AJR  Drop Cap
From AJR,   October 1993

Commie Gays!   

Letter From Washington

By Joseph Laitin

In my 17 years as a spokesman for various government agencies (including the Pentagon, Treasury and the White House), I can hardly claim credit for having had much impact on national policy – except in one instance. Nearly 30 years ago, I got the Secret Service to change its attitude toward gays.

A midwestern daily had filed a routine request for press credentials for a correspondent. As the press officer who dealt with accreditation, I sent it along to the Secret Service for a background check. It was returned stamped "not acceptable." The man had a local police record of an arrest for some vague homosexual encounter.

I challenged the Secret Service not only on its premise that a journalist's sexual orientation represented a threat to the president but whether the agency had exceeded its authority. It was soon clear that I faced a concrete wall, and I had many other pressing matters on my desk. The paper's bureau chief was crestfallen. "This man is a fine reporter, with an excellent record on this newspaper but new to Washington," he told me. "He's married with children and the home office probably will fire him if he can't get White House credentials." He pleaded with me to take another stab at it.

I reopened the matter, not to establish any precedent or out of indignation at discrimination against gays, but simply to save a man's job. After going over the details of the police report and raising what I thought were legitimate questions about the arrest, I inquired tongue-in-cheek if the Secret Service had an arrangement with the KGB to check the police records of Soviet reporters who applied for credentials. It was the height of the cold war, and the special agent understandably looked at me as though I were an idiot. He explained that the Secret Service simply rubber stamped any applications sent over by State.

So the Secret Service has no way of knowing whether the reporters for Tass, Pravda and Izvestia were gay or straight? "No, sir," he replied. "How do you suppose," I asked, "the American press would react if they knew the Secret Service felt it was perfectly okay for a Commie homosexual to have access to the White House but not an American homosexual?"

The agent shifted in his seat. "Let me discuss this with my superiors," he said. Before the day was out, the reporter had his credentials.