Featuring interviews with Frank Kameny and others who were targeted, as well as authors and government officials responsible for investigating federal employees, “The Lavender Scare”premieres Friday, June 12th at 9 p.m. It is a compelling story of a fight for LGBTQ rights and justice as well as 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.
In 1953, at the height of the Cold War and Senator Joe McCarthy’s virulent campaign against suspected Communists and possible traitors, 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 incited decades of stigmatization against LGBTQ employees in the federal workforce.
Over the next four decades, tens of thousands of government workers were intimidated, harassed and investigated, confronted with information from anonymous informants and threatened with exposure. Many lost their jobs and prospects for the future — some even driven to suicide — for no reason other than their sexual orientation. But the actions of the government had an unintended effect, stirring outrage in the community and helping to ignite the gay rights movement.
In 1957, after being questioned about his homosexuality by two civil servants, a Harvard-trained astronomer working with the U.S. Army’s Map Service became the first person to fight his dismissal. Instead of arguing against the prevailing opinion that homosexuality was immoral, Frank Kameny reframed the issue as one of civil rights — discrimination against a particular group — and his attempts to regain his job evolved into a lifelong battle for the rights of LGBTQ people until his death in 2011.
It was not until 1995 that President Clinton signed an executive order ending the ban on security clearances for gay workers.