By Michael Isikoff
As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on same-sex marriage, Yahoo News presents a new 30-minute documentary, “Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government’s War on Gays,” reported and narrated by chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff. The film explores a dark and little-known chapter in America’s recent political past, when gays and lesbians were barred from working for the federal government and the FBI, through its“sex deviates” program, secretly collected hundreds of thousands of files on the sex lives of American citizens.
“Uniquely Nasty” includes never-before-seen government memos by legendary FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (read by George Takei) and John Steele, a top lawyer for the U.S. Civil Service Commission (read by Matt Bomer) asserting that gays were “not suitable” for federal employment. “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.
Along with the film, Yahoo News is releasing for the first time in their entirety a cache of long-secret government memos that have been uncovered in recent years by Francis, working with a team of lawyers from the firm of McDermott Will & Emery. Also included in this package are stories about the history of the FBI’s “sex deviates” program; a profile of Robert Gray, a gay Republican lobbyist and Washington powerbroker who secretly lived in fear of the FBI; a story about how Watergate hero Archibald Cox, in his days as John F. Kennedy’s solicitor general, sought to bar gays from federal employment; and the role of “Advise and Consent”in intimidating gays in politics, such as former congressman Barney Frank, from leaving the closet.