Joe Biden Viewed Gays in Government as ‘Security Risks’

1973 comment came as gay rights activists pushed to reverse ban against holding gov't jobs

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Former vice president Joe Biden once told a group of constituents in Delaware he viewed homosexuals working for the federal government as "security risks," according to an archived local news report dug up by the Washington Free Beacon.

Biden has positioned himself as an advocate for gay rights since leaving the White House. Last year, his foundation launched the "As You Are" program to promote acceptance of members of the LGBTQ community and fight against their discrimination.

In his first year as a U.S. senator, however, Biden appeared unwilling to accept members of the gay community as federal employees.

The article from the Morning News, a Wilmington, Delaware-based paper no longer in circulation, covered a September 24, 1973, meeting Biden held with members of the North Star Civic Association. One of the members, a gay-rights activist, asked Biden questions on job discrimination at the U.S. Civil Service and in the military.

Biden's "gut reaction" on the issue was that homosexuals were "security threats," he said.

"My gut reaction is that they (homosexuals) are security risks," Biden is quoted as saying, "but I must admit I haven't given this much thought … I'll be darned."

Biden agreed to mail the activist, Robert Vane, more thorough answers to his questions, according to the article.

The Free Beacon reached out to the North Star Civic Association to see if it has any record of the Biden meeting and responses the senator might have sent, but did not receive information by press time. Attempts to locate Vane were unsuccessful.

Rick Valelly, a Swarthmore University professor currently writing a book on the history of government employment discrimination against gays and lesbians, says Biden's view of homosexuals as "security threats" came from a period decades earlier now known as the Lavender Scare, where thousands of gay government workers were fired because of their sexual orientation being deemed a security risk.

"It was a view that dated back to the late 1940s," Valelly explained. "The idea was that high status gay men would be so afraid of being outed that they'd be susceptible to blackmail."

"It was a view that activists fighting for civil rights were trying to vaporize, because there was never an instance of homosexual blackmail," he said.

In July 1950, Democratic senator Clyde Hoey of North Carolina led a confidential Subcommittee on Investigations hearing on "the homosexuals and what effect they have upon the Government as a security risk," archived hearing records show. Three years later, President Dwight Eisenhower issued an executive order that included "sexual perversion" as a security risk and reason for termination from federal employment.

Valelly, who credits the aggressive nature of activists with policy changes later that decade at the Civil Service, was not surprised Biden was confronted on the issue when he was, noting that the early 1970s was when the push to protect the rights of gay employees was growing.

"The Gay Activist Alliance, that's what they did, they were confrontational," he said. "It's unlikely that Biden hadn't thought this through, most politically aware people knew there was a big change going on."

The year Biden was first elected, 1972, was also the first year there were openly gay delegates at the Democratic National Convention and a "gay caucus" was formed. The gay delegates successfully put language into that year's party platform endorsing the "right to be different."

Valelly said that Biden's position was in the mainstream at the time, despite the changing tides in his own party. A 1969 poll showed a majority of Americans viewed homosexuals as a security threat, he said.

"It wasn't a nutty view to take, though it's not something we would today find admirable," he said. "But for the time, it was in keeping with policy in the CIA, FBI, and other agencies."

Valelly said Biden could have been "channeling awareness of official policy," but also noted that notions of security risks had different meaning during the Cold War.

"The security risk idea is one of those old hearty myths, and in the Cold War-context, you could still hang your hat on it," he said.

Not all politicians supported government discrimination against homosexuals at the time. Republican Ronald Reagan a few years later campaigned against a California proposition to ban gay people from working in public schools, and is credited by many for its defeat.

Biden has been all over the map on gay rights during his five-decades of political life. He voted for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. In 2007, Biden said he supported civil unions but not same-sex marriages and said defining marriage isn't the government's responsibility.

In 2012, however, Biden, perhaps accidentally, endorsed gay marriage during a Meet the Press interview, going further than President Barack Obama wanted to during his reelection fight. Biden's interview is credited with pushing Obama to get behind gay marriage when he was reluctant to.

The Biden Foundation did not respond to an inquiry into the former vice president's views on hiring discrimination based on sexual orientation for federal jobs. Biden is expected to launch his campaign for president on Wednesday.

The Obama administration formally apologized for the discrimination borne out of the sentiment that homosexuals were security threats.