The Lavender Scare

My wife and I watched an informative documentary on PBS last night called “The Lavender Scare.” This show documents a lengthy period of US government sanctioned discrimination against homosexuals that lasted from the early 1950s to mid 1990s.

The scare evolved directly from the efforts of Senator Joseph McCarthy who led the “red scare” as he carried out communist witch hunts. He turned his eye toward homosexuals saying (without data) those who worked in the government were susceptible to communist blackmailers. Yet, unlike his communist witch hunt publicly dying due to his “lack of decency,” as the Secretary of the Army said, the Lavender Scare gained footing.

To my chagrin, I learned former General Dwight Eisenhower campaigned for President on this issue and signed an executive order in 1953 to identify and expel homosexuals from government positions. This saddens me because of the obvious discrimination, but also because the former General said earlier the UK team led by Alan Turing that broke the Nazi Enigma code saved 750,000 lives and shortened WWII by two years. Turing had to hide that he was gay, so Ike’s executive order in 1953 would have kicked Turing out of employment had he been his boss in WWII – what would have happened if Turing would not have been around to impact the war?

The fact this government sanctioned discrimination lasted until it was ceased by President Bill Clinton is a shame, as well. Multiple tens of thousands of excellent public servants were kicked out of jobs they loved and did well. And, many could not get good employment in the private sector due to their FBI file. One of those was an astronomer named Dr. Frank Kameny.

Yet, Kameny did not sit still. He became an advocate for gay rights pushing a ball uphill. He wrote letters to Congress members, some of which were caustically responded to giving variations of the same harsh response. He organized protests and would help those who lost jobs. And, he was able to save some jobs, one who spoke five languages and was later decorated for service to the NSA. Kameny was awarded the “Medal of Freedom” by President Barack Obama for being the grandfather of the gay advocacy movement.

Sadly, there is a movement today led by some exclusionary religious leaders to condemn gays and foment their discrimination. My thinking is this is a backlash to the US Supreme Court approving same-sex marriage a few years ago. But, it goes deeper than that with a president who has laid the groundwork for divisiveness to occur with impunity. He did not invent divisiveness, but is not preventing it either.

Let me be frank. We are land of freedoms and civil rights. Unless someone is harming you, you have “no standing” to deny the rights of others. I personally am offended by bigotry in the pulpit as I see this a a grievous dereliction of duty. Yet, that person has a right to say what he wants – provided he is not inciting violence or hate crimes. If the latter is true, then that is not a protected right.

Please watch this informative documentary. And, let’s do our best to avoid going back to this dark period. There was one gay postal worker who was to be expelled in the 1950s, but his boss stood up for him saying I know this, it does not bother me and he does a good job. The gay employee kept his job. We need more of that in our country and less of the hate speech.


19 thoughts on “The Lavender Scare

  1. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Thank you for sharing this … THE LAVENDER SCARE … HISTORICAL!! … ‘Informative documentary on PBS called “The Lavender Scare.” This show documents a lengthy period of US government sanctioned discrimination against homosexuals that lasted from the early 1950’s to mid 1990’s.’

    • Thanks Dr. Rex. Were you aware of this issue? It truly was troubling, especially considering it was started by a heinous acting Senator and put into law by Eisenhower. Keith

      • Yes, I was aware but not in detail! I knew the significance of the lavender color!! … I haven’t seen the PBS documentary. Don’t have PBS … I do want to watch it!! ❤ …

  2. Thanks so very much for sharing this post … it means a lot to me. From the heart!! … thanks!! ❤ … Scary times ahead for the LGBTQ community (of which I am a proud member). The fight has never ended.

    • Thanks Dr. Rex. Your last sentence is a sobering reminder to us all. We truly need folks to stand up when they see discrimination. Our young people get it more than the older ones, but even they need good examples – bigotry has to be carefully taught; the converse can be taught as well.

  3. Note to Readers: There was another poignant and pertinent story about a Lesbian woman who had risen to the ranks of Captain in the Navy. She was being pushed down a path of being the first female Admiral, yet, she knew her hidden past and present would be discovered. Sadly, she had to settle for where she was and discreetly tell the people pushing her to not to do so.

    Let that sink in. Here was a woman that people identified as a rising star who was short-changed by her sexual preferences. How many young women and girls would have been inspired to join the Navy had she become an Admiral before others?

    What is lost on those who discriminate is the huge echo effect of the action to discriminate. What if a fired Lesbian would have come up with a solution to a military problem like Alan Turing did? What if a gay man would have developed a cure at a VA office or in the NIH, but was not present as he was fired years before? Or, the people these folks influenced to join because of their gender or sexual orientation would not do so because their mentors were fired or they felt they would be discovered?

    For those who say this is histrionics, let me repeat that Turing is known as the father of modern day computing. His computer broke the Enigma code and saved 750,000 lives per Eisenhower. What if your government fired a gay man or Lesbian woman who could have saved your child’s life? How would that make you feel?

    • So true. There is an echo effect. When people exclude others, they do so at their own peril. When people ignore sources of ideas, they do so at their own peril.

      • Quite so.
        They need only look at Europe’s history from the beginning of the 20th Century (possibly 50 years earlier) to see what that lead to.
        Tragically this still goes on. Ethiopia is but one example, a very large and bloody one.

      • Roger, when we choose not to learn from history, we are destined to repeat it. Since gays and lesbians hid their sexual preferences due to persecution, we may never see a complete compilation of the many contributions of this community. We know of Turing as he was imprisoned after the war for being gay and chose a radical surgery to continue to study and invent computers. Keith

  4. Note to Readers: I have a friend and former colleague (I am now retired) who is an expert in his field, a national resource for consultants and clients around the globe on the issues he can help with. He is not only smart, he is extremely diligent and helpful. He has a good heart as a well as being sharp. He is also gay. This last statement is irrelevant, but I highlight him as he is representative of the kinds of people who lost their jobs during the Lavender Scare.

    What is lost on too many is sexual orientation has no bearing on capability. We are all composites of our many learnings, attributes and interests. A good idea or approach is good irrespective of whether the inventor is heterosexual, homosexual or transgender. While we are at it, the same could be said of gender,, ethniclty, race, or religious make-up. A good idea is a good idea.

    When countries squelch the flow of good ideas through exclusion, they shortchange their advantage. Using an example I have used before, when countries treat women as second class citizens and possession, they are competing in a world with 1/2 of their assets. They are behind from the get go.

  5. I will look for that doc, Keith. Thanks for calling it to our attention. That’s sad about Eisenhower. But I think it’s also important to remember context. Homosexuality was hidden in deep, dark layers of the underground in the 50s. It has only been in the past 40 years or so, that gender and sexuality have come out of the closet, been examined, discussed, studied, and are slowly becoming accepted as knowledge expands. I probably saw my first male/male love scene in a film during the 1990s. It made me squirm. Today I am completely comfortable with those kinds of scenes. I have openly gay friends and love them dearly. I would have loved them anyway, but without them coming out, how would I even know I loved a gay person? Without the topic being openly discussed, how would I come to understand that there is nothing to fear? I’m not making excuses for discrimination of any kind, but I also think it’s unwise to judge former generations by today’s standards. I’m not sure that made sense. 😮

    • Linda, your main point is a fair, yet it shows how readily people like Joseph McCarthy can play on fear of the unknown. But, you are right, it easy to look back and see McCarthy for precisely what he was called by the Sec. of the Army – a person with no decency.

      Yet, context matters. Richard Nixon was an ally of McCarthy’s as was the attorney Roy Cohn, who became a mentor to a young real estate guy in New York by the name of Donald Trump. That is interesting that two presidents of ill-repute can trace a relationship back to the heinous McCarthy.


      • No doubt about it. McCarthy had no redeeming qualities, in my mind. It was President Eisenhower’s apparent lack of empathy that bothered me. And it was his behavior that I was trying to put into context.

      • Thanks LInda for the clarification. I agree, Eisenhower deserves a benefit of the doubt. McCarthy’s modus operandi is poor under any context.

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