In 1953, President Eisenhower signed an executive order that made it legal to fire government employees on the basis of being gay, claiming that they fall under an umbrella that makes them “immoral” people. In 2017, President Donald J. Trump removed any mention of John Kerry’s apology to the LGBT community for those actions from the State Department’s website. These two historical facts cover the screen in boldface text, one at the beginning, and one right before the credits roll, during The Lavender Scare. So, how far have we even really come?
During the brief run time of right around 80 minutes, this documentary dives deeply into what happened between those two landmark moments, largely focused on the federal witch hunt targeting gay government employees. Just after the Russians successfully demonstrated their atom bomb, prominent members of the Republican party began insisting that lesbian and gay federal employees were more likely to be blackmailed into leaking confidential information because of their sexual orientation. Thus sparked a thorough, invasive investigation and a series of mass firings that, at its peak, resulted in the termination of an average of one person per day.
This film documents these events largely by interviewing those individuals who were involved, both as victims of the Lavender Scare and as employees who were part of the investigative team. On screen, we’re also shown copiesof detailedd government reports and letters civilians wrote to the government. Both the government files, newspaper headlines, and the individual letters are peppered with degrading, descriptive labels such as “undesirables”, “perverts”, “CS-ers”, and “sexual deviates”. These individuals who suffered some of the worst levels of discrimination were never talked to or about as actual human beings.
As a millennial who is ashamedly more ignoring of gay history than I would like to be, prominent historical events such as the Stonewall Riots are familiar to me, but I had no knowledge of the Lavender Scare prior to watching this haunting film. The level of authority which the government held in making gay and lesbian employees just disappear, no matter how skilled or vital they were at their positions, is haunting. In my state of Pennsylvania, it’s still legal to be fired solely on the premise of sexual orientation, so yet again I ask, how far have we really even come since the ’50s?
Marriage equality is an undeniably paramount step forward for human rights, but we have a long way to go to become truly equal, and The Lavender Scare is a must watch for everyone in today’s political climate regardless of sexual orientation. The Lavender Scare, produced and directed by Josh Howard, screened at the 2017 Toronto Inside Out LGBT film festival.
More about the film including official trailer can be found on their WEBSITE