Officer quit government job to live openly gay
IN JULY 1975, the US Civil Service Commission reversed longstanding policies that effectively prohibited gays from working in the government.
There had been no explicit ban but hundreds of men and women over the decades had seen their careers ruined on the grounds of “immoral conduct” at the first hint of their sexual identities being exposed.
The ruling, which followed a court decision did not cover such agencies as the Secret Service, the FBI or the Foreign Service, which are administered separately. Gays in those bureaus were believed to be more susceptible to blackmail – security risks, especially in an era when psychiatrists had only just declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.
Three months after the ruling, amid his increasingly difficult struggle with being forced to muffle his sexuality, 35-year-old Foreign Service officer Tom Gallagher attended a Washington gathering of the Gay Activist Alliance.
He served on a panel called “Gays as Federal Employees”.
The panel proved to be what Gallagher, who died on July 8 at 77, called his “coming out party”.
“I didn’t want to lie and hide any more,” he said in 2012.
“While I was not interested in publicity, on the other hand, if my homosexuality became an issue in any relationship for the rest of my life, I wanted to be honest about it and not lie.”
At the same time, he added, “I was absolutely scared to death” by appearing in public as a gay man at a time when a stigma was still very much attached to homosexuality in the public realm.
“I was terrified of finding my picture on the front page of Time.
“I was concerned for my mother, a conservative Catholic, who would have been mortified if she found herself the object of pity at (her church) because her son had humiliated her in the national media. I also didn’t want to lose my job. I had no other career prospects, and very little money in the bank.”
Nevertheless, when he was asked as a panellist what his colleagues at the State Department said about his sexuality, he said no one knew.
“‘I guess this is a coming out party,’ I said, and the whole room stood up to give me my first standing ovation,” he recalled. “Great fun; but when I went home that evening I was still scared witless.”
After a decade-long diplomatic career that took him from Saudi Arabia to Nigeria to Ecuador, Gallagher left the State Department in 1976 rather than submit to what he imagined would be an arduous and humiliating security-clearance renewal.
He moved to LA and later San Francisco to pursue a career as a social worker. He returned to the State Department in 1994, a year before president Bill Clinton signed an executive order lifting the Cold War-era practice of preventing gays from obtaining security clearances.
In 2012, then secretary of state Hillary Clinton singled out Gallagher as an example of the progress made for gay State Department employees. “He risked his career when he came out and became the first openly gay Foreign Service officer,” Clinton said – Washington Post