“Sounds of Silence”—The Reagan Administration and the AIDS crisis


Why did Ronald Reagan wait seven long, painful years before addressing the AIDS crisis? He became president in 1981, roughly the beginning of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, but did not mention it in public until 1987.

In “Sounds of Silence” in POZ, Charles Francis discusses with Trenton Straube the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.’s efforts to answer that question.

Earlier this year, MSDC uncovered documents revealing that Rock Hudson, dying of AIDS, asked the Reagan White House to help him see a doctor in France. The administration refused.

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Untold Stories: Recovering the Histories of LGBT Civil Servants

In this feature by McDermott Will & Emery, MSDC President Charles Francis and Partners Lisa Linsky and Paul Thompson talk about the collaborative effort that has uncovered documents detailing the U.S. government’s historical discrimination against LGBT employees and led to an amicus brief in connection with the same-sex marriage cases now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is a defining issue of our generation—whether all Americans will be treated equally.” says Paul Thompson. “To be a part of this is really a proud moment for me, and I think for this law firm.”

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“The preferred terms were ‘pervert’ and ‘deviate’…”

Washington Post Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Philip Kennicott on the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.’s amicus brief in the same-sex marriage cases at the Supreme Court today: “an insider’s look at how the fear and hatred of gay people was codified, disseminated, defended and adapted after homosexuals were officially banned from government service by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.”


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“History must never be erased”

Listen to Charles Francis, President of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., talk with activist Mike Rogers on The Michelangelo Signorile Show about how MSDC is at the center of the past, present, and future of the LGBT civil rights movement.

“History must never be erased,” Francis tells Rogers. With documents on LGBT political history still sealed or hidden, the work of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. is as important as ever. “We need to show these documents… This discrimination was rooted in… animus, bigotry, and homophobia. Once everyone agrees that’s what been happening the past 60 years, then we can correct some of these laws that are just unconstitutional.”

Even as reactionaries attempt to roll back progress toward achieving LGBT civil equality, Francis notes the “tremendous strength” of the gay rights movement in the millennial generation.

Rogers includes clips of Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings speaking about the gay rights movement.

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50 years on: remembering the first LGBT picket of the White House

How better to commemorate the first LGBT civil rights protest in front of the White House–50 years ago today–than by opening up the personal papers of John Macy, former head of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, still sealed up in the LBJ Presidential Library.

In an animus-drenched 1966 letter to the Mattachine Society of Washington D.C., Macy wrote:

“Pertinent considerations here (for maintaining the ban on homosexuals in government) are the revulsion of other employees by homosexual conduct and the consequent disruption of service efficiency, the apprehension caused other employees by homosexual advances, solicitations or assaults, the unavoidable subjection of the sexual deviate to erotic stimulation through on-the-job use of common toilet, shower and living facilities, the offense to members of the public who are required to deal with a known or admitted sexual deviate.”

Despite Macy’s role in continuing federal persecution and humiliation of gays and lesbians, his papers are not subject to FOIA requests because Macy donated them to the National Archives before the passage of the Presidential Records Act of 1978. According to the LBJ Presidential Library, 47 linear feet of Macy’s papers remain sealed and unprocessed–containing volumes of LGBT political history waiting to be told.

Read more about the new Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.’s archive activism in MSDC President Charles Francis’ latest opinion piece, published today in the Washington Blade.

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Sister Souljah and DOMA

Bill Clinton's other Sistah Souljah moment

Bill Clinton’s other “Sistah Souljah moment”

President Clinton’s liaison to the gay and lesbian community Marsha Scott warns, in this Memorandum, Vice President Gore about the “growing fear… that we are doing a ‘Sister Souljah’ and distancing ourselves” from the gay and lesbian community by potentially supporting the Defense of Marriage Act. The openly gay and lesbian appointees who were about to hear from the Vice President could only imagine, in March 1996, what was about to happen.

We have not seen this “Sister Souljah” warning in the immediate press coverage of the just-released Clinton Library’s DOMA papers… so in case the library withheld it, we are releasing a copy of the “Sister Souljah DOMA Memorandum” obtained by the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.

Read the documents:

May 15, 1996 Memorandum to Vice President Gore from Marsha Scott

May 16, 1996 Backgrounder on Gay and Lesbian Presidential  Appointees Reception

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Homosexuals and “other sex perverts” unsuitable for Federal employment

Cover, Employment of Homosexuals

In the 1950 report and resolution Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government, a Senate subcommittee charges the Civil Service Commission with stepping up investigations–and dismissals–of alleged “moral perverts” employed by the Federal government, arguing that homosexuals and “other sex perverts” are “generally unsuitable” for employment and “constitute security risks.”

Perverts and homosexuals, the authors argue, “lack emotional stability of normal persons,” incapable of taking on positions of responsibility. Homosexuals furthermore have a “corrosive influence upon his fellow employees,” because they “frequently attempt to entice normal individuals to engage in perverted practices.” Indeed, the presence of “one homosexual can pollute a Government office.” Continue reading

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