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Newspaper headline from the Lavender Scare

Event Summary

Commonly referred to as the fraternal twin of the Cold-War era Red Scare, the Lavender Scare was arguably more vicious and impactful. Targeting members of the LGBTQ+ community, widespread homophobia in the U.S. government led to the firing of thousands of state department employees and an overall intolerance for non-heterosexual people in the workforce. Through documented evidence of employment discrimination a well as rhetoric across media channels, we can see that homophobia was fed by the anxiety surrounding the Cold War, and that LGBTQ+ people have faced stigmas, harassment, and institutionalized discrimination throughout US history.

Lavender Scare: U.S. Fired 5,000 Gays in 1953 Witch Hunt from ABC News (March 5, 2012)

For more background, go to this Lavender Scare article from the National Archives that includes primary sources and photographs

An interview transcript with David K. Johnson, author of The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government

Paper published in Western Illinois Historical Review on the Persecution of Lesbianism during the Cold War


Primary Sources

Employment of Homosexuals and other Sex Perverts in Government, 1950

Transcript of Congressional Record from House of Representatives, 1950

Executive Order 10450: Security Requirements for Government Employment (April 27, 1953)

Documented Evidence of Employment Discrimination & Its Effect on LGBT People, University of California School of Law (July 2011)

1960s CBS Documentary Clip "The Homosexuals" from Mike Wallace that gives an idea of the general public opinion of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly gay men.

Multimedia Resources

Multimedia.pngLavender Scare Film Trailer and Film Website

The Lavender Scare Videos on Vimeo

See also The 60th Anniversary of the Lavender Scare from Human Rights Campaign

U.S. Fired 5000 Gays in 1953 "Witch Hunt" from ABC News (March 5, 2012).

YouTube vlog from A Brief, Queer History discussing the Lavender Scare

book.pngThe Second Red Scare's Fraternal Twin, Book Review of The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, David K. Johnson (University of Chicago Press

Frank Ramney, and Barbara Gittings, Gay Rights Activists

Frank Kamney, 2010
Frank Kamney, 2010

Quill_and_ink.pngFrank Kameny: Gay Rights Pioneer Who Took on the U.S. Government from Independent (October 23, 2011)

Frank Kamney from LGBT History month

Franklin Kamney, Gay Rights Pioneer, Dies at 86, New York Times, October 12, 2011

Frank Kamney, Fought to End Discrimination in the Federal Workforce, to be Honored with Induction in Labor Hall of Fame from the United States Department of Labor

Artifact Walls: Frank Kamney, National Museum of American History. See also Remembering Frank Kamney: Civil Rights Pioneer also from National Museum of American History

Excerpts from an Interview with Frank Kameny discussing his life and work

Barbara Gittings, Frank Kamney and Dr. Anonymous, 1972
Barbara Gittings, Frank Kamney and Dr. Anonymous, 1972

Barbara Gittings, 74, Prominent Gay Rights Activist since '50s, Dies, New York Times, May 15, 2007

Barbara Gittings from LGBT History Month

Interview Clip of Gittings: "Gay is Good"


State Department Apologizes for the Lavender Scare: In January 2017, outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry issued a formal apology to the LGBTQ+ community for decades of discrimination from the State Department

The Long Road to Marriage Equality, a New York Times opinion piece that gives an overview of the history of LGBTQ+ rights in the United States, and discusses the Lavender Scare