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Senate seeks formal apology for decades of LGBTQ+ discrimination in the federal government

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For many years, members of the LGBTQ+ community who worked for the federal government faced persecution for their sexual orientation.

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The federal government is poised to apologize for decades of intolerance toward the LGBTQ+ community. U.S. Senators Tim Kaine, aDemocrat fromVirginia, and Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat fromWisconsin who is the first outLGBTQ+ person elected to the Senate, have introduced a resolution on Tuesday that seeks to formally apologize for the historical discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ people in the federal workforce.

Theresolution, introduced duringPride Month, acknowledges the mistreatment and wrongful terminations of LGBTQ+ civil servants, foreign service officers, and service members, dating back to 1949.

“LGBT civil servants, foreign service officers, and service members have made countless sacrifices and contributions to our country and national security. Despite this, our government has subjected them to decades of harassment, invasive investigations, and wrongful termination because of who they are or who they love,” Kaine said in apress release. “This Pride Month, I’m proud to lead this resolution alongside Senator Baldwin to reaffirm our commitment to righting our past wrongs and fighting for equality for all LGBT Americans.”

A dark chapter in history

The resolution highlights the Lavender Scare, a period from the early 1940s through the 1960s during which queer federal employees were targeted and persecuted. This era, marked by heightened suspicion and discrimination, saw thousands of federal workers lose their jobs due to their sexual orientation. The most recent wave of such discrimination was perpetuated by the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which was in effect from 1994 to 2011 and led to the discharge of more than 100,000 LGBTQ+ military service members.

The resolution acknowledges the extensive harm caused by these discriminatory policies, stating, “the Federal Government discriminated against and terminated hundreds of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals who served the United States in the uniformed services, the Foreign Service, and the Federal civil service for decades, causing untold harm to those individuals professionally, financially, socially, and medically, among other harms.”

In a bid to correct these wrongs, former President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13672 in 2014, which prohibited federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, in 2023, the Department of Defense announced a review of service records for individuals discharged due to their sexual orientation to assess eligibility for discharge upgrades. The military has acknowledged the discriminatory nature of "don’t ask, don’t tell" and other policies, but LGBTQ+ veterans with dishonorable discharges are still required to individually prove that discrimination happened to have their records amended.

Earlier this year, The Advocatereported that three gay Democratic U.S. congressmen—Robert Garcia of California, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, and Chris Pappas of New Hampshire—sent a letter to the Department of Defense demanding quicker action on resolving cases of LGBTQ+ veterans dishonorably expelled under "don’t ask, don’t tell." The lawmakers emphasized the burdensome process veterans face to seek the respect and benefits they rightfully earned.

Continued commitment to equality

Kaine and Baldwin have a longstanding history of advocating for LGBTQ+ rights. They introduced the Equality Act, a comprehensive bill designed to amend the Civil Rights Act to protect Americans from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2022, they also played a pivotal role in the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act signed by President Joe Biden that December, ensuring the recognition of same-sex and interracial marriages nationwide.

“Anyone who serves our country, whether they are in uniform or a civil servant, deserves to be treated with respect, fairness, and dignity, regardless of who they are or who they love,” Baldwin said. “I am proud to lead this effort to show our commitment to creating a more accepting, equal country that lives up to our nation’s ideals.”

Support and future steps

The resolution is co-sponsored by a host of prominent Democratic senators, including Chris Coons ofDelaware, Jeff Merkley fromOregon,Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman, Patty Murray fromWashington, Brian Schatz ofHawaii, Jeanne Shaheen fromNew Hampshire, Bob Casey fromPennsylvania, Dick Durbin ofIllinois,Massachusetts’sEdward Markey, Richard Blumenthal fromConnecticut, Ben Cardin ofMaryland,Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse, Kirsten Gillibrand ofNew York,Colorado’s Michael Bennet, Ron Wyden fromOregon, Sherrod Brown ofOhio, andVirginia’s Mark R. Warner.

What happens next?

The Senate will now review the resolution. If it gains sufficient support, it will proceed to a vote. If passed, it will serve as a formal acknowledgment and apology for the historical injustices faced by LGBTQ+ federal employees.

“We still have more work to do to ameliorate the harm done by decades of discriminatory policies,” Kaine’s press release said.

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).