parallax background

Drugs and The Gay Community

UN Agenda 21
February 4, 2019
September 12, 2018

Sources of Misinformation

So where do these myths come from? There are several possible sources of this misinformation. One source of the misinformation is research bias. Studies of drug use among gay men may recruit samples of men who are not representative of the full population of gay men, but instead, subpopulations of drug using gay men. While it does appear that subcultures of gay men do engage in recreational drug use, those who do not may not be identified by researchers, particularly if they are well integrated into the mainstream community.

In fact, when studies are carefully reviewed, there is not a consistent message that gay men use drugs more than straight or bisexual men. In fact, it seems that while bisexual young people are more likely to use drugs than other sexual identity groups, gay young men are not necessarily more likely than straight men to use drugs, particularly alcohol.

Another source of the stereotype could reflect gay men when they are new to the gay scene, who are isolated, and reach out to other gay men through gay dating sites and gay bars, simply because it is the easiest way to meet peers and potential partners. The focus of these settings may be casual sex and even PnP, which can seem to be the norm. This doesn't reflect non-sexual relationships with other gay men who are not engaging in these activities, which can take time to develop.

The stereotype can also be reinforced deliberately and used to take advantage of the naivety of young, less experienced gay men. Some unscrupulous drug dealers take advantage of young, naive gay men by selling them drugs apply peer pressure by implying that drug use is what all gay men are doing, rather than that they are exploiting a young man to do something unwise or unusual.

Another place these myths come from is die-hard homophobes. Homophobia may be conscious or unconscious, but some very harmful attitudes towards gay men emerged in the 1980s, and for some people, have not disappeared. These attitudes can include the belief that gay men are more likely to both use drugs and to engage in compulsive sex than heterosexuals.

The Reality

In reality, drug use and sex addiction can occur in men or women, and in both heterosexuals and sexual minorities. Although party and play are typically used to describe gay drug-fuelled sex, in fact, the practice of taking drugs prior to casual sex is common among sex workers, who have to cope with a variety of stressors, including having sex with people they are not attracted to. And the phenomenon of heterosexuals getting intoxicated and even front-loading before engaging in casual sex is so common as to be considered normal in many communities, particularly among younger people.

Drug Use and Sex = Party and Play

When people use the term "party and play" (or PnP for short), "party" usually means taking drugs with other people, or maybe just one other person, and "play" means sex. Party and play is most commonly used in the gay community as an expression for two or more gay men getting together to use recreational drugs to enhance sex


The drug typically referred to is crystal meth, although the term party and play can actually mean recreational use of any type of drug during sex between people of any sexual orientation when the drug is used to enhance the sexual experience in some way


Party and play may involve group sex, but it can also be used to refer to one-on-one sexual encounters involving drugs.

There has been a lot of speculation, anecdotal evidence and research looking at the phenomenon of party-and-play activities on the gay scene. In these reports, emphasis is placed on the acceptability of anonymous sex, free from the constraints of conventional relationships, among gay men.

One of the main reasons suggested is that young gay men are often unable to meet potential partners in mainstream settings, so they tend to use gay bars, clubs, gay dating sites and chat rooms to meet sexual partners. Drug use has often been quite prevalent in these settings, and so drugs and casual sex often go hand-in-hand.

Some of the other reasons given for why gay men party and play is to make gay sex easier from a physical point of view (for example, to enable a greater level of relaxation, which is helpful during anal sex), and to increase sexual arousal and stamina — the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra is often used for this purpose. It has also been documented that drugs can increase the courage required for barebacking.

Using drugs to enable uncomfortable sex and to cope with underlying feelings of shame and depression have long been associated with sex work — exchanging sex for money, drugs, or other things - for men and women. Commercial sex workers and gay men looking for party-and-play sex partners are at increased risk of HIV infection. The increase in HIV rates among gay men since the meth epidemic of the past decade has been well documented.

However, prevention strategies have targeted gay men more extensively than sex workers, who tend to be stigmatized by society, despite the fact that many sex workers are victims of sexual abuse. To them, sex work is a means of survival rather than a positive choice.

Is PnP a Rite of Passage Into the Gay Community?

While some gay men assert that party-and-play involvement is a kind of initiation into the gay scene, in fact, many gay men choose not to use drugs or to have anonymous or unprotected sex. Anal sex is also an activity that is by no means universal among gay men, whether facilitated by drug use or not.

It is unfortunate that some vulnerable young men, uncertain of their sense of belonging in the gay community, buy into these myths and take drugs in order to perform and feel part of the gay scene. It also feeds a false negative stereotype of gay men as superficial, irresponsible and uninterested in committed


If you are pressured by anyone to engage in drug-fueled sex, particularly group sex, you might consider that, rather than being typical of gay men, this may be an issue for that particular individual and might represent other problems, such as sex addiction. You certainly shouldn't do anything involving sex or drugs to try and gain acceptance by another individual or group, as the risks are too high. Always practice safe sex by using a condom when you have sex.

Gay Men High Risk

Most of the research relates to gay men and the most popular drugs for this group were cannabis and poppers.Gay men were found to be most likely to use poppers, while cannabis was the most popular drug for lesbians.Gay men were also found to be at risk from abusing drugs such as steroids and Viagra and a 2000 study of gay men in London gyms found one in seven had used steroids in the last 12 months.

A number of studies have suggested that Viagra use in particular is linked with sexual risks.Other drugs commonly taken were cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, amphetamine and methamphetamine (crystal meth).There was little evidence available on drug abuse in bisexual and trans people


The review also found that the LGBT community were most likely to be "early adopters" of new drugs and may experience problems and side effects before the rest of the population.Health services often focused on heroin and crack cocaine, the report said, meaning that problems with drugs in the LGBT community – which tends not to use these drugs – were often not adequately addressed.It recommended that a 'kite mark' system be developed to mark out mainstream health services which demonstrate good practice in dealing with drug problems in the LGBT community and also suggested different approaches to raising awareness, such as internet sites, new social media campaigns and events at community venues.


Stonewall is a British charity dedicated to achieve equality and justice for lesbians, gay men and bisexual people. Ruth Hunt, Stonewall's head of policy, said to Pink News:

– We welcome the work of the Home Office and are pleased that the government is looking at how lesbian and gay people can be encouraged to seek help about drug abuse.The study confirms what Stonewall has known for some time – that LGB people use drugs more than heterosexual people but don't feel able to seek advice from the health service.The NHS needs to target lesbian and gay people to encourage them to seek advice.

The Origins of Gay Drug Use

For many young gay men, the use of drugs begins in the teenage years. This is a time of great confusion and emotional pan for many gay men who are struggling with isolation from family and friends because of their sexuality. Society places a great deal of pressure on young gay men who have not yet come out of the closet. Confused and lacking guidance or support, many will turn to drugs as a means of self-medicating their pain.

This creates a series of bad habits that can continue on well into adulthood. And when that gay man comes of age in a community with a heavy night-life scene – and drugs available at every turn – they will be that much more likely to abuse or become addicted because of their background.

Among gay men, the “Party and Play” scene has been growing in popularity over the past decade. These sessions, which are generally organized on Craigslist or other websites feature intense drug taking and sex with multiple partners. Crystal meth and ecstasy are the drugs of choice for these “instant parties” because of their psychotropic effects, and in the case of crystal meth, their ability to help people stay awake well into the night and prevent ejaculation during sex.

It is of course the dangerous cloud of unprotected sex with multiple partners that hangs over these Party and Play gathering. Although significant enhancements have been made in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, and a diagnosis of the disease is no longer the death sentence it once was, the fact remains that the disease is still a threat to the gay community, and is only exacerbated by the use of crystal meth and other drugs.

Drug Abuse

Gay communities such as New York City’s Greenwich Village or Los Angeles’ West Hollywood are home to a number of bars and clubs that cater exclusively to gay men. It is the safety and inclusiveness of these neighborhoods that seems to inspire such heavy drug use. Individuals who may have long been ostracized in their own small town come to the “big city” and find a welcoming environment where, for the first time, everyone is just like them.

This comfort level leads individuals to release their inhibitions more than they generally would – which can lead to drug abuse. As a result, party drugs and stimulants tend to thrive in these areas.

Another factor to consider is the collective use of drugs in the party scenes of these communities. When drugs are taken by an individual in isolation, there is still a stigma to the behavior that keeps many from using and therefore developing an addiction. In the gay nightlife scene, however, there is a “community feel” to the use of crystal meth and other drugs. This puts an inherent stamp-of-approval on the behavior that makes it difficult for many gay men to abstain or seek out drug rehab treatment.

Many rehab facilities report high levels of relapse among gay men because they fear being ostracized from their peer groups or being unable to take part in the social activities that they enjoy. Because drug addiction is a group problem, it is up to the gay community as a whole to change the behavior of its citizens. Until this community stands up and says “crystal meth is bad” in a committed, organized way, the levels of addiction – and subsequent health problems – will continue on at a high level.

Drug Addiction in the Gay Community

Because of their unique place in American society, gay men may benefit from drug addiction treatment programs that are geared specifically for them. Unfortunately, with exception of facilities located in large cities with considerable GLBT communities, few such treatment facilities currently exist. Instead, gay men seeking drug rehab are best served by addiction treatment facilities that understand their special needs and often “programs within the program” that are designed to address gay-specific issues. It is important to ask the admission personnel at any drug rehab facility a few simple questions:

Are there any members of the treatment staff who are gay, or have experiencing treated homosexuals in recovery?

Does the facility see a considerable number of gay men and women come through the program?

Are there counseling sessions designed to meet the needs of the gay addicts?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” then this facility is likely to be an appropriate choice for treatment. It is important to find a facility that is accepting of everyone’s sexuality – and more importantly will be able to knowledgably address the root causes of addiction in gay men during counseling. Located in Palm Springs, California, Michael’s House is a residential addiction treatment center that fully understands the unique needs of its gay patients. The caring staff at Michael’s House creates a safe, inviting atmosphere where gay men and women can feel comfortable discussing the issues related to their drug use and their sexuality. Contact Michael’s House today for more information.

Unfortunately in the UK we don't have any support to this high standards because the number of addicts to crystal meth is low no one makes any money out of such a low number there for the government is not interested, unlike the heroin addiction where the number are great and money is there to be made.


Heroin addiction. This powerful opiate remains one of the most dangerous in the world. The constant fear of overdose, long-term health problems and the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS all make heroin addiction a certified killer.

Cocaine addiction. Although cocaine use is nowhere near its peak from the 1980s and 1990s, thousands of people each day enter drug rehab in an attempt to break free from the strong psychological pull of cocaine addiction.

Marijuana addiction. While medical professionals debate whether or not marijuana is technically addictive, the drug continues to keep individuals from reaching their full potential and even acts as a gateway drug to more serious substances.

Prescription drug addiction. Prescription painkillers are the drugs of choice for many people, both young people and adults, around the country. Opiates, including Vicodin and OxyContin, are highly addictive and can be as dangerous as heroin if given the wrong set of circumstances.

In recent years, club drugs, which include MDMA (ecstasy), methamphetamine, powdered cocaine, ketamine, and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) (Halkitis, Green, & Mourgues, 2005; Li, Stokes, & Woeckener, 1998), have become a very popular and accepted part of gay socialization (Green, 2003; McDowell, 2000). Club drugs are widely used throughout the gay and bisexual male community and are often used in the context of nightclubs and bars (Halkitis & Parsons, 2002)

While these drugs remain a popular aspect of gay social culture, GHB has been frowned upon by many club drug users because of its potentially dangerous physiological effects (Nguyen & Bersten, 2004). The social stigma that surrounds the use of this drug is likely related to its high overdose prevalence. Many GHB users themselves predict that other users will eventually over-dose at some point (Degenhardt, Darke, & Dillon, 2003).

High overdose rates are demonstrated in the DAWN Report, which shows that GHB emergency room mentions in U.S. hospitals have recently peaked at 4969 mentions in 2000 (Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2004).

GHB, a central nervous system depressant, affects the body in much the same way as alcohol (Gessa et al., 2000). Users report that GHB induces a pleasant state of relaxation and tran-quility (McDowell, 2000) and enhances one’s libido (Nicholson & Balster, 2001).

However, GHB has a steep dose–response curve (Galloway et al., 1997); small increases in dose greatly increase GHB’s effect, oftentimes leading to adverse reactions such as drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, myoclonic seizures (irregular, involuntary muscle contractions), coma of short duration, or death (Kam & Yoong, 1998).

Adverse effects are most commonly reported at doses greater than 1 tsp. (2.5 g) (Chin, Kreutzer, & Dyer, 1992; Dyer, 1991) and overdoses are likely to occur because concentrations of the drug vary, and thus users are not always aware of the amount they are ingesting. In addition, GHB overdose is likely when combined with alcohol and/or other illicit substances (Galloway et al., 1997; Miotto et al., 2001).

The Experiment

Participants were recruited from February 2001 through October 2002 using active and passive techniques in venues frequented by gay and bisexual men. Potential participants were screened for eligibility via telephone interviews.

Eligibility requirements included being 18 years of age or older, self-identifying as gay or bisexual, and self-reporting six instances of club drug use in the year prior to assessment. For the purposes of our study, club drugs were defined as GHB, ketamine, ecstasy (MDMA), methamphetamine, and powdered cocaine

Those who met eligibility requirements were scheduled for a baseline interview, when the initial assessment, consent, and confirmation of HIV status occurred.

All quantitative assessments were administered via the Audio CASA system (ACASI), using a computer and voice recording so that the participant heard (through headphones) and saw (on the screen) each question and response list. After completing the quantitative portion of the assessment, trained staff members conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews covering a variety of topics related to drug use, sexual behavior and psychological states. The Institutional Review Board of New York University approved the protocol for this study.

The transcribed interviews from men who identified GHB as their most frequently used drug were selected for this analysis. The qualitative data derived from these participants were analysed using a multilevel process to determine reoccurring themes. Two authors independently identified important points discussed by the participants and a consensus was reached regarding the occurrences and classification of significant themes, and yielded an agreement of over 90%.

Our thematic analysis of these 15 transcripts provided information on three main domains: perceived stigma associated with GHB use, tolerance of potentially deadly outcomes associated with GHB use, and explanations for why GHB is preferred over other substances. Each of these themes is described below.

A common theme involving social stigma surrounding GHB use was prevalent within this sub-sample of men. Unlike the stigma many club drug users suffer from mainstream society (Ritson, 1999), GHB users tend to be additionally stigmatized by other club drug users who have heard of or seen incidents of GHB overdose within their own social circles.

In fact, a subset of participants in our own study held such beliefs about GHB prior to initially using the substance; three participants described their original negative attitudes toward GHB yet decided to try the drug anyway. One participant explained overcoming his initial fears of the drug and gaining confidence in safety as his use increased.

At first I was afraid to try G (GHB) because I saw a few of my friends passing out on it, but then I started on it with small dosage and it doesn’t really do much, and then I went up in dosage to like another level and it hit me really good and I-since I have started on G, I have never passed out on G on any occasion

CIA and Spread Drugs to the Gay Community

"The CIA literally sent over two guys to Sandoz Laboratories where LSD had first been synthesized and bought up the world's supply of LSD and brought it back," Lappé tells Nick Gillespie in a wide-ranging conversation about the longest war the U.S. government has fought. "With that supply they began a [secret mind-control] program called MK Ultra which had all sorts of other drugs involved."

The different episodes cover the history of drug prohibition, the rise of the '60s drug counterculture; heroin epidemics past and present; how drug policy has warped U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia, Central America, Afghanistan, and beyond; the bipartisan politics of prohibition; and much more. America's War on Drugs features exclusive and rarely seen footage and documents how, time and time again, the government was often facilitating trade and use in the very drugs it was trying to stamp out.

The show's website adds articles, short videos, and more information in an attempt to produce an "immersive experience" that will change how viewers think and feel about prohibition.

Lappé, who has worked at Vice, Huffington Post, and elsewhere, tells Gillespie that he is particulary excited to see his series air on the History Channel because it's an indicator the drug-policy reform is in the air. Though not a libertarian himself, he says "a great trait of that knowledge and reason will eventually win out over keeping things in the dark, making things taboo

." Even when it veers off into questionable territory (such as the role of the government in creating the crack epidemic of the 1980s), America's War on Drugs performs the invaluable function of furthering a conversation about drug policies and attitudes that have caused far more harm than they have alleviated.

Chemsex Addiction – What Help Is Available

When substance abuse and/ or sex addiction take over, it can be a very scary, disempowering and isolating experience. The feeling of not being able to stop, even if you desperately want to, can be confusing and incredibly frightening. Increasing consequences of chemsex – such as damage to relationships, health, finances, employment and self-respect – can mount up over time.

Not everyone who participates in chemsex will have a bad experience or get addicted, but for those who do, the consequences can be devastating. As addiction progresses, people can take greater risks to achieve to same highs they achieved early on, increasing the amounts of drugs they take or the kind of sexual activity they’ll participate in.

And there’s a further issue for people from the LGBT community. Often, gay people already feel a certain amount of stigma due to their sexuality and experiencing homophobia in society. Coming forward for help with chemsex addiction can be extremely difficult because it requires an enormous amount of trust that they will not be even further stigmatised. There are specialist support workers in London, including 56 Dean Street, who are available advise gay men about safer chemsex practices, which is a vital source of information and support.

But what about people who want to stop chemsex altogether? Professional addiction help, including residential treatment, is available for chemsex addicts. UKAT treats all forms of drug addiction, often in combination with behavioural or process addictions including sex. We specialise in abstinence-based rehabilitation programmes with medically supervised detoxification if required, in order for clients to confront the harms of their addiction, as well as uncover the root causes of addictive behaviours.

Chemsex recovery starts with a willingness to abstain from chemsex, in order to gain understanding into the physical, mental and emotional drivers for addictive behaviours. If you want to stop chemsex but cannot do it alone, UKAT have a range of residential treatment facilities, to suit all budgets and personal requirements.

Gay men and lesbians are three times more likely to use illegal drugs than straight people, a British Home Office-funded study says.

The review estimated that 75 per cent of LGB people had taken illegal drugs at least once, while between 30 and 50 per cent had taken them in the last year.Findings from the British Crime Survey estimate that ten per cent of heterosexuals took drugs last year, compared with 33 per cent of gay or bisexual people.

It is important to note that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are not a homogeneous group but the published evidence often fails to distinguish between sub-groups or has a very narrow focus as one particualr group. In particular,

it should be noted that most of the evidence available in this review relates to gay men only. It was a common finding for all the reviews conducted as part of this project that the evidence was extremely limited and often of poor quality. Therefore the findings, although the best available, should be interpreted with caution.

Gay men at risk

Most of the research relates to gay men and the most popular drugs for this group were cannabis and poppers.Gay men were found to be most likely to use poppers, while cannabis was the most popular drug for lesbians.Gay men were also found to be at risk from abusing drugs such as steroids and Viagra and a 2000 study of gay men in London gyms found one in seven had used steroids in the last 12 months.

A number of studies have suggested that Viagra use in particular is linked with sexual risks.Other drugs commonly taken were cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, amphetamine and methamphetamine (crystal meth).There was little evidence available on drug abuse in bisexual and trans people. The review also found that the LGBT community were most likely to be "early adopters" of new drugs and may experience problems and side effects before the rest of the population

.Health services often focused on heroin and crack cocaine, the report said, meaning that problems with drugs in the LGBT community – which tends not to use these drugs – were often not adequately addressed.It recommended that a 'kite mark' system be developed to mark out mainstream health services which demonstrate good practice in dealing with drug problems in the LGBT community and also suggested different approaches to raising awareness, such as internet sites, new social media campaigns and events at community venues


Stonewall is a British charity dedicated to achieve equality and justice for lesbians, gay men and bisexual people. Ruth Hunt, Stonewall's head of policy, said to Pink News: – We welcome the work of the Home Office and are pleased that the government is looking at how lesbian and gay people can be encouraged to seek help about drug abuse

.The study confirms what Stonewall has known for some time – that LGB people use drugs more than heterosexual people but don't feel able to seek advice from the health service.The NHS needs to target lesbian and gay people to encourage them to seek advice.

How the CIA Came Out of the Closet

For decades, gay and lesbian intelligence officers had to keep their sexuality a secret. Then came a remarkable shift.

Tracey Ballard applied to join the Central Intelligence Agency in 1985. The last step in her months-long vetting was a polygraph exam. Ballard knew that she might be asked about her sexuality. And if she answered truthfully, she thought she probably wouldn’t get the job.

To be openly gay or lesbian, according to the twisted official logic of that bygone but not-distant era, was presumed to be so shameful that intelligence agency employees would do anything to keep their dark secret, including handing over classified information to a foreign adversary who threatened blackmail. Never mind that being open about one’s sexuality or gender identity would take away the very leverage that a Chinese or Russian agent might try to use.

As a matter of policy, the federal government could deny or revoke a security clearance, and thus access to classified information, based on someone’s sexual orientation. And someone who lacks a clearance is effectively unemployable, at the CIA or in any other sensitive job in the government or the private sector, for which it’s almost always a basic requirement. Ballard knew she was at risk. But her polygrapher posed the question in an unexpected way.

“Do you have a problem with homosexuality?” he asked. Well, that was easy. No, she replied. Ballard passed the exam, confident that she’d given a completely truthful answer.Two years later, it was time for Ballard to renew her clearance—and again face a polygrapher. Ballard was worried the examiner this time might ask the question a different way. Now Ballard was living with her female partner and raising a daughter. Her partner was on active duty in the military.

If Ballard were asked, “Are you in a relationship with a woman?” and she answered yes, the CIA might want to speak to her partner. And if she was outed at work, she could be dishonorably discharged. Both women now faced a potentially career-ending decision. “There was a lot of anxiety in our relationship around it,” Ballard recalled in a recent interview. Her partner asked, “‘What are you going to do?”

On the morning of the polygraph, Ballard stopped her inquisitor before he asked the first question. She told him about her partner, about their life together. “I had made the decision that morning that my integrity was too important.” She took the exam, and then three weeks later something unexpected happened. Ballard didn’t lose her clearance.

Instead, she was asked to sit down with a panel of officers—all men—assigned to surface the intimate details of Ballard’s relationship and assess whether her sexuality made her a risk to national security. “They asked a lot of questions. Inappropriate questions,” Ballard said. “They were trying to make sure I was truthful enough to be employed.”

Which, considering Ballard had just risked her family’s livelihood by telling the truth, was a test she had obviously passed. Ballard’s questioners seemed to be clinging to outdated notions of loyalty and patriotism, reminiscent of the “lavender scare” of the 1950s that had Sen. Joseph McCarthy hunting down “sex perverts” in every corner of the national security apparatus.

“Homosexuals must not be handling top secret material,” McCarthy declared. Gay men in particular were seen as vulnerable to blackmail, and prime targets for Soviet spy recruiters. Homosexuality, therefore, was both a moral offense and a gateway to treason. Historian David K. Johnson has observed that much of McCarthy’s political influence at the time came not from his rampage against suspected communists in the government

—for which he is most remembered—but from persecuting gays and lesbians, some of whom were driven to suicide. McCarthy’s mixture of morality and national security infused official policy. In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower signed an executive order directing federal agenices to investgiate employees who might pose security risks. “Sexual perversion,” code for homosexuality, was considered a fireable offense.

An estimated 10,000 gay men and women lost their jobs. Protests by a few civil servants willing to demand the policy be repealed sparked the gay civil rights movement. The scare was a witch hunt, and the embers were still smoldering 30 years later when Ballard was trying to renew her security clearance.

“We just didn’t have a culture of trust,” Ballard said.

The grueling Q&A wasn’t the end of it. The CIA went back and investigated all Ballard’s answers and verified she was telling the truth. But then, a year later, the agency rendered its verdict: She could keep her security clearance. And it couldn’t be taken away again on the basis of her sexuality. It was a decision that may have been unprecedented in the history of the CIA. Suddenly, Ballard had nothing to hide.

At least not from her managers. “I felt I was in a unique position,” she said. “I was cleared.” She might get fired if she screwed up on the job. But she couldn’t get the axe for being partnered with a woman. Ballard started watching for other signs that the winds might be shifting. In an internal CIA communication in 1994,

Ballard spotted what she described as a “very brief notice” that said the agency didn’t take a position on whether to deny someone a security clearance on the basis of sexual orientation.It wasn’t a wholesale shift in policy. “But you could see something,” she said.

“A thawing.” Ballard started speaking up when she heard co-workers bad-mouthing gays and lesbians. “I’d say, ‘Why are you disparaging these people like that when we have a need for their skills?’” It was a fair question.

But it had taken her years to summon the nerve to ask. “I had built up my armor,” Ballard said. “I was just not going to take it anymore.”She wouldn’t have to for much longer. In August 1995,

President Bill Clinton issued a new executive order, effectively reversing Eisenhower’s policy. “No inference concerning the standards” for employment, it said, “may be raised solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the employee.”

A security clearance couldn’t be denied, or revoked, on those grounds.The immunity that Ballard had been given after running the gauntlet was now a protection that applied to every employee.“To me, that was the golden grail right there,” she said, smiling at the memory of when she first heard the news.


August 2, 2015, marks the 20th anniversary of Clinton’s order. It was a significant and largely overlooked milestone in the fight for civil rights in the workplace, one that profoundly changed the lives and careers of intelligence agency employees who could now be out at work without fear of losing their jobs. But it took another decade before those people truly believed they were safe and welcome, several said during recent interviews.

Discrimination against gays and lesbians didn’t suddenly cease. Just in the past week, an openly gay CIA contractor alleged he was verbally abused and felt physically threatened on the job. The official embrace of LGBT employees not for their differences, but for their potential contributions, has only begun. Brennan may be the best straight ally the agency’s LGBT community has ever had.

On the occasions when he wears a lanyard—the necklace with dangling fobs and ID cards that are practically part the wardrobe for most federal employees—it’s often one emblazoned with a rainbow patch and the logo for ANGLE, the Agency Network of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees and Allies.

On July 10, Brennan praised Ballard for her role in co-founding the group and serving as a role model for other employees during an all-hands meeting about the CIA’s efforts to create a more diverse workforce. (Ballard was the first employee he called out for special attention in the speech.) And in June, when the Supreme Court ruled there’s a constitutional right to same-sex marriage,

Brennan sent an email to a listserv of LGBT employees telling them how pleased he was with the Court’s decision. During interviews in recent weeks, current and former CIA officers have given Brennan credit for his commitment to recruiting and retaining more LGBT employees. “It’s not lip service,” said an openly gay analyst named Charles, who, owing to the sensitive nature of his job, asked not to be identified by his last name. (He may be out at work, but he still works with spies.)

Brennan told The Daily Beast that in light of the panoply of threats that the United States faces around the world, the last thing the CIA needs to do is cut itself off from people of varied backgrounds and perspectives. “Diversity of thought, ethnicities, backgrounds, and experiences is essential to CIA’s success and we need it at every level of the enterprise,” Brennan said in a written statement. “It is our duty to harness the richness of

all our employees and to ensure each of them is valued. Given our global mission, no government agency stands to benefit more from diversity and inclusion than does CIA.” It’s an ambitious idea that, by many accounts, the CIA has succeeded in weaving into policies and culture.

Four years ago, the agency began a new outreach program aimed at recruiting, among others, LGBT employees. But this expansive mentality, while applauded by the workforce, has also been tested.

On Wednesday, former Navy SEAL Brett Jones, who is openly gay and a CIA contractor, went public with a harrowing tale of on-the-job discrimination in the battlefields of Afghanistan.

While working in June for the CIA’s Global Response Staff, which recruits former special operations forces to help protect agency personnel in the field, Jones says he was called a “faggot” by his co-workers, joked about behind his back, and was once left stranded away from his base, in 120-degree heat, without water.

The taunts became hostile, Jones said in an interview with

The Daily Beast, when he saw himself referred to as “Gay Gay” in a PowerPoint briefing on a dangerous mission he and others were about to take. Jones worried his life was being threatened. “Everyone is armed. Everyone is stressed out. And I couldn’t trust anybody,” he said. “I had no idea who was in on this.

I had no idea how far up it went. And I knew that if I spoke up, it could potentially end up causing me some sort of harm.” Jones said he contacted a CIA official back in the United States, telling him, “I’m not safe, and I need to go home.” Jones returned to the United States on July 8.

Owing to personnel and secrecy rules, the CIA wouldn’t comment on Jones’s case or confirm that he works for the Global Response Staff. But in Brennan’s statement, which he gave after Jones’s story was reported by the San Diego Union Tribune, the CIA director spoke about the unfinished business of bringing LGBT employees and contractors into the fold, even 20 years after the executive order on security clearances meant Jones could come to work without hiding who he is.

“We’ve made substantial progress enhancing LGBT diversity and inclusion efforts at CIA, but we still have work to do,” Brennan said. “To ensure that LGBT officers are welcome and included at CIA, it is incumbent on me and every other CIA leader to demonstrate our commitment to them not only through words, but also through clear and sustained actions.”

C.I.A on Homosexuality

Clinton’s executive order was just words, too. And while at the time Ballard and her colleagues had cause for celebration, gay and lesbian activists outside the CIA saw the order’s passage as an underwhelming victory.

“Lifting that ban on the ability to get security clearances removed a kind of lavender ceiling in places like the FBI and the CIA, and even among defense contractors, so LGBT people could advance much further than they could before,” said Elizabeth Birch, who was then executive director of the Human Rights Campaign.

But advocates were hoping for more. Clinton had come into office promising to lift the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military—an idea that backfired spectacularly when it was opposed by military leaders, members of Congress, and large segments of the public.

Proponents of lifting the ban hoped it would be a new chapter in the history of the civil rights movement, akin to Harry Truman desegregating the armed forces in 1948. And they thought that Clinton’s election would herald a new era for workplace anti-discrimination laws.

“President Clinton felt like a guy riding over a hill on a horse with the clouds parting and the sun shining through,” Birch said. “But all we ended up getting was this [executive order]. And it felt like very little in the context of the greater need. And it’s unfortunate because it was a very important step.”

At the CIA, the order was also treated cautiously. Ballard and her colleagues knew that a future administration could rescind Clinton’s order. And the agency could, technically, choose not to follow it.

Owing to its national security mission, the CIA is considered an “excepted service,” meaning that it doesn’t have to adhere to the same employment rules and regulations that govern hiring and firing most federal employees. The agency could still pull security clearances or refuse to grant them to homosexuals.

Indeed, the courts had given the intelligence community permission to do just that. In one of the most pivotal cases for gay and lesbian workplace rights, a group of employees at technology companies under contract to the Pentagon sued the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office, which had been denying security clearances to homosexuals for years. (The case is as memorable for the outcome as it is for its name—High Tech Gays vs. DISCO.)

In 1990, a U.S. appeals court ruled that the Defense Department’s discrimination was permissible because “counterintelligence agencies target homosexuals.” That conclusion was based on “evidence,” supplied by the department itself, that sexuality was one of several “human weaknesses, indiscretions and vices,” along with alcohol and drug abuse and financial problems, that foreign governments had consistently sought to exploit.

The court further added that “special deference must be given… to the executive branch when adjudicating matters involving their decisions on protecting classified information.”

With Clinton’s order, the executive branch had spoken—against discrimination. Yet few gays and lesbians stepped out of the closet in its wake.

Ballard co-founded ANGLE in 1996, but CIA employees didn’t flock to the first meetings. “The hardest part,” she said, “was getting individuals who were already in the organization to come out.”

George Tenet, who became CIA director that year, recalled that convincing employees that the agency really did value openness and difference was as much about grooming the next generation of leaders as competing for talent with the private sector.

“Diversity was a huge leadership priority for us in our time,” Tenet told The Daily Beast. “The context was developing all of our people irrespective of race, creed or sexual orientation to their fullest potential and to ensure CIA was seen as a leader in both the public and private sectors in this regard.”

Heading into the late 1990s, the CIA was losing seasoned managers to retirement and not attracting new talent in as large numbers as previous years. The Cold War was over. Budget cuts meant less hiring and scaling back operations. Tech companies were on the rise and attracting talent with salaries that the government could never pay


Then the 9/11 attacks led to a surge in applications—more than 150,000 in the days following the attacks, compared to the tens of thousands the agency typically received each year. A hiring bonanza was on, across the intelligence community, for translators, terrorism analysts, operatives, and technology specialists. The new recruits were overwhelmingly young, drawn from a generation that had few, if any, of the hangups about sexual orientation as their predecessors.

By 2007, those post-9/11 recruits made up an astonishing 35 percent of the total workforce of all intelligence agencies. The veterans were moving closer to retirement every day. The young were taking over.

Bill, an openly gay senior officer who joined the CIA in 1985 (and who asked not to be identified by his last name), said that in the early 2000s new recruits were already out of the closet. “That was amazing,” said Bill, who didn’t acknowledge to himself that he was gay until a decade after he joined the agency.

Charles, the analyst, joined in 2004, was unsure how the CIA would react to his being openly gay


“I’d been walking around with it for weeks, worried that it would keep me from working here,” Charles said, noting that he’d only come out a few years earlier, after graduating college.

Like Ballard, he told his polygrapher that he was gay before the interview even began. “Oh, that’s not something we care about,” Charles said the examiner replied. “Tell me about any drug use.”

Longtime CIA officers say this period of rapid change mirrored a broader, societal shift. But it’s hard to imagine that the intelligence agencies would have changed so fast absent that surge of young employees after the 9/11 attacks.

Now those men and women are heading into the ranks of middle-management, on their way to one day running the intelligence community. And they’re barely aware that there was a time when they could have been drummed out of their profession because of whom they loved.

“They don’t know any different,” Bill said.


By the late 2000s, more than just culture was changing. Charles recalled meeting with CIA Director Leon Panetta about what steps he could take under his own authority to advance LGBT workplace rights and benefits.

Panetta, who ran the agency from 2009 to 2011, and was Clinton’s chief of staff when the president signed the executive order, turned to his assistant and asked if he could define the term “spouse” to include partners of the same sex, so that they could receive the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples. Panetta did.

LGBT employees also obtained the same kinds of “household” benefits that the State Department offers employees living abroad, and persuaded the CIA to pay for relocation costs and give housing allowances to same-sex couples.

The new wave didn’t just wash over the CIA. Today, Charles heads a group called IC Pride that has two representatives from nearly every one of the 17 intelligence agencies. In 2012, the group held its first “summit” at a CIA conference center.

In 2013, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which made the detailed scale model used to plan the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, played host. The National Security Agency followed in 2014. And the National

Reconnaissance Office—the keeper of the most powerful spy satellites and probably the most secretive intelligence agency of all—was the 2015 host.

In 2016, the summit will be hosted by Defense Intelligence Agency, which has historically been slow to embrace LGBT employees, many said, but has seemed to turn a corner this year. Following a prominent Pride display in the agency’s lobby in June, one employee came out as transgender, Charles said. The agency’s Pride month speaker was Eric Fanning, who was then chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

Fanning, who is also the highest-ranking openly gay member of the Defense Department, is the leading contender to become the next Secretary of the Army. He would be the first openly gay person to serve in that position.

The IC Pride group has let employees of different agencies get an insight into each other’s cultures—a kind of cross-pollination that the 9/11 Commission, which investigated the terrorist attacks, said was lacking and had to be developed if the spy agencies were going to effectively combat global threats


Along the way, Charles said, he’s learned some surprising things, including that more employees have identified as transgender at the NSA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency than anywhere else in the intelligence community.

He’s not sure why, but those agencies took the lead in building what Charles called a “rapid deployment cell” that visits other agencies where transgender employees are coming out to help smooth their transition and provide information on the process to anyone who wants it.

Today, straight CIA officers show up at ANGLE meetings, Charles said. One senior official has become the group’s chief booster among top managers. She signs her emails as ANGLE’s “senior champion.”

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, was the keynote speaker at the Pride summit in 2014, held at NSA. His speech has been remembered as a kind of confessional, both for Clapper personally and the ranks of intelligence leaders who presided over a community that regarded its own employees as potential spies and turncoats.

Echoing a common refrain, Clapper said that embracing LGBT employees is “not just about what’s right. It’s about good business in our profession.” He recalled his own experience as a young Air Force lieutenant processing the dishonorable discharges of two male Russian-linguists who had been outed as gay. “I remember thinking what a waste of talent it was to do this, in addition to being a profound injustice,” Clapper said.

Twenty-five years later, as the Chief of Air Force Intelligence, Clapper restored the clearance of a civilian employee, after it was revoked on the grounds of sexual orientation.

“This set a precedent in the Air Force, and I took some flak for it from some of my Air Staff general officer colleagues,” he said. “But it was the right thing to do—for that person, and for our country. And although I didn’t admit it to myself at the time, maybe I was also trying to atone for what happened to those two airman Russian linguists, all those many years before.”

There is a repentant quality to the intelligence community’s LGBT history. It’s why Brennan wearing a rainbow on his lanyard or sending an email to a private listserv are as important signals of his commitment as his public pronouncements about diversity. To be believed, he has to walk the talk.

In the days ahead, Brennan’s commitment will be questioned. Jones, the ex-SEAL and CIA contractor, said he has filed a complaint and that the agency is investigating. After Jones’s story appeared, a CIA spokesman, without commenting on the case, said the agency follows “a Zero Tolerance Policy” against harassment and discrimination, and that “CIA leadership is committed to holding all employees accountable for living and promoting this policy.”

In his statement to The Daily Beast, Brennan said, “As Americans, vocal and active support for the rights and aspirations of members of the LGBT community, including here at the CIA, is the right thing to do.”

One indication of how well the agency is living up to those words comes from Jones himself. Remarkably, he holds no ill will towards the agency and the employees he has worked with over the years, despite fearing for his life when he was on the job.

“They’ve been absolutely 100 percent awesome and supportive,” said Jones, who published a memoir in 2014, which the CIA vetted to ensure it didn’t reveal any classified information. Jones said he had recently traveled to Washington and met a transgender person who works at the CIA. “It made me so incredibly happy that an organization would be that supportive of something that’s still kind of taboo,” he said.


Last Saturday, July 25, about 60 CIA employees, their families, and allies got together for an annual crab feast at Ballard’s house in Northern Virginia. It was their sixth such gathering. The party has become a social highpoint for the agency’s LGBT employees. It’s a chance to mingle outside the confines of their secretive office


But it’s also a ritual. Cracking crabs is messy work, usually done at a communal table. As the feast progresses, people’s hands get covered in a mix of crab juice and Old Bay seasoning. As group eating experiences go, it’s one of the most humbling, and a great way to force people to talk and get to know each other


The crab feast is open to all. ANGLE’s “senior champion” has brought her family. Straight allies regularly attend. And everyone who comes knows the journey it took to get here. The discrimination. The fear. The years of hiding. That’s why, at the latest feast, a surprise guest set off a flurry of excited whispers.

Is that him? Is he here?

He’d come in the side door, avoiding a grand entrance. Only Ballard and a few others knew he might show up. As people looked up from their crab, they saw him moving into the crowd, extending a hand as he introduced himself and his wife.

“Hi, I’m John,” the CIA director said.

M I Ro

photos by

Subscribe and get your

Subscribe to my mailing list and get updates to your email inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.

WP Facebook Auto Publish Powered By :