Central PA's LGBT News Source

WHITE HOUSE CLOSET

Tortured history of gay man who touched off purge of gays in government

Posted

In the annals of presidential directives, few were more chilling than a document signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in April 1953. Crafted during the height of the Cold War, Executive Order 10450 declared that alongside Communism, “sexual perversion” by government officials was a threat to national security. The order became the trigger for a massive purge of the federal workforce. In the years that followed, thousands of government employees were investigated and fired for the “crime” of being gay.

The full story of Executive Order 10450 and its terrible consequences has only started to surface in more recent years as a result of books like “The Lavender Scare” and films like “Uniquely Nasty,” a 2015 Yahoo News documentary that this reporter co-wrote and directed. But it turns out there was an untold personal drama behind the making of the antigay White House order — a saga that is recounted for the first time in a new book to be published next week, “Ike’s Mystery Man: The Secret Lives of Robert Cutler.”

Written by Peter Shinkle, a former reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,it tells the life story of the author’s great-uncle, a central character in the creation of Executive Order 10450. A blue-blood liberal Republican from a prominent Boston family, a Harvard graduate and member of the elite Porcellian Club, a wealthy banker and U.S. Army general during World War II, Robert “Bobby” Cutler Jr. became a close adviser to Eisenhower during his 1952 presidential campaign. He was then tapped by Ike to serve as White House special assistant for national security affairs, the forerunner to the position of national security adviser.

In that post, Cutler, who prided himself on never talking to the press, was a pivotal figure, helping to direct U.S. foreign policy during an era of tense global confrontation with the Soviet Union. And it was Cutler who oversaw the drafting of Executive Order 10450 — a role all the more remarkable because, as Shinkle reveals, Cutler was a gay man who secretly pursued a passionate, years-long relationship with a young naval intelligence officer on the National Security Council staff, Tilghman "Skip" Koons.

“Bobby served the nation’s strategic defense and national security interests brilliantly, while living in private agony as a closeted homosexual, deprived of the affections for which he longed,” writes Shinkle.

As advance word of Shinkle’s book has spread, it has already begun making waves among historians and activists who have been trying for years to resurrect the erased history of the U.S. government’s demonization of homosexuals, and to understand how it came about.

“It’s an incredible piece of research,” said Charles Francis, president of the Washington Mattachine Society, who has filed multiple freedom of information requests to uncover documents relating to the government’s past persecution of homosexuals.

“The Eisenhower executive order caused unspeakable damage to loyal LGBT Americans,” he said. “Tens of thousands were investigated and had their lives ruined. This is the texture of history. That you have a homosexual — known to himself as a homosexual — writing this order, it blew my mind.”

Francis said his first reaction to Shinkle’s book was anger. He regarded Cutler as the “ultimate Quisling” for unleashing a policy that did great harm to people like himself. But upon reflection, Francis softened his judgment somewhat. “To be fair,” he now says, “he was living in McCarthy’s America.”

The rest is history. In short, Shinkle had come across a gay triangle at the heart of the White House national security apparatus during the height of the McCarthy era — a tangle of relationships previously unknown to historians.

Whatever the motivation, the impact of the executive order Cutler helped draft was devastating. Shinkle writes about the “climate of fear” it created for gays and lesbians. Security investigators forced them to take lie detector tests and pressured them to reveal names of associates. One security agent at the State Department, Peter Szluk, boasted of being the “hatchet man” and disparaged hearings and due process as “a waste of time.” He would say, “The son of a bitch is queer, out he goes!” Szluk, to be sure, later expressed some regret about the number of his targets who killed themselves, sometimes “within minutes” after leaving his office.