For years, many government agencies refused to give known homosexuals access to classified materials, saying they would be susceptible to blackmail. Gay rights organizations protested that the policy was arbitrary and discriminatory and, according to Melvin Boozer, director of civil rights for the National Gay Task Force, the groups have made some progress in recent years in getting the federal government to agree.

Still homosexuality is still of concern to some agencies. This week a man sued the CIA, charging that he was fired because he was a homosexual. And the Energy Department recently issued a final rule directing hearing officers to consider "sexual activity" in proceedings to deny or revoke a person's access to classified materials or significant quantities of special nuclear materials.

"The presumption that a homosexual is more open to blackmail is extremely objectionable," Boozer said. He added that one of the major reasons people think homosexuals can be blackmailed "is because the government cares."

DOE staffer Barry Dalinsky explained that the phrase "sexual activity" was not aimed solely at homosexuals, but at anyone whose sexual activities could make them "go to great lengths to cover it up."

The final rule included about a dozen other reasons access could be denied, including treason, association with a saboteur or spy, alcoholism, financial irresponsibility and mental illness.

None of the activities mean automatic rejection, according to Dalinsky. In making a decision, the hearing officer is expected to take into account when the activity occurred and the person's attitude and beliefs.