Tom Gallagher and I served together in Eritrea as members of the first Peace Corps group to Ethiopia. I then followed Tom by three months into the State Department’s Foreign Service as two of the first half dozen RPCVs to enter the service. Tom is receiving an award this week for his role in and work for allowing homosexuals to serve in the Foreign Service. You see, Tom was forced to resign after a short stay in the service because of his sexual preferences. He later reapplied and was accepted back into the service after it ended its ban on homosexuals serving.
The ban on homosexuals came in the wake of some headline grabbing discoveries of spies in the Foreign Service during World War II. The men discovered were homosexuals and they apparently became spies when faced with being “outed” by those who recruited them. The Department replied by banning homosexuals and refocusing its security apparatus on rooting out homosexuals instead of looking for spies. Needless to add, the ban on homosexuals made it easier for those recruiting spies to target officers since they could threaten the target with losing his job.
I had a very close and intense experience with this misguided campaign. While serving in Washington I came home to find a plain envelope with only my name typed on it shoved under my entrance door. I opened it to find a single sheet of paper with two paragraphs that essentially said that I was being investigated by the State Department as a homosexual and would be asked to sign a statement that I was a homosexual. Refusal to sign would mean the investigation would go on to uncover me. In either case I would lose my job. I showed it to the young woman who was sharing my bed at the time and we both had a chuckle.
Next day I consulted with my superior and took the mysterious tip to our security office. Two days later I was called in for an interview with two men who informed me that indeed the department was doing an in-depth investigation of me as a homosexual. The cause was that the other new officer with whom I shared an apartment at our first post, Panama, in a subsequent post was arrested and charged with the murder of another man in an apparent “lovers’ quarrel.” I emphasized that we had shared a “very large apartment” and that he had never indicated in anyway that he was a homosexual. They said they would contact me at the conclusion of the investigation.
A year later the same men called me in for a final session. They told me that the investigation had found me to be clear of any suspicion, most likely my reputation as a notorious “skirt chaser” had saved me. They then said that they still wanted me to sign a statement saying that I had never been a homosexual, was not then a homosexual and would never be a homosexual which I did. I stated that I did not want to see any of this wind up in my personal file that was rated each year for promotion. They insisted that their files were kept separate and closely guarded. I reminded them that I had been warned by someone who had access to their files. It then dawned on me, the security people had slipped the warning to me to see my response.
Thank God for Tom and others who succeeded in eliminating this repugnant and demeaning rule from the State Department. They managed to close a dark chapter in the history of the Foreign Service and in so doing made it a far better service.