The Lavender Scare (a repeat post dedicated to the Florida legislature)

Seeing the legislation passed in my home state of Florida, I am embarrassed that legislators could not think of anything better to do than limit discussion about various topics including the rights and challenges of LGBTQ+ people. I wrote the following post about a true event in US history that gets painfully little historical discussion. My mother was a teacher in Florida, so I wonder how she would feel with people ready to report her if she said the wrong thing.

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 an attorney to the Secretary of the Army called McCarthy under oath, 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 the 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 as 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

Sidebar: Disney Corporation, a major employer in Florida, has announced the removal of political funding in Florida as a result of this legislation.

26 thoughts on “The Lavender Scare (a repeat post dedicated to the Florida legislature)

  1. That’s good news about Disney. The first thing I learned, when training to be a teacher, is to make sure every child sees themselves in the lessons presented. The movements in Florida and Texas make me shudder.

  2. Note to Readers: The fact McCarthyism continued in the form of blackballing gays and lesbians from government jobs made us weaker as a country as people with merit were fired from jobs. One of McCarthy’s legal advisors was Roy Cohn who noted McCarthy would invent things on the fly. So, writing he would say things without data is not a stretch.

    • Erika, very well put. We need treating people with dignity and respect normative. That would be in keeping with that guy in the good book says, the one whose words are in red print. Keith

      • Yes, that’s exactly what I think: Every single person, no matter who, what color, gender, nationality, where from, or what preferences. As long as it is addressed at all, there is no equality. It would be so simple: equal rights for all! Do I see this too naively?

  3. A timely post, my friend. Well said. That old saying seems to be true … “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Bigots, it seems, will always be around spewing their self-sanctimonious trash. I know many people in the LGBTQ community and every last one of them are good people, kind people with hearts of gold. Shouldn’t that matter more than who they fall in love with?

    • Jill, so very true. Back to that issue of “no standing.” Who a person loves does not give someone else a “standing” on that issue. It matters not what someone else thinks, just like it matters not to me that someone chooses to be married to someone who I don’t care for. But, it goes beyond that, all citizens have rights in this country regardless of who they love. Keith

      • PS – Here in NC, there is a minister in a town about forty five minutes from Charlotte who got national notoriety for advocating behind the pulpit placing gays and lesbians behind an electrified fence and letting them die off over time. Appropriately so, he got severe push back on his bigoted stance. This is supposed to be a pious person, but for some reason he missed the part that Jesus offered no caveats in his Golden Rule. To me, bigotry from the pulpit is one of the worst misuses of power.

      • You are right … it is a matter of personal choice and frankly none of anybody else’s business. As long as it isn’t hurting others, why should anybody even think they have a right to “standing” on the issue? There’s entirely too much hate in this world today … when people find love, applaud them rather than put them under a microscope!

      • Jill, that “finding love” theme is why a conservative attorney joined in the fight for same sex marriage in California arguing before the Supreme Court in favor of it. They won on this issue of “standing.” Keith

  4. Note to Readers: I think many of us have been influenced in a positive way by people who are LGBTQ+. One of my favorite teachers in high school, who I had for two classes was a lesbian. She also was one of my swimming instructors for two summers when I was little. One of my favorite colleagues at my longest job, who was arguably one of the best national subject matter experts in his field, is a gay man. Ironically, many other colleagues and even some clients felt the same about this man. I am better for having them in my life. And, the list goes on.

  5. I don’t understand how anyone who loves differently than we do can be perceived as a threat. Re your last Note to Readers, I imagine many (all) of us had gay and lesbian friends, teachers, co-workers, neighbors that we had no idea about, especially a long time ago when it was less accepted.

  6. A sadden read Keith, I had thought Eisenhower better than this.
    It is simply not good enough to discriminate against persons on the grounds of what adult consensual sexual and romantic partnerships they enter into.
    It displays a meanness of spirit and also…….while we are about the subject…Hoover of the FBI??

    • Roger, both are excellent points. Ike did disappoint, especially when he knew McCarthy for what he was – an untruthful bullying person. J. Edgar Hoover could withstand anything given his files on everyone. No one would dare try to oust him, even Nixon. Keith

      • True, seems the only one who did go head-to-head with him was Robert Kennedy. Maybe that was because it was Kennedy’s nature to be viciously combative and never back down.
        (There is a story about Robert Kennedy that when at college he insisted on playing Football even though he was not physically suited to the sport- the coach finally had him forced off the team on the basis that ‘Eventually he’s going to get himself killed out there if I don’t’

      • Roger, I had read the two did not see eye to eye, but I attributed more of that to Hoover. But, apparently RFK and LBJ had friction, too. Keith

      • American author Robert Caro has a magisterial work on LBJ….4 volumes so far, we await the fifth which covers the Vietnam War and his final years.
        One of the many fascinating aspects is the mini-biographies of other characters. Robert Kennedy featuring in Volume 4 ‘The Passage to Power 1958-1964’.
        The LBJ RFJ feud goes back the McCarthy era when RFK was actually on McCarthy’s staff. LBJ ever one to mark his turf and wishing to remind others was at the height of his Senate Powers; on seeing RFK with others at a restaurant he made his way over to their table and denigrated Robert Kennedy as a new-kid in a ‘Man’s World’ (I can’t recall the exact words right now)….. RFK did not forget it….he never forgot a slight in a bitter, vicious way.
        Whereas brother Jack tried to negotiate and make folk at their ease you had to watch your step with Robert.
        At yet unlike many other intense men, would always make time for his children.
        A very complex character.

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