Last edited: December 07, 2004

History Book Records U.S. Government’s Persecution of Gays

Political Perversity Surfaces in Newly Declassified Documents

Cold War Chronicle Published by University of Chicago Press

Gay Today, December 31, 2003

By Jack Nichols

Washington, D.C.Advance reviews of Dr. David K. Johnson’s newly-published history, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (University of Chicago Press) are laudatory. Historian George Chauncey, author of Gay New York, writes that Dr. Johnson’s “riveting account of how the federal government ferreted out and purged its gay employees in the 1940s and ‘50s is based on exhaustive research and careful analysis.”

Professor Chauncey, who teaches American history at the University of Chicago, believes that The Lavender Scare “definitively establishes the central role antihomosexual politics played in the domestic Cold War and provocatively argues that this hostility drew on public anxieties about the rapid expansion of the federal government during the New Deal and Second World War.”

“After this remarkable book,” says Dr. Chauncey, “we will never be able to view the McCarthy Era the same way again.”

David K. Johnson, Ph.D., is currently a visiting professor at the University of South Florida. He has also taught U.S. History at Roosevelt University and Northwestern University. The McCarthy era, a period he has unearthed following the recent declassification of fifty-year old government documents, is generally considered the worst period of political repression in recent American history.

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?”

The Lavender Scare relates the frightening, untold story of how, during the Cold War, gay men and lesbians were considered as dangerous a threat to national security as Communists. Charges that the Democratic 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 not only on newly declassified documents, Dr. Johnson has also been engaged in years of research in the records of the national Archives and the FBI. He has interviewed former civil servants who were mistreated by the government and has recreated the vibrant gay subculture that flourished in New Deal-era Washington.

Dr. Johnson takes readers inside the security investigation rooms where thousands of Americans were questioned about their sex lives.

These anti-gay purges ended promising careers, ruined lives, and pushed many to suicide. But as Dr. Johnson also shows, the purges brought victims together to protest their treatment, helping to launch a new civil rights movement.

The Lavender Scare shatters the myth that homosexuality has only recently become a national political issue. While it upends popular misconceptions about the McCarthy era, it also challenges previous conceptions about the origins of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement.

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