Lavender Scare


The Lavender Scare was the fear and persecution of homosexuals by the federal government during the Cold War in the United States. Much like the persecution of Communists in the Red Scare, Americans were accused of being gay and fired or forced to leave quietly from their civil service jobs. People believed that homosexuals would be more prone to give away government secrets and were seen as "security risks". During this time, thousands of people were charged with homosexuality and forced to leave their jobs; however there were no cases in which a gay man or lesbian was actually blackmailed into revealing wartime secrets to the enemy. This frantic paranoia from the American people caused people to start accusing others for their own promotions or simply because they did not like them.



At this time in America's history being different was very dangerous; homosexuals were thought to be as bad as Communists in America during the Cold War because of they’re flamboyancy and their alleged use of coded messages and meeting places. People are aware of the fear of communism during the Cold War era, but being accused of being a homosexual is not as well known for time. Many people blame General McCarthy's incompetence in finding Communists in America. The fear came from the belief that gays were overly loquacious and that homosexuality was a sickness; the idea that gays were weak lead to the fear that they could easily be blackmailed or pressured by foreign powers to betray their country with classified government information. Americans who held government and civil service jobs were particularly targeted and usually convicted because in reality there was no way to prove or disprove anyone's sexuality or even if they were giving away government secrets. In 1953, President Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10450 which stated; " all gay people were automatically denied security clearance and 'sexual perversion' was considered grounds for dismissal from government employment." This made it legal for the government to discriminate based on sexuality of their employees.
These purges "in the name of national security" often attacked the security rather than help it. Some of the army's brightest and most promising employees were fired or demoted, making the government that much weaker for the fight against Communism. An army astronomer, Frank Kameny, was fired in 1957 for being gay just a few months after Sputnik was launched for fear that his sexuality could cause him to give secrets to the Soviets. Kameny then went on the be the forefront for the fight against the government's ban on the employment of homosexuals in government jobs.

Frank Kameny


Frank Kameny:

Frank Kameny was at the forefront of the gay rights movement during the 50s and is known as the "grandfather" of gay rights. He was fired from his job as an army astrologist in 1957, only five months after Sputnik was launched, because he was gay and the government's fear of homosexual spies. Kameny took his case to the Supreme Court saying that the treatment of the Federal Government was an "affront to human dignity". The court dismissed his case in 1961 refusing to hear it; but 50 years later in 2009, the Supreme Court apologized for the dismissal and the case was finally heard. Frank Kameny also continued to challenge discriminatory laws and the belief that homosexuality is a mental disorder, which was taken off the American Psychiatric Association's list of illnesses. Kameny started one of the first gay rights organizations called the Mattachine Society in 1961. In 1965, Kameny and about a dozen others picketed the White House, the Pentagon, and other government buildings demanding equality. Society continued to condemn homosexuals saying that they were mentally ill, sinners, and criminals. Finally in 1975 the Civil Service Commission explicitly rescinded Executive Order 10450 and in 1993 President Clinton signed the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" order that allowed gays and lesbians who had not come out to obtain security clearances in the government. In 2010 Kameny saw this policy rescinded and gay marriage legalized in Washington D.C. Frank Kameny continued to fight for gay rights until he died on October 11, 2011, which became 'National Coming Out Day'.


The Dangers of Homosexuality PSA

During the Cold War persecution of homosexuals was comparable to the way people see pedophiles and rapists today. Like today, children were warned to stay in groups and not to take rides from strange men, but in the 1950s it was because of fear of gay people. This video goes as far as to say that homosexuals prowl around in their cars, kidnap, and kill boys right out of their neighborhood park. People actually believed that gay men would follow boys walking alone and victimize them. The unfortunate truth is that kids and parents could just accuse someone of being "creepy" and they would be arrested for being a "pervert". Schools across the country showed these videos to students of all ages to educate them on how to protect themselves from "the homosexual".

Impact of the Lavender Scare

The Lavender Scare reflects just one of the darker chapters of America's history that is largely over looked by Americans and the world. The widespread homophobia of the Cold War era was so engrained in the minds of the people that it still persists even today. Gay marriage is legal in only seven states and the District of Columbia and thirty states still have no anti-discrimination laws in the workplace. The Lavender Scare also affected the gay and lesbian population in places like Washington D.C. In one interview it was said that Washington D.C. "used to be a very gay city."
Regardless of the effect on the homosexual population of cities, the Lavender Scare took away many homosexual's dreams and made them fear the desire to advance in their jobs. It is to say that this "gay witch hunt" paved the way for discrimination that is not illegal in all states even in 2012. Even outside of the workplace gays and lesbians face harassment and hate from other people. Today's society is no stranger to seeing hate crimes in the news or hearing about new laws trying to control bullying in schools. Most people try to ignore the fact that our society has not completely changed from the ideals seen during the Cold War; discrimination is still present in public places like work and schools. Kids particularly in high school and college are usually the worst hit with hate crimes or just plain teasing. The dehumanization of people who are different has been a big part of the history of America especially during the Cold War era; setting the stage for the battle for equal rights for gays and lesbians. Frank Kameny was one of the leaders of this fight up until his death in October of 2011. He pushed for all the rights earned for homosexuals from the Cold War up to the legalization of gay marriage in 2010. Although the fight for equal rights has been fought hard, it is not over and there will continue to be a struggle for homosexual tolerance in America.

The Lavender Scare Movie Trailer


Works Cited:

Johnson, David. The Lavender Scare. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press, 2006. Print.

Ayoub, Nina C. "Nota Bene: 'The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government'." The Chronicle of Higher Education 50.22 (2004). Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.

Childs, Martin. "Frank Kameny: Gay rights pioneer who took on the US government ." The Independent., 18 Oct 2011. Web. 25 Apr 2012. <>.

James, Susan. "Lavender Scare: U.S. Fired 5,000 Gays in 1953 'Witch Hunt'." ABC News. ABC News, 05 Mar 2012. Web. 25 Apr 2012. <>.

Krugler, David F. "The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government." The Historian 69.3 (2007): 547+. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.