Uniquely Nasty: Original documents and White House recordings

Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent

“Uniquely Nasty” includes never-before-seen government memos by legendary FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and John Steele, a top lawyer for the U.S. Civil Service Commission asserting that gays were “not suitable” for federal employment. See the primary documents detailing Hoover's "Sex Deviates" program, and more used in the reporting of this documentary. Click each title below, listed in chronological order, to see the primary document.

1951: Sex Deviates in Government Service I

In this June 20, 1951 memo, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover launched the bureau’s “sex deviates” program, directing agents to identify gays in the federal workforce and report them to the federal agencies that employed them. In some cases, the agents were to disseminate the names by “blind memorandum,” so it would not be known the information is coming from the FBI. “Each supervisor,” the memo states, “will be held personally responsible to underline in green pencil the names of individuals…alleged to be sex deviates.”

1951: Sex Deviates in Government Service II

In this follow up September 7, 1951 memo, Hoover expands the program, instructing agents to incude in their reports to FBI headquarters “the name of the alleged sex deviate as well as the name of any other alleged deviates with whom he associated.” The report should also include “the date and place that the alleged act of sexual perversion occurred.”

1954: A Senator's son's 'immorality' scandal

After Lester Hunt, Jr. was arrested and released on charges of soliciting gay sex from an undercover police officer in Lafayette Park, two U.S. senators – Herman Welker of Idaho and Styles Bridges of New Hampshire – questioned whether a $2,000 bribe had been paid to let the senator’s son off. On page 3 of his hearing, Lt. Roy Blick, chief of the DC police vice squad, describes being summoned to Sen. Welker’s office at which time, “you stated that you had proof that there was $2,000 passed to kill this case.” Welker clarifies: “I said I had heard.”

1964: 'Something uniquely nasty'

In this Oct. 14, 1964 memo, a lawyer for the U.S. Civil Service Commission explains its policy of barring gays from federal employment. “Our tendency to ‘lean over backwards’ to rule against a homosexual is simply a manifestation of the revulsion which homosexuality inspires in the normal person,” wrote the lawyer, John Steele. “What it boils down to is that most men look upon homosexuality as something uniquely nasty, not just a form of immorality.”

1966: 'Revulsion'

John Macy was the chairman of the U.S. Civil Service Commission under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. In this Feb. 26, 1966 letter, Macy provides further details on why his agency finds gays “unsuitable” for federal employment. “Pertinent considerations here,” he writes, “are…the apprehension caused other employees of homosexual advances , solicitations, or assaults” [and] the unavoidable subjection of the sexual deviate to erotic stimulation through on-the-job use of common toilet, shower and living facilities…”

1966: Senators 'were blackmailing him'

In these unpublished notes from an interview in 1966, former Wyoming Gov. Leslie Miller describes how Sen. Hunt told him that Styles Bridges, the Republican floor leader and Welker “were blackmailing him” and had “threatened 25,000 copies [of leaflets about his son’s arrest for gay sex] to be distributed [unclear] son’s arrest.” Shortly after his meeting with Miller, Sen. Hunt went to his office with a rifle and killed himself.

1971: 'Intellectual drivel'

After the National Bureau of Standards fired Charlie Baker, a clerk-typist, for being gay, Mattachine Society co-founder Frank Kameny took up his cause. In this September 22, 1971 letter, he blasts the bureau for its contention that Baker’s employment would interfere with its ability to perform its mission. “Do you actually believe this intellectual drivel?” he writes to the bureau’s director.

1977: 'Sex perverts in government service'

In this December, 1977 memo, an FBI official seeks permission from the National Archives to destroy bureau files relating to “sex perverts in Government Service.” The files “contain massive amounts of material that relate to matters of individual sexual conduct and thus seem to infringe on personal privacy,” the official, Henry Wolfinger, in the FBI’s Record Disposition Division, writes.

1998: Dear Governor Bush, I am gay

Charles Francis was a veteran Republican public relations consultant who was close to the Bush family. In his Feb. 16, 1998 letter, he “comes out” to then Governor George W. Bush and offers to help him in future endeavors. “But there is one area where I have done much thinking (as well as living it) and that’s the whole vexing issue of gay assimilation into the mainstream of American life,” he writes.

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The audio clips below are courtesy of the White House recordings archived at The Miller Center.

In this Oct. 11, 1964 conversation, recording during the closing weeks of that year's presidential campaign, President Johnson and then deputy attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach discuss the fallout of the news that one of the president's top aides, Walter Jenkins, has been arrested for having oral sex in a YMCA bathroom. "I don't think there is any question that this will be a bombshell" in the campaign, Johnson says, adding a few moments later" "It shocks me as much as if my daughter committed treason."

In an effort to neutralize the Jenkins episode, President Johnson tells a reporter that prior presidents had similar problems, including an appointments secretary to President Eisenhower, a reference to Arthur Vandenberg, Jr. After doing so, LBJ asks deputy attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach on Oct. 28, 1964 to make sure he had his facts right.

Katzenbach reports back the next morning.

In the wake of the Walter Jenkins scandal, President Johnson is focused on finding out if there are any other gays working in his administration. In this Oct. 31, 1964 conversation, President Johnson is briefed by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover about surveillance of a suspected gay in the Navy Department. The president then asks Hoover to teach him how to know when somebody is gay.