Last edited: November 04, 2003

The Lavender Scare

Johnson, David K. The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government. 312 p., 18 halftones, 4 line drawings. 2004

Cloth $30.00 0-226-40481-1 Fall 2003 Available 11/03.

The McCarthy era is generally considered the worst period of political repression in recent American history. But 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?"

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.

Table of Contents
Introduction: "Panic on the Potomac"
1. Peurifoy's Revelation: The Politics of the Purges
2. "This Used to Be a Very Gay City:" Lafayette Park and the Sex Crime Panic
3. "Cookie Pushers in Striped Pants:" The Lavender Lads in the State Department
4. "Fairies and Fair Dealers:" The Immoral Bureaucracy
5. The Hoey Investigation: Searching for a Homosexual Spy
6. "Let's Clean House:" The Eisenhower Security Program
7. Interrogations and Disappearances: Gay and Lesbian Subculture in 1950s Washington
8. "Homosexual Citizens:" The Mattachine Society of Washington
Oral History Interviews


  • History: American History
  • Culture Studies
  • Law and Legal Studies: Legal History
  • Political Science: American Government and Politics
  • Political Science: Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, and International Relations
  • Gay and Lesbian Studies
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Sociology: Social Change, Social Movements, Political Sociology

The University of Chicago Press

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