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The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Governmentby David K. Johnson
Synopses & Reviews
The McCarthy era is generally considered the worst period of political repression in recent 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, security officials were posing another question at least as frequently, if more discreetly: "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 here relates the frightening, untold story of how, during the Cold War, homosexuals were considered as dangerous a threat to national security as Communists. Charges that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were havens for homosexuals proved a potent political weapon, sparking a "Lavender Scare" more vehement and long-lasting than McCarthy's Red Scare. Relying on newly declassified documents, years of research in the records of the National Archives and the FBI, and interviews with former civil servants, Johnson recreates the vibrant gay subculture that flourished in New Deal-era Washington and takes us inside the security interrogation rooms where thousands of Americans were questioned about their sex lives. The homosexual 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 a new civil rights struggle.
The Lavender Scare shatters the myth that homosexuality has only recently become a national political issue, changing the way we think about both the McCarthy era and the origins of the gay rights movement. And perhaps just as importantly, this book is a cautionary tale, reminding us of how acts taken by the government in the name of "national security" during the Cold War resulted in the infringement of the civil liberties of thousands of Americans.
In Cold War America, Senator Joseph McCarthy enjoyed tremendous support in the fight against what he called atheistic communism. But that support stemmed less from his wild charges about communists than his more substantiated charges that “sex perverts” had infiltrated government agencies. Although now remembered as an attack on suspected disloyalty, McCarthyism introduced “moral values” into the American political arsenal. Warning of a spreading homosexual menace, McCarthy and his Republican allies learned how to win votes.
Winner of three book awards, The Lavender Scare masterfully traces the origins of contemporary sexual politics to Cold War hysteria over national security. Drawing on newly declassified documents and interviews with former government officials, historian David Johnson chronicles how the myth that homosexuals threatened national security determined government policy for decades, ruined thousands of lives, and pushed many to suicide. As Johnson shows, this myth not only outlived McCarthy but, by the 1960s, helped launch a new civil rights struggle.
“Fresh scholarship” —New York Times
About the Author
David K. Johnson is assistant professor in the history department at the University of South Florida.
Table of Contents
Introduction: "Panic on the Potomac"
1. Peurifoy's Revelation: The Politics of the Purges
2. "This Used to Be a Very Gay City:" Lafayette Park and the Sex Crime Panic
3. "Cookie Pushers in Striped Pants:" The Lavender Lads in the State Department
4. "Fairies and Fair Dealers:" The Immoral Bureaucracy
5. The Hoey Investigation: Searching for a Homosexual Spy
6. "Let's Clean House:" The Eisenhower Security Program
7. Interrogations and Disappearances: Gay and Lesbian Subculture in 1950s Washington
8. "Homosexual Citizens:" The Mattachine Society of Washington
Oral History Interviews
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