Today, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and 18 cosponsors introduced legislation that would issue a formal Congressional apology to LGBTQ employees of the U.S. State Department who were targeted, harassed and fired as part of the infamous “Lavender Scare” witch hunt in the 1950s and 1960s.

During the “Lavender Scare,” which took place in the 1950s and 1960s, federal and state governments investigated and fired thousands of employees who were suspected of being LGBTQ, claiming that they were “security risks” who were vulnerable to Soviet blackmail. The so-called “Lavender Scare” was particularly cruel for employees of the U.S. State Department. Those who admitted to being LGBTQ were often harassed and pressured to reveal others, leading to a witch hunt that lasted for years.

"The Lavender Scare is a painful but little-known chapter in American history. Though times have thankfully changed in so many ways for the LGBT community, we must have the courage of our conviction to recognize wrong, apologize and move forward with common-sense and compassion whenever it is required," Senator Cardin said in a statement. "This legislation does that retroactively by seeking to correct employment records and codifying Secretary Kerry's apology, and proactively by bolstering services and protections for all of the Department's employees and their spouses, as well as those individuals interested in serving their nation. I encourage all my colleagues to join us in moving forward this bill. Its passage would demonstrate that we are at our strongest as a nation when we embrace, not turn away from, our values of equality, fairness and justice."

In January, just before leaving office, then-Secretary of State John Kerry offered an official apology, following calls from HRC, Senator Cardin and others, asking him to do so.

“On behalf of the department, I apologize to those who were impacted by the practices of the past and reaffirm the department’s steadfast commitment to diversity and inclusion for all our employees, including members of the LGBTI community,” Kerry said.

The legislation offered today goes even further than Secretary Kerry did. In addition to offering an apology, the Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration (LOVE) Act of 2017 would establish a reconciliation board to change the employment record of those who had been fired to reflect the fact that their termination was inappropriate. It would also create a permanent exhibit on the Lavender Scare at the State Department's museum; require a State Department report about countries that are refusing to issue visas to same-sex spouses of U.S. diplomats; and create an “Advancement Board” to address any issues faced by LGBTQ State Department employees and their families.

HRC thanks Sen. Cardin for his steadfast leadership on this issue and looks forward to working with him to pass this legislation and other initiatives to protect and advance the human rights of LGBTQ people, both here in the U.S. and around the globe.


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