The Lavender Scare

Director: Josh Howard
2016 | USA | 88m
GENRE: Activism | Aging/Elders | Biography/History | Coming Out | Discrimination | Documentary | Gay | Human Rights | Jewish | Lesbian | Local Interest/Subjects | Military | Parenting/Family | Politics | Queer
SECTION: Documentary Features
Expected Guests: Director, Josh Howard

In 1953, newly elected President Eisenhower signed an executive order barring homosexuals and other so-called sexual perverts from working in the federal government, ushering in decades of paranoia, witch-hunts, and mass firings—an era described as the worst time in American history to be gay. Before it ended, this “lavender scare” cost thousands of federal employees their jobs and many their lives, but it also ignited the sparks of the modern gay rights movement.

Based on the book by historian David K. Johnson, this powerful and illuminating documentary uses archival footage and firsthand accounts to trace the history of America’s Cold War panic over “commies and queers.” In riveting interviews with men and women who lost their jobs, as well as with federal employees charged with ferreting out suspected perverts, the filmmakers highlight the methods used to identify gays and lesbians and the grueling interrogation sessions that ruined many lives. But instead of destroying the gay and lesbian community, this ruthless campaign actually inspired a new generation of activists, including Frank Kameny, one of the most significant figures of the American gay rights movement.

Although the stories of promising careers and lives ruined are infuriating, the film ultimately offers a timely reminder of the dangers of unchecked government action in the name of national security and of the resilience of the LGBTQ community in the face of an all-out assault on our civil liberties.


The GLBT Historical Society / Lavender Seniors of the East Bay