Sunday, July 6, 2014

Was it your Gay Pride weekend? Then let's remember J.B. West -- a gay man who lost his job because of his homosexuality.

James Bernard West was born on July 27, 1912, in Afton, Iowa. He graduated from high school in 1930, and after nine years moved to Washington, D.C., to find work. He married Zella Snyder, and had two daughters (Kathy and Sally). The marriage wasn't quite a sham, but it wasn't truthful either: West was homosexual, and knew it.

West found work in the Veterans Administration as a mail clerk. In 1941, the White House advertised for an assistant usher -- civil service worker who could type, take shorthand, and keep their mouth shut. West applied for the job and got it. For his first 16 years in the White House, he worked under Chier Usher Howell Crim.

When Crim retired in 1957, West was promoted to Chief Usher. During this time, he oversaw the funeral of President John F. Kennedy. West held his position until 1969. That year, the Nixon administration discovered that West was a homosexual. Since homosexuals were considered a blackmail/security risk, West was forced to retire.

Four years later, West published a best-selling book, Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies. The book is one of the few insider accounts of life at the White House, and documents life under Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson.

J.B. West died on July 18, 1983, at the age of 70.

Jacqueline Kennedy called West "the most powerful man in Washington next to the president." She later said, "I think he is one of the most extraordinary people I've ever known."

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