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The language of bias: the Bush camp says new security rules aren't antigay. But critics fear a return to 1950s-era State Department blacklists.

Is the Bush administration trying to turn back the clock to a time when federal employees couldn't get security clearances if they were found to be gay? That's what many gay rights leaders and gay lawmakers alleged after it was revealed in March that the White House had rewritten the rules to say national security clearances can't be denied "solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the individual." The previous language, instituted by the Clinton administration, stated that sexual orientation "may not be used as a basis" for denying clearance.

"When you look at the language, the concern is obvious," says Greg Nevins, a senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal. The new, ambiguous wording could be interpreted to mean that sexual orientation may be used "in part" to deny a person a security clearance. "If that's not the suggestion, that should be made clear," he says.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan responds that the new wording constitutes "no change in our policy," but gay leaders are still wary, describing the change as another in a long line of red flags.

Indeed, Scott Bloch, the head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, once mused that federal employees might not be protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Though the White House confirmed otherwise, Bloch soon told Congress that he could not enforce the law for gays and lesbians because it covers employees "on the basis of conduct." And the recent deletion of a long-maintained page from the Department of Health and Human Services Web site for gays and lesbians struggling with substance abuse has many gay leaders crying foul.

"While the White House denies any change in policy, the language changes, though subtle, raise a legitimate question of why the Administration viewed such modifications as necessary," says lesbian congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat. "Once again, this administration has some explaining to do, and their failure to be forthcoming is additional cause for concern."

Baldwin has joined several other Democrats in vowing to closely monitor the implementation of the new guidelines, while the chairs of oversight committees in both the House and Senate are getting briefings on the new language.

Rob Sadler, a board member for Federal GLOBE,' an advocacy organization for gay and lesbian federal workers, says alarm is justified. "This [administration] doesn't do anything that's not intentional," he says. "On these issues, they have no credibility."

And that has lead to a lot of distrust, adds Human Rights Campaign spokesman Jay Smith Brown, whose group also is monitoring the new guidelines. "Between the backward moves by Scott Bloch and anything that might indicate a change in policy, we all have reason to be concerned with tinkering around with guidelines."

RELATED ARTICLE: Bush's man a thief?

Notoriously antigay Republican strategist Claude Allen shared a coveted box seat as a guest of the first lady during President George W. Bush's State of the Union address in January. Now the former top aide to Bush and the late U.S. senator Jesse Helms could be sharing a prison cell with other convicts.

Allen, 45, was charged in March with scamming suburban Maryland Target and Hecht's stores out of at least $5,000 in fraudulently returned merchandise. Facing two felony theft counts, he could get a 15-year prison sentence on each if convicted.

For many gays and lesbians. Allen was already public enemy number 1. The devout born-again Christian was a chief author of the antigay language in the Republican Party platform in 2004 and a supporter of a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. And as an aide to Helms in the 1980s. Allen helped craft a staunchly antigay agenda that included an attempt to smear one of Helms's opponents by accusing him of having links to "the queers."--E.H.
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Title Annotation:WASHINGTON ADVOCATE
Author:Heil, Emily
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 25, 2006
Words:636
Previous Article:Mo'Nique.
Next Article:Too pro-gay for the party? Democratic firebrand Paul Hackett dropped out of politics after party leaders pressured him to make way for a "safer" U.S....
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