We are not living in ‘normal’ times, but has history ever been ‘normal’ for gay Americans?
Not since the reign of J. Edgar Hoover have LGBT Americans faced a more powerful, committed foe than Vice President Mike Pence empowered by Donald Trump. Hoover’s “sex deviate” program of investigations, firings and undercover operations were once considered the high watermark in the federal anti-gay assault. For Hoover, it was all about disloyal deviates’ threat to national security. For Pence and Trump, it is about the threat posed to “religious liberty” by the very existence of LGBT civil equality steeped in sin after Obergefell v Hodges. Our times, and our fight, make no sense without an understanding of this historical scale. We are determined through our program of original archival research–what we call “archive activism” –to educate the legal community, legislators, thought leaders and media about the immediate relevance and power of our history.
Thank you so much for your advice and support over the past six years. Through our original archival research with our partner the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery, the Society this year has uncovered thousands of pages of documents through our Freedom of Information Act requests. To discover even more documentary evidence of animus embedded in law and regulation, we actually sued the Department of Justice in D.C. Federal Court….and won. And, we continued our hands-on research (i.e. digging through boxes!) into more “evidentiary history” of animus to share with the legal community and national media.
Mattachine vs. DOJ
Our lawsuit, Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. vs. the U.S. Department of Justice, received extensive national media coverage when U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lambeth ordered the FBI to conduct a new search for all documents related to President Eisenhower’s “sexual perversion” Executive Order 10450. The Eisenhower security order effectively banned gays and lesbians from federal employment. The ban was administered by lawyers inside the U.S. Civil Service Commission and the Office of Personnel Management who themselves were devoted to “massive resistance” to LGBT equality through six Presidencies, Republicans and Democrats. We call these documents the “Pervert Papers”, and we are asking for their immediate release. There is no longer any legitimate claim of national security to prevent the world from seeing how this ban was enacted and administered by none other than the Assistant Attorney General at the time, Chief Justice Warren Burger.
It is hard to believe there is resurgent momentum for so-called “conversion” therapy of gay and lesbian (or questioning) teens, to change their sexual orientation. The Society is documenting the evidentiary history of “the cure” of homosexuality, from confinement and therapy at St. Elizabeths Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C. to today’s religious and secular “therapies”, as endorsed in the 2016 platform of the Republican Party. This year, we visited the Tretter Collection in LGBT Studies at the University of Minnesota and discovered the near-ideological role of St. Elizabeths Hospital’s Sr. Psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Karpman (1886-1962). Dr. Karpman, today long-forgotten, was one of Washington’s leading authorities on “homosexuality as a social problem” and wrote extensively on whether or not there could possibly be such a thing as a “normal pervert”. Nearly 8,000 patients were in residence at St. Elizabeth’s at its peak in the 1950s, many of them “perverts” or “sexual psychopaths”, convicted and confined when “sodomy” was illegal in the District, under the Sexual Psychopath Act of 1948. We are continuing our research into the role of St. Elizabeths Hospital and Dr. Karpman in the federal investigation and “cure” of homosexuals.
Love In Action
We are preparing a legal white paper on the largest conversion therapy religious ministry, the now defunct “Love In Action” (LIA) in Memphis. After the Tennessee State Department of Mental Health exercised its legitimate regulatory role over LIA’s residential conversion therapy operation which was dispensing medications and using an “addiction” model, LIA’s legal counsel The Alliance Defense Fund sued the State of Tennessee. (Renamed the Alliance Defending Freedom, this advocacy law firm is today representing Masterpiece Cake Shop in Masterpiece v Colorado Civil Rights Commission now at the U.S. Supreme Court.) In 2005, the Alliance claimed the State of Tennessee had “chilled and deterred (LIA) from freely exercising constitutionally protected religion” in its high-priced conversion operation. The State of Tennessee was forced to pay the Alliance’s legal fees. Not so long after this high-profile lawsuit, the Reverend/Director of “Love In Action” John Smid left town, divorced his wife, declared his homosexuality, renounced conversion therapy altogether and married his gay partner in Oklahoma. Love In Action imploded. Through our legal research, we will educate thought leaders and lawmakers nationwide on how such a colossal “never mind” could occur with the mental health and safety of youth hanging in the balance. This history must not be erased. It would be without our efforts.
Thanks to Focus Films and Director Joel Edgerton, the story of “Love In Action” will soon become a major motion picture based upon the memoir “Boy Erased” by Garrard Conley. The film will feature Edgerton, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Lucas Hedges who will play the role of Garrard Conley. We will be working with Garrard and others to educate the legal community about the full historical context of the Love In Action debacle and its relevance to today’s debate in states nationwide seeking to ban or regulate the practice.
This year, the Mattachine Society of Washington donated John Smid’s personal Love In Action archive, including his homosexuality addiction teaching “Manual”, to the archives at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (NMAH). In its press release, the NMAH curator of medical history and sexuality said: “One of the most elusive aspects for the museum in documenting LGBT history is finding materials that demonstrate how people have been viewed as perverted, sick or sinful. The Love in Action collection provides the museum with a vivid example of one religion’s response to LGBT people and its consequences.” The Rev. John Smid donated these important documents and videos to the Mattachine Society of Washington when we visited with him and his husband at their home in Paris, Texas to discuss the importance of preserving this history so that it cannot be repeated.
Finally, the documentary evidence and answers to many of the largest questions in LGBT American history remain sealed in the vaults of the U.S. Presidential Libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). We continue our “archive activist” approach to reviewing the thousands of documents released by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock; and the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas. We are excited about our recent discoveries resulting from the Freedom of Information Act request we filed over three-years ago reaping 11,000 pages on “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell”, released this fall by the Clinton Library. We reviewed these documents in Little Rock accompanied by our friend and Advisor Aubrey Sarvis, the former Executive Director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). The documents reveal important insights into the Clinton campaign promise and final betrayal in 1993 with players including Communications Director George Stephanopoulos and President Clinton’s chief liaison to the Senate, Steve Richetti.
Visiting the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas, we continued to be amazed at the evident abuse of release exemptions to the Presidential Papers Act that the Bush Library uses to extract almost every imaginable document of interest from folders on such critical issues as HIV/AIDS, sexual abstinence education, and the proposed constitutional ban of same-sex marriage. Hundreds of meticulously processed papers of Bush Domestic Policy directors Jay Lefkowitz and Claude Allen have been methodically culled from file folders. These and other presidential library papers are administered by NARA at the cost to taxpayers of $80 million a year. At the Bush Library, papers which have been processed and opened remain mostly unavailable in a near-empty reading room. Archive activism requires us to speak out on this kind of secrecy… and waste.
We are proud to be associated with founding members of our Board of Directors who provide much needed counsel and support for our efforts. Our Board Member Glenn Simpson, president of FUSION GPS, urged us from the beginning to fully expose FBI Director Hoover’s “sex deviate” program—which we did, together. “Washington Blade” columnist Rick Rosendall, an officer of the original Mattachine Society of Washington, provides valuable insight into the relevance of our research. We have two new members of our Advisory Board. Former CIA Intelligence Officer and National Security Council spokesman Ned Price offers critical strategic thinking on FOIA strategies as well as ongoing research into the U.S. Foreign Service in 1946 Berlin and Roy Cohn’s Washington. Little Rock artist V.L. Cox inspires us with her knowledge of Southern culture along with the hatreds of decades that she captures in her art installations, most recently on display in Farmville, Virginia at Longwood University.
The Mattachine partnership with our pro bono legal counsel McDermott Will & Emery remains our single greatest asset. This year, some fifteen attorneys at McDermott—led by partners Lisa Linsky and Paul Thompson– have volunteered their time and legal brilliance to manage our litigation, draft complex FOIA requests, review thousands of pages of documents, research complex questions arising from our archival research and, most important, believe in the power of documented, evidentiary history. This kind of work did not go unnoticed by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association which named Lisa Linsky the recipient of the Paula L. Ettelbrick Award celebrating achievement in advancing LGBT attorneys. Lisa also received this year the New York LGBT Center Women’s Community Impact Award, citing among many other accomplishments her work for The Mattachine Society of Washington.
From J. Edgar to Mike Pence, there can be no new “normal” when it comes to insisting upon the importance of our history in courtrooms, legislatures and public opinion.
Charles and Pate