McDermott, Mattachine Society Call for US Government to Apologize for Seven Decade-Long Federal Assault on LGBT Americans


International law firm McDermott Will & Emery, in collaboration with pro bono client The Mattachine Society of Washington DC, has released a white paper report entitled “America’s Promise of Reconciliation and Redemption: The Need for an Official Acknowledgment and Apology for the Historic Government Assault on LGBT Federal Employees and Military Personnel.” The report is the result of more than ten years of archive activism research into how tens of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) men and women were investigated, fired, discharged and ruined by the federal government over the last 70 years—an evidentiary history that requires an acknowledgement and formal apology.

“For decades, the animus against LGBT Americans poisoned every institution of the United States Government and the time has come for our nation to acknowledge and apologize for its mistreatment of these citizens,” noted McDermott partner Paul M. Thompson, one of the lead authors of the report. “The McDermott team drew upon a decade of partnership with Mattachine to strategically lay out the history and legal case for this acknowledgment and apology because our nation’s terrible history must never be diminished or repeated.”

The white paper outlines how the US government, led by teams within the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of Personnel Management and nearly every agency, investigated, harassed, interrogated, terminated and assisted with the criminal prosecution of LGBT Americans for no other reason than their sexual orientation or gender expression. The paper also outlines how Congress has officially acknowledged and apologized for the mistreatment of marginalized groups on six different occasions over the last 30 years, noting that a similar acknowledgement and apology is warranted for the LGBT community. These other instances include congressional apologies for Japanese-American internment, the mistreatment of Native Hawaiians, the failure to enforce anti-lynching laws to protect African Americans, the enslavement of African Americans, the mistreatment of Native Americans, and the exclusion of Chinese immigrants.

Mattachine Society of Washington DC President Charles Francis added: “Our mission of archive activism strives to prevent America from repeating the most appalling errors of our history. For this project, we were inspired by the fundamental question ‘Do you want to remember or forget?’ which has been posed to governments worldwide when considering grave wrongs committed against their citizens. The government’s assault over seven decades on LGBT Americans is such a wrong requiring acknowledgment and apology.”

The McDermott team that partnered with Mattachine on this project was co-led by Paul and Lisa A. Linsky, and included Michael S. Stanek, Michael R. Huttenlocher, Ryan J. Coyle and Sophie Wood. Additional assistance was provided by Kristen Street and Bethany Hertz.

McDermott’s pro bono team has filed numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in an effort to uncover the often deleted political histories of LGBT Americans who faced persecution and discrimination in all branches of the Federal Government. In 2017, McDermott won summary judgment against the United States Department of Justice in an FOIA case concerning documents related to President Eisenhower’s Executive Order 10450 that authorized the firing of federal employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender expression.

Since 2012, McDermott has partnered with Mattachine to uncover the deleted histories of LGBT Americans. Our combined work has helped to recover hundreds of documents and preserve countless stories dating back to the 1940s. Signature projects resulting from our partnership with Mattachine include an amicus brief in the landmark Supreme Court marriage equality case, Obergefell v. Hodges; an award-winning documentary produced by Yahoo! News investigative journalist Michael Isikoff; and another white paper report examining the legal and political history of conversion therapy in the United States.

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