The Lavender Scare: The government persecution of the LGBT
We’ve all heard of the Red Scare, that time when the US Government began conducting a witch hunt on those suspected to be a communist. But have you ever heard of the Lavender Scare?
Occurring alongside the Red Scare, the Lavender Scare was the simultaneous persecution of the LGBT employees of the government during the ’50s. Anybody accused of homosexual tendencies were fired from their jobs.
But while the Red Scare lasted only during the ’50s, the Lavender Scare went on through the ’70s and affected more people than the red scare.
The phrase was coined by Dr. Dave Johnson as the title for his book The Lavender Scare, published in 20014. This was derived from ‘lavender lads’, uttered by Senator Everett Dirksen in 1952.
A documentary– with the same title and based on Dr. Johnson’s book–by award-winning producer Josh Howard has been made, though it has yet to be released.
The Lavender Scare: Executive Order 10450
On April 27, 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, which barred homosexuals to be in the employ of the federal government.
On account of this, 5,000 LGBT people working in the government were fired. It was the biggest witch hunt done by the government, more than the anti-communism campaign done by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
At that time, the government claimed that homosexuals were more dangerous than communists as they could be blackmailed by the enemies for their sexuality and reveal government secrets.
It didn’t have the same historical impact as the red scare; perhaps it was because most Americans during that period didn’t care about the LGBT.
“The people I got rid of, they were faggots,” said one of those who fired ‘lavender’ employees, as gays were described during those times. “I didn’t give a hoot; get rid of the son of a bitch. Put him in the bread line.”
The Lavender Scare: A witch hunt
Washington, prior to the EO, was an LGBT haven. Same-sex couples could be seen kissing or walking hand in hand.
But by 1953, people accused of homosexuality would be intensely grilled: “Who do you live with? Who are your friends? What bars do you frequent?”
These were the types of questions done during interrogation. Some became guilty by association. Others were placed under surveillance. Police clamped down on known gay meeting places.
While some resigned to avoid further persecution, others resorted to suicide.
The EO was only lifted in 1995 under President Bill Clinton. But in the wake of recent bills passed in some states, it feels like the Lavender Scare is still quietly happening now.