United Press International dispatch from Washington, D.C. Dated July 3, it was headlined “Homosexual Hiring Is Revised by U.S.” The dispatch stated that the U.S. Civil Service Commission would be taking a new approach to the suitability of homosexual applicants for government employment. New guidelines issued by the commission would help to determine which applicants were “suitable” for federal service. The guidelines contained a significant change from past policy, resulting from court decisions and injunctions, providing for applying the same standards in evaluating heterosexual and homosexual sexual conduct. The guidelines said that court decisions required that persons not be disqualified from federal employment solely on the basis of homosexual conduct. The commission concluded: “While a person may not be found unsuitable based on unsubstantiated conclusions concerning possible embarrassment for the Federal service, a person may be dismissed or found unsuitable where the evidence exists that sexual conduct affects job fitness.”


The July 10, 1975, issue of The New York Times included an article by Peter Kihss titled “A.C.L.U. Study Finds Wide Easing of Job Bias Against Homosexuals.” The article reported that the American Civil Liberties Union said it regarded the new federal civil service rules as an advance; how much of an advance would depend on how they were applied. The article further reported that the ACLU board had adopted a policy that government inquiries into “sexual practices and preferences” of employees and disseminating information to others would constitute an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. The article concluded with the results of an ACLU study of states’ licensing requirements for more than three hundred occupations involving seven million persons. Homosexuals were excluded from many occupations on the grounds that their sexual orientation or activities were evidence of bad moral character. The study also estimated that 2.2 million workers in private industry were subject to industrial security clearances and, according to the ACLU, there had never been a case in which a professed gay person had been permitted clearance.

The New York Times responded to the new guidelines with an editorial in its July 16, 1975, edition titled “Shedding Blinders.” The editorial referred to the new guidelines as striking “an important blow against the glacier of bias that imprisons the vast majority of homosexuals in America.” Calling the new guidelines “an enormously constructive step,” the editorial cited a 1973 resolution passed by the American Psychiatric Association American Psychiatric Association;homosexuality which read in part: “Homosexuality per se implies no impairment of judgment, stability, reliability or general social or vocational capabilities.”

Congress enacted the Civil Service Reform Act in 1978. Civil Service Reform Act (1978) The act made no specific mention of homosexuality but did state that supervisors may not discriminate on the basis of conduct that does not adversely affect the performance of the employee or applicant or the performance of others.

Air Force Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich made the cover of Time magazine in 1975 after being relieved of his duties for coming out publicly as a homosexual after serving honorably since 1963. Sergeant Matlovich started a protracted struggle for reimbursement, a struggle which ended in 1981, when he accepted a cash settlement in exchange for giving up litigation. Simultaneously, the armed forces further tightened its exclusionary policy against admitting any known homosexuals for military service. Matlovich died of AIDS on June 27, 1988, and in accordance with his last wishes, was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. His headstone reads, “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men, and a discharge for loving one.”

Many bureaucracies, from federal agencies to private corporations, have abandoned antihomosexual policies and have even adopted policies of nondiscrimination. The military’s policy continued to be staunchly antihomosexual, viewing homosexuality as a threat to the very essence of the military organization.

However, in October, 1989, members of Congress released to the press a report by researchers at the Defense Department’s Personnel Security Research and Education Center in Monterey, California. The report concluded that homosexuals were no more of a security risk and no more susceptible to blackmail than heterosexuals, and that the military Military, U.S.;homosexuality should consider accepting homosexuals. Another report from the same research center concluded that personnel discharged as homosexuals were better qualified and had fewer personal problems than the average heterosexual in the service. Although the Defense Department officials rejected and condemned both these reports, the Clinton administration encouraged a compromise posture in 1993, which led to the adoption by the military of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy "Don’t ask, don’t tell" policy[Dont ask dont tell] that removed homosexual orientation itself as a bar to military service, “unless manifested by homosexual conduct,” including statements by persons that they are homosexual or bisexual, or by other public acts such as an attempt to marry someone of the same sex. The policy is still opposed by a majority of Americans, and although the military does not ask recruits about their sexual orientation, those who violate the stated policy have been discharged from service. Civil Service Commission, U.S. Homosexuality;discrimination Gay rights

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Berube, Allan. Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two. New York: Free Press, 1990. Chapter titled “The Legacy of the War” discusses the veterans of World War II, who were the first generation of gay men and women to experience rapid, dramatic, and widespread changes in their lives as homosexuals, and the military organizations that served as testing grounds for policies later adopted by civilian bureaucracies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Duberman, Martin Bauml. About Time: Exploring the Gay Past. Rev. ed. New York: Meridian, 1991. Includes a reprint of an article titled “Sex and the Military: The Matlovich Case” from The New York Times Magazine of November 9, 1975, detailing the Matlovich hearing at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, in September, 1975.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Humphrey, Mary Ann. My Country, My Right to Serve: Experiences of Gay Men and Women in the Military, World War II to the Present. New York: HarperCollins, 1990. Includes a five-page, first-person account by Matlovich discussing his discharge and feelings about being ill with, and eventually dying from, AIDS.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marotta, Toby. The Politics of Homosexuality: How Lesbians and Gay Men Have Made Themselves a Political and Social Force in Modern America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981. Places a description and discussion of Frank Kameny and his work to change the rules of the U.S. Civil Service Commission in the broader context of the homosexual rights movement between 1950 and 1980.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rimmerman, Craig A., ed. Gay Rights, Military Wrongs: Political Perspectives on Lesbians and Gays in the Military. New York: Garland, 1996. This volume brings together ten essays analyzing the history and policies regarding gays and lesbians in the military. Gender and race are also discussed.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shilts, Randy. Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. Shilts’s moving prose is based on numerous documents and hundreds of interviews with gays and lesbians in the military.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stoddard, Thomas B., et al. The Rights of Gay People. New York: Bantam Books, 1983. Of particular interest in this ACLU handbook is the chapter titled “The Right to Equal Employment Opportunities.” Presented in an easy-to-read question-and-answer format. Notes include complete citations to applicable cases and regulations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tobin, Kay, and Randy Wicker. The Gay Crusaders. New York: Arno Press, 1972. This book contains biographical sketches of Frank Kameny and other important early homophile and gay liberation leaders.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weiss, Andrea, and Greta Schiller. Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community. Tallahassee, Fla.: The Naiad Press, 1988. Includes a two-page interview with Harry Hay and a chapter titled “The Dark Fifties,” which includes a discussion of the founding of the Mattachine Society and its early efforts.

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Categories: History