In the 1950s and ’60s, America was gripped with panic and fear. The “Red Scare” captivated the dark underbelly of the nation’s imagination as government officials went about a witch hunt to out and drum out so-called Communists who worked for the government or in other high-profile professions. The infamous investigations by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy and the constant spying by the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover put people under the microscope, ruined lives and dashed hopes and careers.
For the first time, a new documentary unveils the often-overlooked Lavender Scare. At the same time federal officials were gunning for Communists, they also began an anti-gay witch hunt that saw thousands of gay men and lesbians outed at work and forced to resign or be fired in shame. The reasoning, or so it was said was that “the pervert is easy prey to the blackmailer.”
The film, from director Josh Howard, will screen at this year’s GayCharlotte Film Festival, June 1-4, on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University.
More about the film:
The Lavender Scare is the first documentary film to tell the little-known story of an unrelenting campaign by the federal government to identify and fire all employees suspected of being homosexual.
In 1953, President Eisenhower declared gay men and lesbians to be a threat to the security of the country and therefore unfit for government service. In doing so, he triggered the longest witch hunt in American history. Over the next four decades, tens of thousands of government workers would lose their jobs for no reason other than their sexual orientation.
The actions of the government had an unintended effect. They inadvertently helped ignite the gay rights movement. In 1957, after thousands had lost their jobs, a Harvard-trained astronomer named Frank Kameny became the first person to fight his dismissal. His attempts to regain his job evolved into a lifelong fight for the rights of LGBT people.
The Lavender Scare is a compelling story of one man’s fight for justice. And it is a chilling reminder of how easy it can be, during a time of fear and uncertainty, to trample the rights of an entire class of people in the name of patriotism and national security.