Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday issued a formal apology to State Department employees who were discriminated against or fired in the past because of their sexual orientation.

“In the past – as far back as the 1940s, but continuing for decades – the Department of State was among many public and private employers that discriminated against employees and job applicants on the basis of perceived sexual orientation, forcing some employees to resign or refusing to hire certain applicants in the first place,” Kerry wrote. “These actions were wrong then, just as they would be wrong today.”

“On behalf of the Department, I apologize to those who were impacted by the practices of the past and reaffirm the Department's steadfast commitment to diversity and inclusion for all our employees, including members of the LGBTI community,” he added.

Kerry's apology appears to be a reference to the “Lavender Scare,” a purging of gay men and lesbians in the 1950s from the rolls of United States government. Gays were said to be a security risk and communist sympathizers.

In November, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat, asked Kerry to make a public apology to the victims of the Lavender Scare.

In 2015, Kerry appointed the first ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons. The envoy, Randy Berry, called on various nations to adopt greater rights for the LGBT community.