Charlie Baker to "show cause."
The letter was shocking and gobsmack-humiliating. It laid out the most private and intimate details of his sex life. Worse, the government sent the letter to him at his parents' house where he was staying. Thank God, his parents did not open this letter, thought the gay twenty-two year old, a clerk/typist at the National Bureau of Standards, now the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He never showed the letter to his parents.
Charles "Charlie" W. Baker returned to Washington last month to confront this obscene government letter he received at his parents' home more than forty years ago.
"Dear Mr. Baker", the 1971 letter from the Civil Service Commission began, "Your appointment as a Clerk-Typist GS-2, National Bureau of Standards, was made subject to investigation... because of acts of caressing, kissing, mutual masturbation, anal intercourse, and rubbing your bodies together (with four named males on various occasions) to obtain sexual climax. " In addition," the letter continued, the investigation was conducted because of Baker's "frequent visits to public establishments where persons with homosexual tendencies tended to congregate." The letter to Charlie Baker concluded with the boilerplate language for sexual "perverts" that the federal government typically included at that time: "In view of the above described immoral, infamous, scandalous and notoriously disgraceful conduct, you are invited to show cause why you should not be disqualified from Federal Employment."
The Civil Service Commission, the predecessor to today's Office of Personnel Management and the agency that sent Baker this outrageous letter in 1971, had obtained the information from Baker's Navy discharge papers. Baker had self-reported that he was gay to the Navy and was required to undergo interviews with a lawyer and a psychiatrist as part of his discharge process. Naïve and scared, Baker told them everything. He was asked deeply personal questions such as "Off duty, what did you do in bed and with whom?", and "What is your relationship like with your Father?" The Naval discharge report containing answers to such questions would follow him for years chastising him for his sexual conduct as a gay man, until the government-enforced persecution and shaming were forgotten -- as if nothing had ever happened.
But something did happen. A young man was wrongfully terminated from his job with the federal government. And his termination was not based on poor performance; on the contrary, his evaluations demonstrated that Baker was an exemplary employee. Rather, Charlie Baker was fired from his job with the NBS simply because he was gay. Nothing more. And being gay in 1971 meant the federal government did not want you regardless of qualifications or talent.
Ordered by the government to prove he was not homosexual, Baker was clueless as to how to proceed. That is, until he heard on the underground network of gay federal employees: "go see a man by the name of Dr. Franklin E. Kameny." Baker heeded this advice. True to form, Kameny convinced Baker to stand and fight through the courts "up to and including the Supreme Court." As Baker's personal counsel, Kameny thundered, "Does the National Bureau of Standards actually believe in this intellectual drivel?" Dr. Kameny wrote to the NBS' physicist Director, Dr. Lewis Branscomb, "Do you actually believe the employment of a homosexual clerk/typist (or a homosexual physicist, for that matter) is going to inhibit the ability of the NBS in the performance of its mission?"
Notwithstanding the support of his co-workers and superiors at the NBS, Bakers' Appeal to the Civil Service Commission was denied in 1973. In a letter to Baker, the NBS wrote: "Dear Mr. Baker, this is to advise you that you are to be removed from your position in accordance with the attached letter of instruction from the Civil Service Commission."
Baker and Kameny fought the case of Baker's unlawful termination for three years at the Commission level and then again in federal court thanks to the generous and fearless pro bono attorneys from Covington & Burling; and Hogan and Hartson (now Hogan Lovell). The legal team was led by Ralph J. Temple of the American Civil Liberties Union, a civil rights lawyer who had worked for Thurgood Marshall. On behalf of Baker, the attorneys' goal was to enjoin the federal government from firing government employees solely because they were gay. Baker's case had morphed into the federal District Court matter of Baker v. Hampton, the first class action lawsuit seeking relief for all homosexuals threatened by the Commission's most intrusive and disgusting personnel investigations.
In 1973, U.S. District Court Judge June L. Green ordered the NBS to reinstate Baker with back pay, but she would not enjoin the Civil Service Commission from further investigations and firings of gays across the board. In fact, Judge Green said the discriminatory terminations could continue if the Commission could show "particular circumstances... which may justify dismissal on charges relating to homosexual conduct." Judge Green ruled for Baker, the individual, but she miserably failed the test of history, by allowing federal discrimination to remain an institutionalized practice for years to come.
With the support of his family and his partner of thirty-five years, Charlie Baker returned last month to Washington. The obscene "show cause" letter is now in the Library of Congress as a piece of historical evidence of the animus and discrimination faced by LGBT Americans by the country's largest employer, the federal government. Baker remains young enough in spirit to embark on a mission of his own: he intends to "show cause" why LGBT Americans can still be fired for being who they are in the workplace. And he intends to "show cause" why it is imperative that Congress finally pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Charlie Baker has come full circle, this time represented by a new Mattachine Society of Washington and a team of pro bono legal counsel from the international law firm McDermott, Will & Emery. Mattachine and McDermott are conducting original archival research to rescue the deleted political pasts of men and women like Baker. Baker is picking up where the ACLU and his former pro bono lawyers left off decades ago. With life experience and maturity behind him, he now stands on the shoulders of civil rights leaders such as Dr. Kameny who taught him how to fight.
"Before returning to Washington", Baker says, " I shared the Civil Service Commission letter with my niece who is a lesbian and was a child when all of this happened. Even now, it is hard for any of us to comprehend. Something needs to be done to prevent this hatred and bigotry from ever happening again." Baker's niece, Linda Sampson, writes: "The battle Uncle Charlie won in his generation made life that much easier for my generation. I am tremendously proud of him."
The National Institute of Standards and Technology could help move things along for the next generation with a note apologizing to Charlie Baker for what was done to him. And Congress should listen to what people like Charlie Baker and his niece have to contribute. It would make passage of ENDA a lot easier for all Americans to understand and support when they hear what has happened to good, responsible people for no reason other than their sexual orientation.