The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government

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University of Chicago Press, Feb 13, 2009 - Social Science - 312 pages
The McCarthy era is generally considered the worst period of political repression in recent American history. But while the famous question, "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" resonated in the halls of Congress, security officials were posing another question at least as frequently, if more discreetly: "Information has come to the attention of the Civil Service Commission that you are a homosexual. What comment do you care to make?"

Historian David K. Johnson here relates the frightening, untold story of how, during the Cold War, homosexuals were considered as dangerous a threat to national security as Communists. Charges that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were havens for homosexuals proved a potent political weapon, sparking a "Lavender Scare" more vehement and long-lasting than McCarthy's Red Scare. Relying on newly declassified documents, years of research in the records of the National Archives and the FBI, and interviews with former civil servants, Johnson recreates the vibrant gay subculture that flourished in New Deal-era Washington and takes us inside the security interrogation rooms where thousands of Americans were questioned about their sex lives. The homosexual purges ended promising careers, ruined lives, and pushed many to suicide. But, as Johnson also shows, the purges brought victims together to protest their treatment, helping launch a new civil rights struggle.

The Lavender Scare shatters the myth that homosexuality has only recently become a national political issue, changing the way we think about both the McCarthy era and the origins of the gay rights movement. And perhaps just as importantly, this book is a cautionary tale, reminding us of how acts taken by the government in the name of "national security" during the Cold War resulted in the infringement of the civil liberties of thousands of Americans.

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User Review  - DarthDeverell - LibraryThing

In The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, David K. Johnson argues, “In 1950, many politicians, journalists, and citizens thought that homosexuals ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Darrol - LibraryThing

This book showed how vicious the politics and policies of the U.S. government can be. And it was not that long ago. The only comfort is that the policy excluding homosexuals from federal employment ended. What scares me is how fragile our liberties are. Read full review


The Politics of the Purges
Lafayette Park and the Sex Crime Panic
The Lavender Lads in the State Department
The Immoral Bureaucracy
Searching for a Homosexual Spy
The Eisenhower Security Program
7 Interrogations and Disappearances Gay and Lesbian Subculture in 1950s Washington
The Mattachine Society of Washington
Oral History Interviews

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Page 21 - It becomes necessary due to the gravity of the situation to call your attention to a condition that developed and still flourishes in the State Department under the administration of Dean Acheson. It is evident that there is a deliberate calculated program being carried out not only to protect Communist personnel in high places but to reduce security and intelligence protection to a nullity.
Page 21 - But those historians have ignored the committee's warning that part of this subversive effort involved "the extensive employment in highly classified positions of admitted homosexuals, who are historically known to be security risks.

About the author (2009)

David K. Johnson is a writer and editor in Chicago who has taught U.S. history at Roosevelt University and Northwestern University.

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