FBI and Homosexuality: 2010-2019

2010, January 12
Oliphant? cartoon, FBI agents talking among selves, Hoover in dress. Caption: "'I was about to say 'If ol' J. Edgar was still running things, we wouldn't be having this image problem...'" Research request: Original full citation?

2010, September
Feldstein, Mark. Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, September 2010, ISBN: 978-0-374-23530-7, ISBN10: 0-374-23530-9. Rsearch request: "homosexual" (28 references); "Hoover" (48 references).

2010, September 1
FBI releases files on Mattachine Founder Bob Hull to Douglas Charles. See: http://personal.psu.edu/dmc166/Mattachine%20Founders%20FBI/Bob%20Hull%20FBI%20file.pdf 

FBI releases files on Mattachine Founder Chuck Roland to Douglas Charles. See: http://personal.psu.edu/dmc166/Mattachine%20Founders%20FBI/Chuck%20Rowland%20FBI%20file.pdf

2011, November 6
Serrano, Richard A. Serrano, "An FBI director with a grudge". Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2011, 8:03 p.m. 

The longtime FBI director was convinced that Los Angeles Times reporter Jack Nelson planned to write that he was homosexual.

In February 1970, a top aide to President Nixon [Clark R. Mollenhoff] warned J. Edgar Hoover that a new reporter in town, Jack Nelson, was said to be gunning for the FBI.

For two years in the early 1970s, Hoover nursed an obsession with the new reporter in the nation's capital.

FBI records released recently under the Freedom of Information Act reveal, for the first time, what fueled his fixation: Hoover was convinced — mistakenly — that Nelson planned to write that the FBI director was homosexual.

There is no indication Nelson had any interest in the subject, and he never wrote about it. Nevertheless, he became the focus of Hoover's anxieties.

John Fox, the FBI's in-house historian, said Nelson arrived on the scene at a time when Hoover was feeling vulnerable. A published report that the director was gay could well have ended his career, and that possibility — unfounded or not — had Hoover on edge. "He saw it as an attack on his manhood," Fox said.

The newly released records show that Clark R. Mollenhoff, a former Washington reporter and columnist who was then special counsel to Nixon, wrote Hoover on White House stationery that Nelson was planning another "highly critical series of stories on the FBI."

In June 1970, a reporter for an Alabama newspaper told agents that Nelson had been sent to Washington to write "derogatory" articles about Hoover. The reporter, whose name was redacted, told the FBI that at a conference in Cambridge, Mass., a drunken Nelson had "indicated he had a statement from somebody in the 'Department' stating that Mr. Hoover was a 'homosexual' and that he was planning to use this information in the article," according to an FBI memo.

By January 1971, Hoover was sufficiently concerned about Nelson's intentions that he brought the matter up with Atty. Gen. John Mitchell, his boss. "We have received several recent reports reflecting extensive efforts on his part to embarrass the FBI and me," Hoover wrote.

In a second letter to Mitchell that month, Hoover said Nelson drank excessively and had boasted of his intention to write "that I am a homosexual."

Hoover continued: "While I have no reluctance to stand on my record and to let the facts of both my personal and official life speak for themselves, I nonetheless wanted you to have this background information regarding stories that should soon appear."

The effort was unsuccessful, and two weeks later [Dave] Kraslow [the Washington Bureau Manager of the LA Times] sat down with the director. In a recent interview, Kraslow, now 85, said Hoover complained bitterly about Nelson's supposed plan to identify him as a homosexual.

"The spittle was running out of his lips and the corners of his mouth," Kraslow said. "He was out of control."

In a written account of the meeting from 1971, Kraslow said Hoover had threatened to sue Nelson for criminal libel "should such a lie ever appear in print," and "he was careful to point out it was not intended as a threat, but as a promise."

"I defied him to produce any informant who would stare me in the face or who would stare Jack Nelson in the face and say that Jack Nelson had on any occasion intimated that Hoover was a homosexual," Kraslow wrote.

Kraslow refused to fire Nelson. Rather, he asked his reporter to write a rebuttal, which was sent to Hoover.

"I emphatically deny that I have at any time under any circumstances ever said or remotely suggested that Mr. Hoover was a homosexual," Nelson wrote on Oct. 19, 1971.

2011, April
Lydon, Jason. "FBI Repression of LGBTQ People and Movements". Link to a talk Lydon gave about the history of FBI repression on queer/trans communities. It was given at a conference, Silence Broken: Legacies of Repression and Resistance at Northeastern University in April 2011

2011, November 25
Clendinen, Dudly. "J. Edgar Hoover, ‘Sex Deviates’ and My Godfather". New York Times, November 25, 20011.

Just before Christmas in 1952, J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, let President Dwight D. Eisenhower know that the man Eisenhower had appointed as secretary to the president, his friend and chief of staff, my godfather, Arthur H. Vandenberg Jr., was a homosexual.

It was part of a pattern of persecution that would destroy thousands of lives and careers. Earlier that year, the American Psychiatric Association’s manual had classified homosexuality as a kind of madness, and Republican senators had charged that homosexuality in the Truman administration was a national security threat. (See also: 1952 ; 1956, late.)

2011, December 12
Aaron Stockham. [Review of film] "J. Edgar" Fails to Deliver the Historical Goods. History News Network, December 12, 2011.]

2012, April
Charles, Douglas M. The FBI’s Obscene File: J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau’s Crusade against Smut. Lawrence: KS: University Press of Kansas. April 2012. 200 pages, 6 x 9. Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1825-5

2015, January 4
William J. Maxwell. F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature. Princeton University Press (January 4, 2015). ISBN-10: 0691130205. ISBN-13: 978-0691130200. 384 pages.

Publisher's Description: 

Few institutions seem more opposed than African American literature and J. Edgar Hoover’s white-bread Federal Bureau of Investigation. But behind the scenes the FBI’s hostility to black protest was energized by fear of and respect for black writing.

Drawing on nearly 14,000 pages of newly released FBI files, F.B. Eyes exposes the Bureau’s intimate policing of five decades of African American poems, plays, essays, and novels.

Starting in 1919, year one of Harlem’s renaissance and Hoover’s career at the Bureau, secretive FBI “ghostreaders” monitored the latest developments in African American letters. By the time of Hoover’s death in 1972, these ghostreaders knew enough to simulate a sinister black literature of their own.

The official aim behind the Bureau’s close reading was to anticipate political unrest. Yet, as William J. Maxwell reveals, FBI surveillance came to influence the creation and public reception of African American literature in the heart of the twentieth century.

Taking his title from Richard Wright’s poem “The FB Eye Blues,” Maxwell details how the FBI threatened the international travels of African American writers and prepared to jail dozens of them in times of national emergency. All the same, he shows that the Bureau’s paranoid style could prompt insightful criticism from Hoover’s ghostreaders and creative replies from their literary targets.

For authors such as Claude McKay, James Baldwin, and Sonia Sanchez, the suspicion that government spy-critics tracked their every word inspired rewarding stylistic experiments as well as disabling self-censorship.

 Illuminating both the serious harms of state surveillance and the ways in which imaginative writing can withstand and exploit it, F.B. Eyes is a groundbreaking account of a long-hidden dimension of African American literature.

William J. Maxwell is associate professor of English and African American studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of New Negro, Old Left: African-American Writing and Communism between the Wars and the editor of Claude McKay’s Complete Poems.

2015, June 19: "Uniquely Nasty" (dcoumentary film)
“Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government’s War on Gays.” is publicly released. Accessed September 30, 2015 from https://screen.yahoo.com/uniquely-nasty-u-governments-war-180000816.html

“Uniquely Nasty” is divided into three chapters. 

Chapter 1 — The Story of Charles Francis
A veteran Republican public relations consultant, Charles Francis was once a close friend of George W. Bush who served as the then Texas governor’s emissary to the gay community during the 2000 election. But Francis grew disillusioned by the Bush re-election campaign’s use of same-sex marriage as a wedge issue in 2004. “You have to be ready to be thrown overboard, and we were,” Francis says in the film. He then launched a new campaign to dig up government files documenting a forgotten history of decades of federal persecution of gays and lesbians. 

Chapter 2 — The Story of Lester Hunt
As the FBI was launching its “sex deviates” program aimed at identifying and outing gays and lesbians working for the federal government, Lester Hunt Jr. — the son of Democratic Senator Lester Hunt — was arrested for soliciting gay sex from an undercover police officer in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. The arrest triggered a blackmail plot by two allies of Sen. Joe McCarthy, leading to the senator’s suicide — an event that inspired the novel “Advise and Consent” and haunted a generation of gays in politics. 

Chapter 3 — The Story of Charlie Baker
In the mid-1960s, after a top aide to President Lyndon Johnson was arrested for having oral sex in a YMCA bathroom, there was a new crackdown to ferret out gays working for the government. The anti-gay campaign continues for years and, in 1971, Charlie Baker was fired from a low-level job at the U.S. Bureau of Standards for engaging in “homosexual activities.” But Baker fought back, enlisting the help of gay activist Frank Kameny, who bombarded government officials with letters accusing them of “entrenched bigotry” and “obscene ideas.” Baker finally goes to court and wins one of the first victories upholding the rights of gays to work for the federal government. In April 2015, he got married to his longtime partner, Rod, on a beach in Florida.   

Feature about the film: "Viewfinders: Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government's War on Gays" by Michael Itskof. Accessed September 30, 2015 from http://news.yahoo.com/uniquely-nasty--the-u-s--governments-war-on-gays-191808993.html

2015, September 18
Douglas M. Charles, Hoover's War on Gays: Exposing the FBI's "Sex Deviates" Program (Lawrence: KS: University Press of Kansas, September 18, 2015). Hardcover: 480 pages ISBN-10: 0700621199. ISBN-13: 978-0700621194

Publisher's Description:
At the FBI, the “Sex Deviates” program covered a lot of ground, literally; at its peak, J. Edgar Hoover's notorious “Sex Deviates” file encompassed nearly 99 cubic feet or more than 330,000 pages of information. In 1977–1978 these files were destroyed—and it would seem that four decades of the FBI's dirty secrets went up in smoke. But in a remarkable feat of investigative research, synthesis, and scholarly detective work, Douglas M. Charles manages to fill in the yawning blanks in the bureau's history of systematic (some would say obsessive) interest in the lives of gay and lesbian Americans in the twentieth century. His book, Hoover’s War on Gays, is the first to fully expose the extraordinary invasion of US citizens' privacy perpetrated on a historic scale by an institution tasked with protecting American life.

For much of the twentieth century, when exposure might mean nothing short of ruin, gay American men and women had much to fear from law enforcement of every kind—but none so much as the FBI, with its inexhaustible federal resources, connections, and its carefully crafted reputation for ethical, by-the-book operations.

What Hoover’s War on Gays reveals, rather, is the FBI’s distinctly unethical, off-the-books long-term targeting of gay men and women and their organizations under cover of "official" rationale—such as suspicion of criminal activity or vulnerability to blackmail and influence. The book offers a wide-scale view of this policy and practice, from a notorious child kidnapping and murder of the 1930s (ostensibly by a sexual predator with homosexual tendencies), educating the public about the threat of "deviates," through WWII's security concerns about homosexuals who might be compromised by the enemy, to the Cold War's "Lavender Scare" when any and all gays working for the US government shared the fate of suspected Communist sympathizers. Charles's work also details paradoxical ways in which these incursions conjured counterefforts—like the Mattachine Society; ONE, Inc.; and the Daughters of Bilitis—aimed at protecting and serving the interests of postwar gay culture.

With its painstaking recovery of a dark chapter in American history and its new insights into seemingly familiar episodes of that story—involving noted journalists, politicians, and celebrities—this thorough and deeply engaging book reveals the perils of authority run amok and stands as a reminder of damage done in the name of decency.

2015, October 22
Hoover's War on Gays Douglas Charles talked about his book, Hoover’s War on Gays: Exposing the FBI’s “Sex Deviates” Program. Between 1930 and the mid-1970s, the FBI accumulated more than 330,000 pages on so-called “sex deviates,” but these files were destroyed in 1977-1978. Professor Charles talked about his research into the history of the program and the public and official perception of gays during Hoover’s time at the FBI. Link: https://www.c-span.org/video/?328892-1/hoovers-war-gays