1964 December 11

Post Office to End “Observation Stations” in Men’s Restrooms


The U.S. Post Office announced on this day that it would dismantle over 5,000 “observation stations” in men’s restrooms in post offices across the country. Postmaster General John A. Gronouski called the practice “An unfortunate invasion of privacy,” but he did not think the Post Office “violated anyone’s rights.” The “observation stations” were small rooms with one-way glass, from which postal inspectors could secretly observe restroom patrons. The Post Office claimed they were created because of thefts of government property by postal employees, but many people believe they were created to observe homosexual activity. None were installed in women’s restrooms “because of the low percentage of women employees” in the Post Office and “other reasons.”

It is most likely that the snooping in men’s rooms was a legacy of the homophobic panic that swept the country, and Washington in particular, in the 1950s, and is known as the “lavender scare.” For some of the events of the “lavender scare,” see March 29, 1950, May 19, 1950, November 27, 1950, and March 25, 1952. In a major change in public policy, President Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 27, 1953 revised President Truman’s Federal Loyalty Program to include immoral conduct, which in practice meant homosexuality, as grounds for dismissal from federal employment.

Learn more about the “Lavender Scare”: David K. Johnson, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (2004)

See the documentary: The Lavender Scare (2012): http://www.thelavenderscare.com/

Watch Boys Beware, classic homophobic warning film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2zikCUPPxw

Learn more: Craig Loftin, Masked Voices: Gay Men and Lesbians in Cold War America (2012)

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