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Most students of U.S. history are familiar with the Red Scare. The Red Scare was a federal witch hunt for government employees who were communists or sympathizers with communism, in the 1950s. If one was labeled or accused of being a communist, it was like being marked with a scarlet letter, you lost your job, lost all standing in your community and pretty much became a pariah. Most people don’t know that there was another witch hunt going on at the same time as the Red scare. This hunt was called the lavender scare and was hunting for closeted homosexual or lesbian individuals.
On April 13, 1950, The Republican National Chairman Guy George Gabrielson said that “sexual perverts who have infiltrated our Government in recent years” were “perhaps as dangerous as the actual communist.” Gay and lesbians weren’t only considered dangerous because of their sexuality, the thinking of the time was they were more susceptible to blackmail and thus were security risks.
Senator Joseph McCarthy who was heading the congressional hearings on communist activity hired Roy Cohn ( a rumored closeted homosexual who would die of AIDS years later) as chief counsel to his congressional subcommittee. Together McCarthy, Cohn and to a lesser extent J Edgar Hoover (head of the F.B.I. and another rumored closeted homosexual), were responsible for the firing of hundreds of gay men and women from government employment and strong-armed many opponents into silence by using threats of outing their rumored homosexuality. In 1953 the State Department reported that it had fired 425 employees for allegations of homosexuality.
McCarthy often used allegations of homosexuality as a smear tactic, in his anti-communist crusade. McCarthy once said to reporters, “If you want to be against McCarthy boys, you have to be either a communist or a cocksucker.”
In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450. This Order set security standards for government employees, but more importantly, it barred homosexuals from working for the Federal Government. The Order caused approximately 5,000 gay people to be fired from the Federal Government. The firings had the double whammy of not only creating job loss but also outing the individual to the public as either gay or lesbian. McCarthy associated homosexuality and communism both as “threats to the American way of life.” Homosexuality was directly linked to “security concerns.” More government employees were fired because of their sexual orientation than because they were communist.
In 1952 the Hoey Report came out. The report concluded that all of the Government’s intelligence agencies “are in complete agreement that sex perverts in Government constitute security risks.” Before the McCarthy witch hunts on the L.G.B.T. community started, Washington D.C. had a significant and Vibrant L.G.B.T. community. As the witch hunts went on, negative views of homosexuals increased. Most psychiatrists now viewed gay and lesbian behavior as a mental disorder. The 1957 Crittendon report from the U.S. Navy, concluded that “there was no sound basis for the belief that homosexuals posed a security risk.”
In 1957, the Supreme Court case of Cole v. Young severely weakened the ability to fire people from the Federal Government for discriminatory reasons. It wasn’t until 1973 that a federal judge ruled that a person’s sexual orientation alone could not be the sole reason for termination from the Federal Government. In 1975 the United States Civil Service Commission announced it would accept applications from gay and lesbian applicants on a case by case basis. Executive Order 10450 wasn’t rescinded fully until 1995 when President Bill Clinton rescinded the Order and put into place the “Don’t ask don’t tell” policy for the admittance of gays into the military.
Frank Kameny, who later became one of the most influential members of the gay rights movement was fired during the lavender scare in 1957. Kameny was never able to find another job in the U.S. federal government, and he thus devoted his life to the gay rights movement. Kameny picketed the white house on the grounds of gay rights in 1965. It was believed to be the first gay rights demonstration in America.
In 1956 the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee (FLIC) was formed with the same thinking that was behind the lavender scare. The purpose of the committee was to investigate and fire public school teachers who were gay. The FlIC was responsible for firing more than 200 allegedly gay teachers until it was disbanded in 1964. Why was it dissolved? The committee released the “purple pamphlet.” The committee released it to demonize gay and homosexual behavior, but it had the opposite effect of bringing public outrage over the committee due to the pamphlet depicting several pornographic pictures in it. In January of 2017, the U.S. State Department formally apologized for the Lavender Scare.
Mistakes Were Made:
In the 1950s the U.S. A was still segregated between black and whites, L.G.B.T. people were being fired from the Government just because of their sexual orientation, and if you even uttered the word communism, you were considered a traitor. Yet this is the America most people talk about when they say they want to get back to the “good old days.” America was supposed to be the beacon of Hope, opportunity, and liberty compared to the U.S.S.R., but if you analyze the behavior of both at the time, they acted quite similar. Sure the U.S. wasn’t as brazen as the U.S.S.R. in denying freedoms, but it surely wasn’t that far behind either. If you didn’t fall into what was considered the norms of being American, which was white, heterosexual, and Christian, you were being marginalized in 1950s America. How is that any different from how the U.S.S.R. operated?
As of today, there are still 29 states in the U.S. A where it is still perfectly legal to fire someone because they are L.G.B.T. These laws are direct descendants of Executive Order 10450. In response to this, Congress has tried and failed to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It was first introduced in 1994 and the last attempt to pass it was in 2013. Hundreds of people were wrongfully fired just because of their sexual orientation or their alleged orientation. Think about it unless the person confessed to being L.G.B.T. or caught them in a sexual act, what proof did the Government have against them? And what did their sexual orientation have to do with them doing their jobs? They had to make up some B.S. about security risks which were later rightfully debunked as false and utter nonsense. The Government lost the use of precious employees all over stereotypes and misconceptions over sexual orientation.
Originally published at https://mwmblog.com on July 1, 2019.