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

The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal GovernmentJohnson examines the purge of gay men and women employed by the federal government during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s He contends that homosexuality the moral corruption was perceived as a greater security risk than communism and that attention went to removing gay men and women from their jobs than removing communist sympathizers Moreover, he contends that this persecution inadvertently strengthened the ties between the gay and lesbian communities in Washington DC and led participants in these communities to openly contest their treatment and organize resistance to it, eventually resulting in a legal ruling banning such discrimination in federal employment practices The book is a solid work of gay and lesbian history, and does an excellent job interrogating the relationship between cultural understandings of sexuality in the Cold War and the actions of politicians Overall it is a book focused on actual people and their actions rather than a work focused on the cultural meanings of representations The book provides an introduction to the queer communities active in Washington DC during this period of the early cold war, including the geography of people s lives It gives a sense of what life was like for the participants in this community The book also forces a re examination of the relationship between morality and foreign policy that dominated the political agendas of the Cold War and the consciousness of U.S denizens in this period The book does an excellent job showing how the Republican party leadership latched on to the Lavender Scare to build on existing gendered critiques of male bureaucrats as overly feminine, thus non gender normative, and fears of New Deal government expansion as feminizing a people losing their independence Thus, the Lavender Scare emerges from the political maneuverings of the party leadership The book makes the case that many of the strategies including the civil rights language utilized by the gay rights movement were in place prior to Stonewall Finally this book places labor rights as central to the movement for gay rights and vice versa, recalling the documentary Out at Work , which examines social movement response to employees fired for their sexual orientation. This is a very important book about the suppression of the GLBT community in the time of McCarthyism The federal government fired any suspected gay or lesbian worker regardless of their ability to do great work Tens of thousands lost their jobs Workers and prospective works were literally interrogated and forced to resign or be fired They couldn t get jobs even in the private sector Proof was not required PBS has a new documentary on The Lavender Scare I m eager to see it How did I not know that I ve always been fascinated by the McCarthy hearings on communism in the government never proved. 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 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 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 Excellent account of the persecutions of homosexuals during the 50s and 60s This is not some kind of lurid account, it is a scholarly study of the systematic exclusion of an entire group of people from being able to live a normal life and contribute to society The thousands and thousands who lost their jobs and had their lives destroyed through innuendo and by not so well meaning people who used the system for petty reasons to destroy another persons life. A Hidden HistoryThis book relays the hidden history of persecution against American citizens for their personal lives Most don t realize how systematic and pervasive this was. A little dry, but a fascinating piece of history that is not widely talked about Definitely worth a read. David Johnson s The Lavender Scare The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government repositions gay and lesbian persecution during the Cold Ware at the center of Cold War hysteria rather than at the margins Johnson brings to the forefront the lavender scare that accompanied the red scare during the Cold War While other histories of the Cold War period have placed the persecution of gays and lesbians as an additional offshoot of the broader McCarthy paranoia, Johnson locates the lavender Scare as its own discrete history Arguing that the paranoia surrounding gays and lesbians in the federal government sometimes surpassed that of communism and eventually infiltrated all branches of the federal government, Johnson makes an important contribution to a crucial, but often overlooked part of Cold War history and strengthens the historical relationship between sexual politics and national security politics.Johnson begins The Lavender Scare in 1950 with two pivotal public announcements occurring during the same month Senator McCarthy s assertion that the State Department employed two hundred and five communists and Deputy Undersecretary John Puerifoy s announcement that the State Department had fired nine one homosexual employees as security risks shaped domestic security policy and political culture While McCarthy s claims have dominated the histiography of the domestic front during the Cold War period, Johnson gives historical attention to the significance of Puerifoy s announcement By linking the two press conferences together in his first chapter, Johnson demonstrates the connection between both lavender and red scares as part of concerns regarding national security Johnson s further interpretations of government documents show that the fear of gays and lesbians and the subsequent purging of this group from the federal government extended further than Senator McCarthy s assertions Using the public concerns regarding the Kinsey study, newspaper articles, letters, and various political cartoons, Johnson also demonstrates the general fear regarding the moral degradation of American culture and therefore, explains how the idea of homosexuals in the government could garner such widespread alarm.In chronicling the purging of gays and lesbians from the federal government, Johnson also reveals the vibrant gay culture previously present in Washington D.C Integrating oral histories and personal testimonies, Johnson gives a glimpse into this subculture of Washington D.C Attracted to many of the federal jobs offered by the New Deal, many gays and lesbians migrated to Washington D.C and created community The federal government could purge the large number of gays and lesbians precisely because there was an active group in Washington D.C The subsequent persecution led to a gay and lesbian rights movement that preceded the activism of the Stonewall riots The formation of the Mattachine Society and the fight against discrimination through the legal system is well documented in The Lavender Scare Johnson positions the fight against gay purgings as the start of the gay civil rights movement and the struggle to integrate gays and lesbians as homosexual citizens For my own work, I believe that Johnson has caused me to rethink the tension between freedom and security, and the tie between sexual history and political history, especially in light of the recent 2001 Patriot Act and the Bill Clinton and Representative Foley scandals I also appreciate his use of oral histories and personal testimonies to write an unexplored and often silenced history. In The Lavender Scare The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, David K Johnson constructs a narrative of contestation centered around the employment of and discrimination against homosexual federal employees Johnson s work simultaneously encompasses elements of labor history, social history, gender studies, District of Columbia history, and Cold War history as he seeks to present a full treatment of the gay and lesbian community s decades long struggle for not merely equal opportunity in federal employment, but equal opportunity for respect as workers and freedom from suspicion of treason equal to their heterosexual counterparts Johnson rightly situates this effort as an early chapter in the gay rights movement In 1971, as a candidate to represent the District of Columbia as a nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives, activist Frank Kameny described the central struggle documented by Johnson We are homosexual American citizens, Kameny said We intend to see to it that the second and third words of that phrase, American citizen, are no longer ignored with regard to us Johnson situates the beginning of his narrative with an admission, by Deputy Undersecretary of State John Peurifoy in his testimony before a congressional committee, that ninety one employees of the State Department had been dismissed on account of their homosexuality Peurifoy s statements ignited a storm of controversy around the State Department in particular, and the federal government in general, which was fanned by McCarthyite sympathizers and fellow traveler anxious over a perceived connection between Communists and homosexuals Johnson effectively lays out how, as a result of the Hoey Commission s investigation of the matter, homosexuality came to be viewed as a national security risk during the Cold War The rationale posited for this risk centered around the susceptibility of mainly closeted homosexuals to blackmail by Communist agents or other parties Though documentation revealed decades later demonstrated these fears were almost entirely unfounded, the conceit of this prejudice centered around the extraction of classified information from homosexual federal employees by individuals threatening to out the employee, with termination of employment the likely result Interestingly, Captain George Raines, the former chief of psychiatry at Bethesda Naval Hospital, suggested to the Hoey Commission that the various investigations of homosexuals, the general furor in the press around the issue, and federal employment polices were creating the precise conditions for the stigmatization of homosexual government workers, thus contributing in large part to the supposed leverage Communist agent might exert over them.Read in sequence after Barbara Ehrenreich s The Hearts of Men and K.A Cuordileone s Manhood and American Political Culture in the Cold War, Johnson s presentation of the political stigmatization of major figures, in particular Adlai Stevenson, is striking Johnson effectively conveys to the reader the beliefs which viewed homosexuals as inherently suspect and untrustworthy, and demonstrates how this slander was used not only to sully thousands of employees throughout the federal government, but even prominent heterosexual figures, such as a two time major party nominee for President The reader is able to interpret from there the consequences for American understandings of masculinity and sexuality. The Lavender Scare s first two chapters lay out the book s premise and background In the aftermath of Senator Joseph McCarthy s famous declarations about communists in the State Department, department security officer John Peurifoy stated that 91 people had resigned from the State Department while under investigation as security risks, most of whom were homosexual Following this statement, many government employees lost their jobs under suspicions over their sexual conduct as this conduct became an issue of major national concern Central to the ideology of the Lavender Scare was the notion that gays and lesbians could not restrain their sexual urges and that they had other qualities such as mental instability which supposedly made them incapable of being loyal government employees Among other things, this meant people charged with sexual misconduct not only lost their jobs but had their character and quality as persons called into question.Prior to the Cold War, there had been an era of sexual openness and tolerance in Washington, D.C Johnson notes that many openly gay men worked in feminized white collar jobs, in civil service and elsewhere, arguing that these men felt comfortable within the gender norms of these environments than in other workplaces Local bigots eventually reacted against D.C s vibrant gay community Given D.C s status as a national center, and given the post war context of the Cold War, this local repression quickly became than a local issue Johnson returns to this repression and its growth in his third chapter This chapter and the next three deal in painstaking detail with government policy and implementation of the Lavender Scare, practices which now look like little than coordinated harassment and bullying, and popular perceptions of sexual conduct among civil servants The book s final two chapters turn to first hand accounts of the experience of these purges, and the formation of a collective push back against institutional homophobia Johnson focuses mainly on the Mattachine Society of Washington, which used the courts, lobbying, and eventually public pickets on the White House to protest discriminatory policies Johnson suggests that these formed an important and still overlooked aspect of activism against oppression based on sexuality Johnson s book contains an insight with ramifications beyond the history of sexuality, one which cuts against the impulse of some myself included to refer to the state as one homogeneous entity, namely the relative autonomy and internal heterogeneity of state For example, the main agenda of the State Department and the White House was avoiding negative publicity about employees sexual misconduct This agenda conflicted with the demands for greater publicity placed by some people involved in Congressional investigations and tribunals To the degree that the government acts as one body, this is at least in part the product of hegemony and discipline within and across government agencies, produced by processes such as the investigation and screening programs which scrutinized the private behavior and moral character of government employees I have one reservation about the book Throughout the book Johnson uses the term homosexual rather than queer, and writes at least implicitly in favor of his subjects goal of inclusion in the form of citizenship and civil rights From what little I ve read, these terms and goals are contentious within queer theory and the history of sexuality, I would have liked an appendix or preface dealing with these controversies in relation to his own decisions in the book Additional random thoughts Johnson treats several things briefly that merit extensive treatment than they have received in scholarship, as far as I know For example, Johnson notes that many openly gay men worked in feminized white collar jobs, in civil service and elsewhere, arguing that these men felt comfortable within the gender norms of these environments than in other workplaces Perhaps someone has already written it, but the world needs a book on that link between labor processes, gender norms, and sexuality The world could also use a book that presents detailed history of the making of gay D.C than Johnson is able to present he cites an unpublished 2002 dissertation about D.C., A Queer Capital by Brett Beemyn, hopefully that will be published as a book soon. David K Johnson s, The Lavender Scare The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government examines the cleansing of homosexuals in our nation s capital as a result of McCarthyism in the 1950 s Johnson starts off by painting a picture of Washington D.C that not many, myself included, could imagine considering it s time in history After the second world war, America loosened up We drank , had babies at an unprecedented rate one of which we still haven t seen , and became open about our sexual needs than ever before It wasn t overly shocking to see two men or two women holding hands at Monument Square or even laying together amongst other things at Lafayette Park There were even large, openly gay bars and nightclubs that both gay and straight people attended Washington, as Johnson indicates, was the gay capitol of the world Then 1950 happened Senator McCarthy s initial document stated there were two hundred and five reported communist working on Capitol Hill Shortly after the release of the Senator s findings came Deputy Undersecretary John Puerifoy s report that indicated there were 91 confirmed homosexuals in the State Department From these two cases came the conclusion that homosexuals were in cahoots with communists, thus, the Lavender Scare It was a ridiculous ploy that the Junior Senator from Wisconsin and many of his Republican colleagues stood by, if not for the fear it represented, for the political advantage it gave the Republicans come election time After all, these hiring s were down on President Truman s watch and not a right wing representative Regardless, the two cases brought the first wave of fear to the American public since the war It was a fear that Johnson proves, had no merit It was a theme that frequently presented itself as McCarthy s findings came to surface After the firing of the 91 , the author provides a play by play of court hearings that surprisingly fail to change the perception of gay culuture in the capitol to the American public Instead, it altered the narrative of why homosexuals were not to be tolerated from them being undercover communists to being a prime target for communists to take advantage of They were convinced that if they were working near sensitive material, the communist would blackmail them into obtaining information to bring back to mother Russia or else they ll out them as being gay To be outted was the equivalence of having a death sentence in Washington at the time Johnson later reveals there wasn t a single case of blackmailing ever happening during this time frame In Johnson s later chapters, he uncovers a kind of policing that the government implemented that mirrored that of the Nazi s The Miscellaneous M Unit was designed to troll parks, bars and even entrap any civilians that were engaging in or promoting homosexual activity The M Unit weren t regulated and proceeded to sentence someone anyone they see fit Beatings often took place and often times, it led to them reporting to the guilty persons work place so they could be fired This led to a dramatic swing when officer Frank Mathos, a member of the moral squad , set a sting on Edward Kelly Mathos invited Kelly to touch him, which he did and inevitably led to Kelly s arrest Mr Kelly challenged the ruling and won the case, stating it wasn t illegal if he was inviting someone to touch him The case also presented a message that it wasn t illegal to be gay.The author does a wonderful job making the Lavender Scare its own headline Quite often, the events that caused the persecution of gays and lesbians are reported as a mere subplot to the greater Red Scare storyline but Johnson effectively links the evolution of the case against gay America in his research and presents it a way that reminds us that this was a real attack against human rights.

David Kyle JohnsonDavid K Johnson is an award winning historian and author His first book, The Lavender Scare was made into a documentary film that garnered best documentary awards at over a dozen film festival His book, Buying Gay How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement , chronicles the rise of a gay commercial network in the 1950s and 1960s Featured in a starred review in Publishers Weekly, it was released in February 2019 by Columbia University Press as part of its series on the History of U.S Capitalism.David earned a B.A.from Georgetown University and a Ph.D.from Northwestern University, both in history He has enjoyed fellowships from the National Humanities Center, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Social Science Research Council As an associate professor in the History Department at the University of South Florida, he teaches courses on the post 1945 U.S and the history of gender and sexuality.

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  • Paperback
  • 312 pages
  • The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government
  • David K. Johnson
  • English
  • 09 September 2019
  • 9780226401904

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