“The Lavender Scare”
The Witch Hunt That Was
With the United States was gripped in the panic of the Cold War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower deemed that homosexuals were “security risks” and ordered the immediate firing of any government employee discovered to be gay or lesbian. This brought about a vicious witch-hunt that lasted for forty years and ruined thousands of lives. At the same time, it forced an unlikely hero into the forefront of what would become the modern LGBT rights movement.
This is the first feature-length documentary film to tell the story of the U.S. government’s ruthless campaign in the 1950s and ’60s to hunt down and fire every Federal employee who was suspected to be gay. The McCarthy Era is remembered as the time of the Red Scare and the hunt for Communists in the United States, but it was also the Lavender Scare, vehement purge of homosexuals, which lasted a long time and ruined many more lives. Before it was over, thousands and thousands of Federal employees lost their jobs.
The film is based on the award-winning book by historian David K. Johnson and it opens up a chapter of American history that has never received the attention it deserves. We see the ways the Government used to identify homosexuals. We go inside interrogation rooms where gay men and women were subjected to horrible questioning. The stories that we see here and told by those who experienced them and these are first-hand accounts.
We see how the government’s actions brought about an anti-gay frenzy that spread throughout the United States at a time when The New York Times used the words “homosexual” and “pervert” interchangeably, and public service films warned that homosexuality was a dangerous, contagious disease.
There is no question that the story will make people angry and break hearts but the message that we get is inspiring and we become very aware of the sense of hope that was shared by so many good Americans who were forced to suffer at the hands of a few.
The irony is that instead of destroying American homosexuals, the actions of the government had the opposite effect and stirred a sense of outrage and activism that helped ignite the gay rights movement. However, this was at a terrible cost.