Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender history is frequently ignored and if it is acknowledged, it usually begins with the Stonewall Riots and the Gay Liberation Movement. However, one of the most important periods of U.S. GLBT history is rarely discussed: The Lavender Scare. The Lavender Scare refers to the persecution of gays from the late 1940s to circa 1969. It was during this period of criminalization that GLBT citizens formed a community and planted the seeds of revolution.
During World War II, a kinship between gays and lesbians in the military was formed. Post-WWII, they were able to foster communities across the country. Personal accounts of soldiers and military personnel describe the bond between gay and lesbian servicemen and women. However, as the Red Scare intensified, gays and lesbians were being discharged from the military at unparallel rates and criminalized as perverts and communists.
Commies and Queers
As the subculture expanded post-WWII, gays were seen as a threat to “traditional values” and the “American way of life” and frequently accused of communism and national disloyalty. Government documents describe the purges of homosexuals from government life. A 1950 Senate investigation resulted in the report, “Employment of Homosexuals and Other Perverts in Government,” and by 1953, President Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10450, which made homosexuality grounds for dismissal from federal employment.
Menace to Society
As McCarthyism died down by the late 1950s, the Lavender Scare continued in civilian life. Gays and lesbians were seen as perverts and pedophiles by the public. Public Service Announcements that described homosexuals as perverts and pedophiles where shown in schools. Personal accounts of gays and lesbians describe the fear and necessity to be in the closet.
The gay and lesbian community found resistance against attempted suppression. The Homophile Movement, which sought to stop the persecution of homosexuals, grew stronger and organizations like the Mattachine Society were formed. Historical analysis of gay rights magazines and photos show how supporters of the Homophile Movement fought against the oppression of gays and lesbians.
End of an Era
During the 1960’s, social movements and politics became more radical and the gay rights movement was not an exception. In 1969, the Stonewall Riots ushered in a new era of gay pride and liberation. Personal accounts and photos show the difference between the Homophile Movement and the Gay Liberation Movement.
The Lavender Scare was time when LGBT citizens were persecuted by their government and fellow countrymen, but through local communities and organization, they persevered. There are questions about whether the persecution of LGBT citizens is a legitimate concern because of debate about the biology and morality of sexuality and gender, thus the lack of exposure of the LGBT community, its movements and struggles continue. The following primary documents and DBQ’s scratch the surface of the struggles and pride of the gay community. This website gives readers a chance to analyze and judge how far gay rights have come, how much further there is to go and if they really matter.
This website is meant to give exposure to the Lavender Scare. The website was created and designed by Andrea Wiley and Josh Burke as an effort to exhibit underrepresented, misrepresented or ignored history in American education. Wiley and Burke are students at the University of Texas.
updated by Andrea Wiley and Josh Burke, December 1, 2008