Was J.Edgar Hoover gay? Does it matter?

J. Edgar Hoover was the founder of the FBI (the United States’ federal police force), and ran it from the 1920s until his death in 1972. During that time, Hoover wielded substantial power. Notably, after his death, it came out that he used illegal activities to spy on, and collect blackmail materials, against his enemies.

Through his efforts, the FBI used thinks like “Cointelpro” (Counterintelligence Program) to stymie the civil rights movement, for example.

He also was reluctant to acknowledge the mob. And he delighted in prurient details about others’ private lives.

For these reasons, I think it is relevant to consider his own personal ethics, morality, and conduct. And that includes whether he was privately a homosexual.

Besides shedding light on Hoover’s character and psyche, I think that his sexuality is relevant for another reason: recognizing him for being gay demonstrates (yet again) that gay men can be smart, shrewd, successful leaders (and, yes, bullies and tyrants too), thereby disabusing people of longstanding misconceptions.

As for whether he is?

From what I read, there is no direct confession (although Hoover had personal papers destroyed upon his death), but it is undeniable that he had some sort of committed platonic relationship with his second in command, Clyde Tolson, throughout his life. They vacationed together, they were invited to parties as a couple, they rode in a car to work together every morning (officially, Hooever lived in a separate home). They were eventually buried next to each other. And neither had a relationship with anybody else.

In retrospect, not only does this reflect a gay relationship, but an obvious one. In all respects, they were married.

It fascinates me that a hugely popular and public figure could live such an openly gay life and everybody ignored it.

I mean, he even led a purge of gay people in government!


What’s your take? Am I just stating the obvious?

The Master speaks!

I don’t subscribe to the theory that he was a cross dresser. But I imagine those rumors were part of the era’s misunderstanding that gay was equivalent to transgendered, and that both were the same as pedophilia.

So, was it actually an open secret? Like, everybody actually knew, but somehow there was collective cognitive dissonance when, for example, Hoover spoke out against “deviant” behavior.

Why Hoover’s rumored but unproven sexual orientation should be a source of gay pride is not immediately apparent.

Might as well add Randy Kraft and John Gacy to the pantheon. :thinking:

I think the issue of Hoover’s sexual orientation matters because of the long-standing rumors that the reason the FBI was so passive on investigating the Mafia was because the Mafia held evidence of Hoover’s homosexuality. If this is true, then Hoover’s sexual orientation leaked out beyond his personal life and interfered with the workings of the government.

I think younger people don’t understand how much society used to be in denial about homosexuality. The general consensus was a recognition that homosexuality existed in the abstract while never acknowledging that any particular individual was a homosexual despite how much public evidence there was pointing in that direction.

Look at celebrities like Liberace or Paul Lynde. We all acknowledged that they acted like homosexuals. But we didn’t acknowledge that they genuinely were homosexuals.

I’m 65. I recognized by the early 70’s that those two were homosexuals. Lynde remained one of my favorite celebrities, and I continued to watch Liberace’s shows on TV with my grandmother, as she adored him. No big deal to me.

Otherwise, I don’t recall any general denial of homosexuality in certain individuals during that era. There was an expectation that those who were gay would not be readily admitting it, though.

Well, Liberace did sue for libel, and won.

As is pointed out in the linked article, homosexual sex was still illegal in the UK at the time (1959). Certainly society had moved a bit by the 1970s, but there were still lots of laws on the books. Thereby forcing many people into the closet.

ISTM that in discussing Hoover, and the historical context, the venn diagram of people in relationships with people of the same sex (using the conventional historical term) compared to people who were recognized as “gay” is not a 100% overlap. I would suspect that many/most people around Hoover understood his situation, and probably commented on it to those they felt safe with. But, like some segments of the population even now, felt that “as long as he doesn’t flaunt it”, they weren’t going to make an issue of it. Those that “acted gay” or “flaunted it” were a different story.

In the 1980s US military the existence of public evidence of your homosexuality was not per se disqualifying, but pretty well eliminated any chance for you to have a security clearance.

Precisely because the Powers That Be in the security / classification world believed that being outed as gay was a blackmail threat so strong that substantially no one could / would withstand that coercive pressure. So if our folks found evidence during your background check(s), they had to conclude the enemy would find it also, and you’d necessarily be forced into espionage.

Sounds pretty nutty today, but this was already 40 years ago. Imagine how much worse it was 40 or more years previously in the heyday of the FBI’s rather lazy battles with the Mafia. And as applied to a VIP like Hoover rather than a nobody like 2Lt Schmutz.

Remember that Hoover was generally liked and thought to be doing a good job. Now we know about all the bad stuff he did, but he was a crime-fighting hero in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. The FBI was a successful law enforcement agency. Because of that, I don’t think his sexuality was brought up or even known by the general public. Washington insiders probably knew but had no reason to out him.

Does it matter? Only if it impacted his ability to do his job. If the mob used his sexuality to blackmail him that would be good to know… but I don’t think that’s been proven. If it has, I would love to see a citation.

It doesn’t surprise me that there could be an acknowledgement that someone “wasn’t the marrying kind” and/or had close, even intensely close, emotional relationships with their own sex, and yet not see, or even react with horror at the very suggestion, that there was anything ickily sexual about it. Come to think of it, there was quite an (anglophone?) culture of seeing even the most respectable married sex as at best an icky duty.

There were supposedly innuendos about Hoover in newspapers which commented on his “mincing steps”.

And he to seemed to have a type: The early FBI was populated by lean, clean cut white guys in crisp suits.

Considering the various prejudices and customs of the times, “lean, clean cut white guys in crisp suits” described an awful lot of corporate offices.

Yet the FBI was ostensibly interested in fighting crime. Nevertheless, it was overwhelmingly white and exclusively male, hindering its investigatory powers.

If this was at all motivated by a personal preference of the Director, contrary to strategic considerations, then that is a problem.

A truly bizarre chain of logic. People would be denied security clearance because of the possibility of the enemy finding out you were gay and then blackmailing you by threatening to reveal this to the agency that was denying you security clearance based on their existing knowledge that you were gay.

More like Boris Badenoff approaching Major Closeted Gaydude and saying:

Ve know you are gay. Spy for us or we will tell ze world about your shameful secret. You’ll die of shame and be unemployable and your wife and kids will disown you and even your dog will bite you. Everyone will snicker & point at you. Or you can spy for us and we’ll pay you something for each secret you deliver.

Make the right decision … or else.

Or at least that was the theory.

While I agree with your sentiment in general, on behalf of my species I wish to register an objection to this particular calumny. The loyalty of the Dog is unconditional. It is not subject to the vagaries of politics or social norms. :dog:

Our former poster @Sampiro once wrote that it was likely that he was telling the truth at the time of the court case in the Queens Bench Division, in that he had remained celibate or only been with women, due to living with his mother.
I will say having seen some of his shows on YouTube, its a pity he is now remembered as a punchline, the man was seriously good.

Even now I suspect being closeted could be reason to deny clearance. If it leads to blackmail opportunities. When I got to my security clearance interview the advice going in was to “tell the truth, they don’t care what it is and won’t remember what it was after a while, but they will know, will care and remember if you try to lie or hide or be evasive in anyway.”

Which worked in at least one case I can think of (or at least, a honey-trap and photos served to reinforce any other motive).

There was also an assumption that homosexuals were ipso facto alienated, conspiratorially secretive and therefore likely to place their loyalty to each other above what their bosses considered their duty.