Biden & LGBT History: From “Security Risks” to Marriage Equality

Screen shot from “As You Are”

Everyone is covering President Joe Biden and his appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show last night. Part of the interview that other LGBTQ media are spotlighting is when Kal Penn turned the discussion to current LGBTQ+ issues.  13:40

At about 13:40 onto the interview shared below, Penn who is gay and has been engaged to his partner for the past five years, asked the President about his attitude towards same-sex marriage.


Biden goes on to recall a touching lesson he learned while he was a senior in high school when he and his father were in town. They had seen two men kissing on the streets of Wilmington, Delaware in the 1950s.

it is a simple moment with a simple explanation from his father that boils down to love is love. 

Biden has been a great champion for us for many years, but the road to him fighting for us did not stay on the up and up from that fateful “I saw two men kissing and I knew it was all okay” moment. If you are thinking, “Oh WOW! Joe is a cool cat and has stood up for us forever,” well, think again. 


Times change, people change, loyalties and understanding change. We cannot forget that the nation has gone through some tough times and Joe’s opinions of us and how well he stood up for us have changed and have not been as steadfast as this lovely new interview portrays.

Times were different back in 1973. Biden as a fresh new politician, 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’s statement, published in a September 24, 1973 article in the Morning News out of Wilmington, Delaware, were heard when he was meeting with members of the North Star Civic Association. A member asked Biden questions on job discrimination at the U.S. Civil Service and in the military. What was his response? 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, but I must admit I haven’t given this much thought … I’ll be darned.”


Is this a case of Kevin Hart, Tim Hardaway, Nick Bosa, and others that have been shunned and outcast due to past homophobic or racists tweets or statements?  Do we give Biden a pass since that was the thing to believe at the time back in the ’70s?  We did give Hillary Clinton a pass for not supporting same-sex marriage from the beginning.  Many of us championed her, but her emails – I mean statements against marriage equality. Do we have selective memory? Or do we just say, well, she’s changed and now he’s changed?

Biden has come to our support and has become a visual advocate for gay rights after he left Obama’s White House. His “As You Are” foundation embrace our community in 2018 with a 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’s stance may have not been as supportive when it came to federal employees being LGBT.  But Biden was just following the trend, right? Results from a 1969 poll showed that a majority of Americans thought the same, that homosexuals were a security threat.

The main reason for this anti-LGBT stance, no gay government employees, was based on the idea that high status gay men in the government would be too afraid of being outed by someone that they most likely would be susceptible to blackmail and treason.

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. –


What was the political climate like in 1972 when Biden was elected? It was the first year openly gay delegates attended the Democratic National Convention, forming a “gay caucus,” and were successful in putting the “right to be different” into that year’s party platform. goes on to state that:

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.

But that was back before many of us were born, two years before my birth. Is that all old news and not applicable to anything now?


Where was Biden recently on the map of LGBT rights?

  • 1996 – a minus – Voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
  • 2007 – a minus – Said he supported civil unions but not same-sex marriages and said defining marriage isn’t the government’s responsibility.
  • 2012 – a plus – “Accidentally” endorsed gay marriage during a Meet the Press interview, before Obama had the chance to during his reelection fight, but may have pushed Obama to support marriage equality.

Do we give Biden a pass for these old comments since it was what a majority of the country believed? Do we forgive our parents for saying anti-gay things before we came out since the gay thing didn’t directly affect them, but they love and support us now? Is that the same? Do we give democrats a wider birth when it comes to past comments about us and against us? Do we let many our grandparents live in their world where being anti-LGBT and racist is okay, because they are just old and it takes too much effort to change their ways.  But I feel we are quick to throw daggers and insults at people that may have decade old tweets that are hurtful against us, even though they have changed, they have grown, like Biden, like Hillary.

And we have changed as a nation and Biden has been there to see us change and is apparently changing with us. Yes, it would have been so much better if we were supported from the beginning, but change is good. 

Looking deeper into the time frame in which Biden lived and was elected, we do see that he was aligned with the political pulse of the time. If you do not study history or were not alive then, you may not know about the Lavender Scare.

Headline: The U.S. government’s witch hunt of gay men and lesbians was front page news in the 1940s and 1950s. But as the firings continued well into the 1980s and ‘90s they would draw less and less attention.

I was introduced to the history of the Lavender Scare when I went to Cincinnati to see America’s first Gay Opera. It was a moving experience that I covered in ‘Fellow Travelers’ – A Gay Opera About Forbidden Love During McCarthyism And The Lavender Scare. I will always remember that experience as a true eye opener to American politics, a phase or shade I had never learned in history classes and one I never taught when I was a social studies teacher. We focused more on the sexual revolution, rather than the persecution o the scare. 


If opera is not your thing, a 75-minute film called The Lavender Scare was released in June 2019. Narrated by Glenn Close and featuring the voices of Cynthia Nixon, Zachary Quinto, T.R. Knight, and David Hyde Pierce, the film shares the shocking truth of not the Red Scare (trying to weed out Communists in America), but the Lavender Scare where being LGBT and working for the government or even simply walking on the streets was deemed a threat.

Senator Joseph McCarthy ignited the Red Scare with his claim that Communists had infiltrated the government, the news and entertainment industries and academia. But the Lavender Scare, the fear of a spreading homosexual menace, would become an even more powerful political weapon.

With the United States gripped in the panic of the 1950s Cold War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower deemed homosexuals to be “security risks” and vowed to rid the federal government of all employees discovered to be gay or lesbian. 

Over the next four decades, the longest witch-hunt in American history, tens of thousands of government workers would lose their jobs for no reason other than their sexual orientation.

But the mass firings have an unintended effect: they stirred outrage in the gay community, helped ignite the gay rights movement, and thrust an unlikely hero into the forefront of the LGBTQ fight for equality.Partly based on the award-winning book by historian David K. Johnson, THE LAVENDER SCARE  illuminates a little-known chapter of American history, and serves as a timely reminder of the value of vigilance and social action when civil liberties are under attack.


The winner of over 20 Best Documentary Awards, THE LAVENDER SCARE opened theatrically in New York (Cinema Village) and Los Angeles (Laemmle Music Hall) on Friday, June 7, 2019, timed to the 50-year anniversary of Stonewall, followed by a national release. 

Gay Man Arrested: The government encouraged local law enforcement agencies to aggressively pursue, harass and arrest gay men and lesbians who were breaking no laws at all. Even private homes were not off limits to surprise raids by police.

America has changed. We have become a better nation. And we feel Joe Biden, our parents, and others have changed with the times and become better. But we must not forget our history, our persecution, our fight, for we need to build upon those changes and welcome in those that have supported us from the beginning AND those that have changed for the better. 

This post is by one of the contributing writers of Instinct Magazine.  The opinions and comments in it may not reflect those of other contributing writers or the magazine. 


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