The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians
Speaker: Dr. David Johnson
The McCarthy era is considered one of the worst periods of political repression in 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, another accusatory question was asked much more often: “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 joins us to tell the story of how, during the Cold War, LGBTQ people were forced out of state and federal government jobs and were accused of being national security threats. Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were havens for LGBTQ employees, sparking what came to be known as the Lavender Scare.
Through declassified documents from the National Archives and interviews with former civil servants, Johnson takes us inside the security interrogation rooms where thousands of Americans were questioned about their personal lives, some facing catastrophic consequences.
The LGBTQ 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 social movements for LGBTQ liberation.