The Daily Agenda for Sunday, July 3
July 3rd, 2011
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Civil Service Commission Begins Hiring Gay People: 1975. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower responded to both the “Red Scare” and the “Pink Scare” stoked by Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist and anti-gay hearings by signing an executive order mandating the firing of all federal employees who were found guilty of “sexual perversion” — government-speak for homosexuality. Untold thousands lost their jobs in the ensuing decades, including one astronomer by the name of Frank Kameny, who was fired in 1957 when his superiors discovered he was gay. He protested his firing, and argued his case in federal court all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court refused to hear the case in 1961, making his firing permanent. Kameny went on to become a leading gay-rights activist, and while his efforts extended to opposition to all aspects of discrimination and oppression, the federal employment ban never strayed far from his top concerns. Kameny supported others who had been fired in their efforts to get their jobs back and organized several protests and meetings at the commission’s Washington, D.C. headquarters throughout the next two decades.
While Kameny’s case was the first legal challenge, it wasn’t the last. Several others followed suit, but most federal judges sided with the government’s position upholding the Civil Service Commission’s rules. But in 1973, when a federal judge in California ordered the commission to cease labeling gay people as unfit for federal employment, the commission decided to review its policies. By 1975, the commission finally amended its regulations and ended its ban on employing gays in the federal government. The decision however was not accompanied by a formal announcement. Instead, supervisors were quietly instructed that no one was to be barred for homosexuality. But news of the change did slowly leak out. According to Joyce Murdoch and Deb Price in their book Courting Justice: Gay Men And Lesbians V. The Supreme Court, Frank Kameny learned of the change via a phone call on a Thursday before the Fourth of July weekend. Federal personnel officials “surrendered to me on July 3rd, 1975,” he recalled. “They called me up to tell me they were changing their policies to suit me. And that was the end of it.”
NY Times: “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals”: 1981. Barely a month had passed since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that five gay men had died of a rare form of pneumonia in Los Angeles, when there was another health alert from the CDC (PDF: 184KB/2 pages) about another 41 gay men in Los Angeles and New York who had been diagnosed with a previously rare form of cancer. Rumors had been swirling in New York of a “gay cancer” long before the news hit the pages of the New York Times, but seeing it in print lent a greater sense of panic in the gay community. Before 1981, the cancer, known as Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS), was extremely rare, affecting mainly older men of Mediterranean decent, as well as Africans in the equatorial belt. Today, we now know that that part of Africa is the geographic origin of the AIDS virus, but in 1981 doctors had yet to connect any of those dots. In fact, the New York Times article, which is believed to be the first major news report of what would become known as AIDS, didn’t connect the new cancer cases with the reported pneumonia cases from the month earlier. (The CDC however, did notice that many of the gay men with KS also suffered from Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP). They also updated their count of PCP patients from five a month earlier to fifteen.) But there was already one detail reported that would clue scientists to a common thread: nine of the victims had been found to have had severe defects in their immune systems.
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