The Lavender Scare
The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government
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.
"By demonstrating the extent to which gay history is part of mainstream history, [Johnson] continues the important academic endeavor of bringing the margins to the center."
"The Lavender Scare provides a superb overview of this period in American history. . . . It's a must-read for gay and lesbian federal employees, and would serve as an excellent text for college or graduate-level courses in history, sociology, political science, or gay studies."
"Keenly observed and elegantly written, with a sense of mystery and suspense indicative of the era, Johnson's book will reorient scholarship on the Cold War as it models a more complex method for integrating queer community history with economic and political history."
"The Lavender Scare is a very readable and valuable work that clarifies the relationship between the Cold War and national security interests, and those victimized by the need to preserve said security. . . . This work will take its place beside those of George Chauncey and Allen Berube, and every serious student of 20th century American history should own it."
"What does it say about the historical profession that it has taken nearly 30 more years to tell this story? Fortunately, David K. Johnson has done so with intelligence, sensitivity, and grace. We are all in his debt."
"Johnson's work assures that we shall never again be able to think about the anticommunist crusade without acknowledging its fierce counterpart that affected the lives of so many people."
“Fifty years ago, gays ‘confronted a degree of policing and harassment that is almost unimaginable to us today’ and which now is almost entirely forgotten. David K. Johnson’s The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government is a heart-wrenching reminder that homosexuals faced brutal employment discrimination and endless police hostility.”
"A riveting history of gay-baiting in the McCarthy era"