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The US Government’s Disturbing History of Gay Discrimination

A new documentary sheds light on the "war on gays."

Two Long Story Short producers review their shot list as the Supreme Court hears arguments on April 28, 2015 for the same-sex marriage case. Photo courtesy Long Story Short Media.

This post has been updated.

In 1953, Lester Hunt, Jr.–the son of Democratic Senator Lester Hunt–solicited gay sex from an undercover male cop at Lafayette Park and was subsequently arrested. The incident prompted two Republican pawns to embark on a blackmail plot, which led Hunt, Sr. to shoot himself in his Senate office the following year.

The events went on to inspire the novel and film Advise and Consent, but it was only recently that Hunt opened up to the media about his father’s suicide. In Uniquely Nasty: The US Government’s War on Gays–a 30-minute documentary recently released by Yahoo! News journalist Michael Isikoff and the DC production firm Long Story Short Media–Hunt tells his side of the story. “[Michael] thought it was important for [Hunt] to finally have that opportunity,” says Jessica Stuart, founder of Long Story Short.

In the ’50s and ’60s, the American government took discriminatory actions against its gay citizens. Thousands were fired from their federal jobs after an executive order signed by President Dwight Eisenhower declared homosexuality a sexual perversion and an issue of national security. It was something “uniquely nasty” and worthy of a widespread employment purge. That language gave rise to the documentary’s title.

“There’s a whole deleted history there that has been erased from the books,” Stuart says. Uniquely Nasty is an attempt to expose that history–and show how far the country has come, particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to make same-sex marriage a nationwide right.

The team’s research began with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s “sex deviates” program, which in 1951 ordered all FBI agents to identify homosexuals working in the federal government. More than 330,000 files were collected.

Most files, however, were destroyed in 1978, so the group relied on documents found by a gay rights group called the Mattachine Society, as well as those available through the National Archives and the Library of Congress. “The hardest part was having to bring 30 minutes of mostly destroyed material to life,” Stuart says.

So what does Stuart hope viewers will get from the documentary? “It’s important to be aware and understand all of this when we look at gay marriage today,” she says. “We realize how far we’ve come in the last 60 years, and how difficult the journey has been for gays leading up until now. We see how far we’ve come, but we also see how far we still have to go.”

Next, Stuart will work on a campaign with the Kaiser Family Foundation called We Are Family–emphasizing the importance of community support for all living with HIV. The production group will also produce a film in Zimbabwe about the country’s success in working towards the elimination of pediatric AIDS.

This post has been updated for clarification purposes: Zimbabwe has not yet eliminated pediatric AIDS, but is working towards it.