U.S. President Eisenhower Prohibits Federal Employment of Lesbians and Gays Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1953 executive order prohibited the employment of gays and lesbians in federal government, an action that reflected a perceived risk to national security if gays and lesbians were to work as federal employees. The Civil Service Commission changed this discriminatory policy in 1975.

Summary of Event

On April 27, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450: Security Requirements for Government Employment. The order listed “sexual perversion” Sexual perversion;government employment and as a condition for firing a federal employee and for denying employment to potential applicants. Homosexuality, moral perversion, and communism were categorized as national security threats; the issue of homosexual federal workers had become a dire federal personnel policy concern. [kw]U.S. President Eisenhower Prohibits Federal Employment of Lesbians and Gays (Apr. 27, 1953) [kw]President Eisenhower Prohibits Federal Employment of Lesbians and Gays, U.S. (Apr. 27, 1953) [kw]Eisenhower Prohibits Federal Employment of Lesbians and Gays, U.S. President (Apr. 27, 1953) [kw]Federal Employment of Lesbians and Gays, U.S. President Eisenhower Prohibits (Apr. 27, 1953) [kw]Employment of Lesbians and Gays, U.S. President Eisenhower Prohibits Federal (Apr. 27, 1953) [kw]Lesbians and Gays, U.S. President Eisenhower Prohibits Federal Employment of (Apr. 27, 1953) [kw]Gays, U.S. President Eisenhower Prohibits Federal Employment of Lesbians and (Apr. 27, 1953) Employment rights;U.S. government[US government] Civil Service Commission, U.S.;and employment discrimination[employment discrimination] Discrimination;in U.S. government employment[US government] Security Requirements for Government Employment (United States) [c]Civil rights;Apr. 27, 1953: U.S. President Eisenhower Prohibits Federal Employment of Lesbians and Gays[0480] [c]Government and politics;Apr. 27, 1953: U.S. President Eisenhower Prohibits Federal Employment of Lesbians and Gays[0480] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Apr. 27, 1953: U.S. President Eisenhower Prohibits Federal Employment of Lesbians and Gays[0480] Eisenhower, Dwight D. Truman, Harry Wherry, Kenneth Spicer Hill, Joseph Lister McCarthy, Joseph Hoey, Clyde Roark

Although President Harry S. Truman had set broad standards for dismissal from federal employment during his administration before Eisenhower, his policy toward dismissing homosexuals was seen as too weak. Eisenhower ordered the government to hire and retain employees only when “clearly consistent with the interests of national security.”

Removing homosexuals from federal employment had been common practice. Since the nineteenth century, civil service regulations instructed the bureaucracy to deny examinations and refuse appointments to eligible applicants and to fire employees from their jobs for conduct unbecoming. Records indicate that several federal employees, including poet Walt Whitman, had been dismissed for being homosexual. Whitman had been fired for immoral behavior from a clerical position at the Interior Department in 1863, and Henry Gerber, founder of the gay political organization the Society for Human Rights, had been dismissed from the postal service in 1925 for “conduct unbecoming” a postal worker.

The investigations of Republican senator Joseph McCarthy Homosexuality;Joseph McCarthy and[Maccarthy] moved the issue of gay federal employees to the top of the national agenda. Capitalizing on news reports about morality and communism, McCarthy claimed that a “homosexual underground” was aiding the “communist conspiracy.” In June of 1950, Republican senators Kenneth Spicer Wherry and Joseph Lister Hill, with McCarthy’s support, formed a subcommittee to study the effects of the Truman administration’s employment policy concerning homosexuals. Expert testimony gave the senators enough evidence to argue that “moral perverts [were] bad national security risks because of their susceptibility to blackmail and threat of exposure.”

The committee concluded that the bureaucracy had inadequate procedures to prevent homosexuals from resigning from one federal job and taking up employment in another part of the government. The Civil Service Commission, in response to the committee’s recommendations, instructed federal agencies to document the reasons why employees left or lost their federal jobs, including any moral issues that could affect employees’ suitability for reemployment. Civil Service commissioner Harry Mitchell suggested that local police departments report any “moral” arrest in detail to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Federal Bureau of Investigation;"moral" arrests by[moral arrests] (FBI) and the FBI in turn send the information to the Civil Service Commission for further action.

Senator Clyde Roark Hoey, a Democrat, followed these recommendations with an extensive investigation into the supposed reasons why homosexuals made undesirable federal employees. His committee concluded that the immorality and emotional instability of homosexual behavior, and the propensity for gays and lesbians to seduce “normal” people, especially the young and impressionable, constituted significant reasons to justify the prohibition of homosexuals from federal jobs. The committee recommended that the Civil Service Commission use arrest records more diligently to root out homosexual employees. Hoey argued that arrest records were desirable because a number of U.S. cities were in the process of conducting extensive sting operations against sexual deviants. The Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, D.C. Police abuse and harassment;Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Police Department Police abuse and harassment;Philadelphia police forces averaged between one thousand and twelve hundred gay-related arrests per year in the early 1950’s.

During his 1952 presidential campaign, Eisenhower promised to eradicate communists and other security risks from government and defense-industry employment. He suggested their presence had been too easily tolerated by the Truman administration. On February 2, 1953, during his first state of the union address, Eisenhower promised a new system “for keeping out the disloyal and dangerous.” On April 27 he signed the executive order. McCarthy, who had been invited to the signing ceremony by the administration, praised the new order as a “pretty darn good program.” The New York Times reported the next day that “The new [personnel security] program will require a new investigation of many thousands of employees previously investigated, as well as many more thousands who have had no security check.”

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, gays and lesbians turned to the court system for protection against federal job discrimination. The court cases of Norton v. Macy (1969), Norton v. Macy (1969)[Norton v Macy] Vigil v. Post Office Department (1969), Vigil v. Post Office Department (1969)[Vigil v Post Office Department] Schlegel v. United States (1969), Schlegel v. United States (1969)[Schlegel v United States] and Society for Individual Rights and Hickerson v. Hampton Society for Individual Rights and Hickerson v. Hampton (1973) (1973), as well as changing public attitudes concerning homosexuals and homosexuality, helped undermine the Civil Service Commission’s policy. In 1975, the commission officially ended job discrimination against lesbians and gays for most federal jobs except those within the FBI and other intelligence agencies.


President Eisenhower’s order not only made it much harder for gays and lesbians to obtain and hold federal employment but also affected civilian government contractors. The order barred homosexuals from 20 percent of the nation’s jobs and led to the firing of fifteen hundred and the resignation of six thousand federal employees. Many business owners and bureaucrats were so afraid of being accused of protecting “subversives” that they began to quickly dismiss homosexual workers. From 1947 to 1950, dismissals of homosexuals averaged about five per month in civilian government jobs. In 1950, there were 720 dismissals, and in 1955, there were 837 dismissals. Through the late 1950’s and 1960’s, dismissals fell to an average of twenty-five per year.

Although the Civil Service Commission curtailed the discriminatory policy in 1975, the United States as a nation still lacks a widespread, general sexual orientation nondiscrimination policy. In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13087, which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in federal civilian employment. Many U.S. states and municipal governments prohibit discrimination against lesbians and gays in areas such as employment as well, but they also prohibit discrimination in housing, health care, and other critical areas. Employment rights;U.S. government[US government] Civil Service Commission, U.S.;and employment discrimination[employment discrimination] Discrimination;in U.S. government employment[US government]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Ralph S., Jr. Loyalty and Security: Employment Tests in the United States. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1958.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">D’Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Johnson, David K. “’Homosexual Citizens’: Washington’s Gay Community Confronts the Civil Service.” Washington History 6, no. 2 (1994): 44-63.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Koppelman, Andrew. The Gay Rights Question in Contemporary American Law. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lewis, Gregory B. “Lifting the Ban on Gays in the Civil Service: Federal Policy Toward Gay and Lesbian Employees Since the Cold War.” Public Administration Review 57, no. 5 (1997): 387-395.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Winfeld, Liz. Straight Talk About Gays in the Workplace: Creating an Inclusive, Productive Environment for Everyone in Your Organization. 3d ed. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2005.

1972-1973: Local Governments Pass Antidiscrimination Laws

June 27, 1974: Abzug and Koch Attempt to Amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964

July 3, 1975: U.S. Civil Service Commission Prohibits Discrimination Against Federal Employees

1978: Lesbian and Gay Workplace Movement Is Founded

June 2, 1980: Canadian Gay Postal Workers Secure Union Protections

December 4, 1984: Berkeley Extends Benefits to Domestic Partners of City Employees

November 8, 1988: Oregon Repeals Ban on Antigay Job Discrimination

May 1, 1989: U.S. Supreme Court Rules Gender-Role Stereotyping Is Discriminatory

September 29, 1991: California Governor Wilson Vetoes Antidiscrimination Bill

September 23, 1992: Massachusetts Grants Family Rights to Gay and Lesbian State Workers

April 2, 1998: Canadian Supreme Court Reverses Gay Academic’s Firing

July, 2003: Singapore Lifts Ban on Hiring Lesbian and Gay Employees

July, 2003: Wal-Mart Adds Lesbians and Gays to Its Antidiscrimination Policy

Categories: History