The Lavender Scare

Having reflected a great deal on the trajectory of my life as a gay man, I‘m compelled to get some perspective on the times that directly preceded mine. Maybe I need some answers about why I faced so much opposition in this life, or just want to know what generated it.

I was born during the brief Kennedy administration, but by that time, the Eisenhower—Nixon administration had poisoned the nation with bigotry toward gay men and women. Their “Let’s Clean House” campaign (referring to finding and ousting gays, commies and subversives) had bought them considerable political power.

America needed enemies, foreign and domestic, and the most vulnerable were the easiest targets.

In all, 10,000 government employees lost their jobs.

This right-wing lead Red Scare sold Americans on the feeble theory that the country was under a threat from a Communist overthrow. The Lavender Scare that followed was aimed at identifying and ousting homosexuals, whom Eisenhower and sen. Joseph McCarthy had deemed untrustworthy by virtue of being blackmail bait.

The Lavender Scare was government sanctioned bigotry that seeped into the zeitgeist of the nation. In fact, the stigma snowballed in its wake.

From 1952–1989, millions of American gays and lesbians were disgraced, thrown out of housing, careers and disowned by their families, who had bought into societal homophobia. Many thousands lost their lives to rogue bashings, though we will never begin to know exactly how many.

I entered a world where my parents, family, and the entire culture were seeped in popularized hatred toward an integral part of who I am — a part that I learned that you can’t pray away, or deny in order to live a life of integrity. I rejected my parents rigid Catholic beliefs, came out and found a better life, and a chosen family in the gay world.

Many of my generation would act as civil rights icebreakers, smashing through institutional and legal barriers. We’ve been used as political fodder; (George W. Bush’s “Defense of Marriage Act got him re-elected in 2005) scapegoats for religious zealots; targets for comics and other bashers; and most recently, expected to assimilate into straight culture and to “get over” the battles we’ve won and lost.

The Lavender Scare of the 1950’s is what my generation had to demolish, though we hear it’s echoes to this day in the voices of the far-right, Russia and the Middle East.

It’s good to know where you come from, where you’re heading and where to #resist when gay rights are in danger. Because if we don’t, it could all happen again.


Don’t miss the upcoming documentary, The Lavender Scare, which puts faces and names to the events that shaped our times.

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