Sex deviates, J. Edgar Hoover and the HRC: A history of oppression

Last week, The New York Times reported on a terrifying part of the U.S. government's past. The story detailed a program called Sex Deviate, under the direction of FBI head J. Edgar Hoover.

The program sought to identify members of the LGBT community (mostly gay men) and fire them from their government posts. Ironically, J. Edgar Hoover was a confirmed bachelor his entire life, with his only close confidant for 40 years being another confirmed bachelor, to whom he left his estate after he died.

This kind of obsessive hunt for LGBT people is consistently compared to the hunt for communists that also went on in the 1960s. If this doesn't terrify you, I don't know what will. It was an all-out attack on those who wanted to live with an "alternate" sexuality. It's a culture war that the government waged on its own citizens with little or no proof. Sounds familiar, right?



Hoover became obsessed with trying to fight what he saw as the twin evils of communism and homosexuality, after a "British spy ring that penetrated the Pentagon in the 1940s and early 1950s ... were both communists and homosexuals," according to an article about Hoover on NPR.

This hunt gained support not only from our executive branch and its massive bureaucracy, but also from the Senate in 1950, which released a report titled "Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government." In 1977, according to the Times article, the FBI burned 330,000 pages of documents related to the Sex Deviate program.

It's a well known fact that people try to erase the history of LGBT people, and that's exactly what happened with the burning of those documents. It's 2014, people. We need to keep from repeating the past. Honestly, we don't have any excuse if we do.

Today, the U.S. does not have an Employment Non-Discrimination Act that "would ban employers from firing, refusing to hire or discriminating against workers or job applicants based on their sexual orientation or gender identity," according to a Washington Post article. This Act would essentially ban a modern-day Hoover from perpetrating the Sex Deviate program again.

We've made huge leaps in acceptance of employment non-discrimination, with 66 percent of Americans supporting such protections for LGBT workers.

The biggest player in cheerleading this legislation's passing (besides those who would be protected) is the Human Rights Campaign. However, the support from this massive and homogenizing organization is ill-fated.

In 2007, the HRC found itself supporting an ENDA that exclusively protected sexuality — not gender identity. A blog post defending the policy by Ray Ceo, Jr., a former director of HRC@ASU, said that "Their support ... was a political move, part of their strategy to get the most rights as quickly as possible. It's a pretty common political strategy." That's the classic "wait your turn" narrative that's kept millions oppressed throughout human history.

Clearly, there are organizations out there right now attempting to keep the U.S. from escaping the legacy of J. Edgar Hoover.

The push to escape that legacy must come not from the top-down Washington, D.C. "glitter industrial complex," but from people in the grassroots. With social action on the massive scale that the American people, there's no doubt that the fairest and cleanest arrival to inclusive workplace rights can come to all that deserve it.

We must take action for all the people in our most recent history who were not allowed to speak in defense of their right to live their lives free of oppression.


Reach the columnist at or follow him on Twitter @peternorthfelt

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

Want to join the conversation? Send an email to Keep letters under 300 words and be sure to include your university affiliation. Anonymity will not be granted.

Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.