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The Dark History of Anti-Gay Innuendo

5 90 258
13.02.2019

James Kirchick, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, is author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues and the Coming Dark Age. He is writing a history of gay Washington, D.C.

In March 1953, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover prepared a secret report for Sherman Adams, President Dwight Eisenhower’s chief of staff. The document concerned Charles “Chip” Bohlen, whom Eisenhower had nominated to succeed George F. Kennan as ambassador to the Soviet Union. A career diplomat, Bohlen had served as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s interpreter at the 1945 Yalta Conference, where the Allied powers ceded control of postwar Eastern Europe to Soviet Premier Josef Stalin. Bohlen’s involvement at Yalta made him suspect in the eyes of some Republicans, led by Senator Joe McCarthy, who tried to paint him as not only soft on the Soviets but also gay.

Washington at the time was in the grips not only of the Red Scare, but a more destructive (and less-remembered) “Lavender Scare.” In the popular imagination, communist disloyalty was intertwined with sexual immorality; communists were more likely to be “sexual deviants” and vice-versa. “I don’t say every homosexual is a subversive and I don’t say every subversive is a homosexual,” Nebraska Senator Kenneth Wherry had warned in 1950. “But a man of low morality is a menace in the government, whatever he is, and they are all tied up together.”

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Hoover’s report on Bohlen was a farrago of gossip and innuendo. “There is a definite shading in his conversation and in his manner of speech which indicates effeminacy,” one source claimed of Bohlen, who also had a “habit of running his tongue over his lip in the manner utilized by a woman” and was “quite girlish.” While another source admitted to having no relationship with Bohlen, he nonetheless volunteered to the FBI that, “Bohlen walks, acts and talks like a homosexual.” Bohlen, (who was, in fact, straight) was eventually confirmed as ambassador to the Soviet Union, and went on to have a long and distinguished Foreign Service career. He was later immortalized as one of the postwar “Wise Men” of American diplomacy.

Moral disgust was not the only consideration that made being gay a disqualifying trait for government service at the time; gays, it was widely believed, were also uniquely vulnerable to blackmail. So reprehensible was being gay, the thinking went, that a gay person would rather betray his........

© Politico