In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the dismissal of every single gay person working for the federal government. For the next several decades, the FBI’s sex deviate program investigated all employees suspected of being gay, collecting evidence on their sex lives and turning it over to the Civil Service Commission—which promptly fired them. Gay men were routinely entrapped by police officers, and politicians used knowledge of their enemies’ sexuality for blackmail.
This horrible history has largely been swept under the rug. But Michael Isikoff’s new mini-documentary Uniquely Nasty unearths some of the government’s worst abuses against gay people, including a blackmailing scheme that led to a senator’s suicide. Students of gay history—and readers of Charles Kaiser’s astonishing book The Gay Metropolis—may be familiar with the broad contours here. But Isikoff digs up fresh details that are especially relevant in light of the Supreme Court’s impending decision in the marriage equality cases—which turn, in large part, on whether gay Americans face a history of animus.