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'Lavender Scare' Documents Government's Gay 'Witch Hunt' Lasting Four Decades: VIDEOS


Back in 2011 I posted about a documentary in progress called The Lavender Scare, chronicling the U.S. government's gay 'witch hunts' beginning in the 50's and 60's and efforts by early gay activists like the late Frank Kameny to put a stop to them.

The filmmakers are funding the home stretch of their film via Kickstarter and are excited to debut a couple of new clips from the project on Towleroad. Anyone with an interest in LGBT history should find these fascinating.

ShoemakerThe first clip, “You can’t be gay and work here” is the story of Jamie Shoemaker, a linguist for the National Security Agency.

The filmmakers write:

When it was discovered he was gay, his supervisor demanded his resignation, took his ID card, and had him escorted out of the building. This happened in 1980 – long after the time most people associate with the anti-LGBT witch hunt. Jamie immediately called Frank Kameny, who had been successful by that time in protecting the jobs of gay people in non-sensitive agencies. Jamie was different, in that his position required top-secret security clearance. The conclusion of the story (which is not revealed in the clip) is that after a six-month fight spearheaded by Frank Kameny, Jamie became the first gay person in history to be allowed to keep his top-secret clearance. It was a front-page story in the Washington Post.

The second clip, “We do not hire homosexuals” is the government’s response to the early days of the gay rights movement.

In 1965, Frank Kameny and Jack Nichols organized the first gay rights demonstrations the nation had ever seen. With a handful of others, they picketed the White House and other government buildings to protest the on-going ban on hiring gay and lesbian workers. On August 28th, they picketed the State Department. At a news conference the day before, Secretary of State Dean Rusk was asked about the protest. The derisive laughter from the press corps and Rusk’s dismissive response to the protest is chilling and hard to believe when seen from today’s perspective.

You can check out the filmmakers' Kickstarter HERE.

And the film's official site HERE.

I've reposted the trailer, AFTER THE JUMP...

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  1. this country has sooooo Much it SHOULD be embarrassed about.....and ASHAMED!!!!! ...what a lying bullcrap POS this country is..Liberty and Justice for ALL??? wha a Crock!!!!!

    Posted by: disgusted american | May 10, 2013 11:12:21 AM

  2. It certainly wasn't only the U.S., disgusted American. These things were common practice pretty much everywhere. The British went on their own gay witch-hunt after it turned out many if not most Soviet spies and turncoats were indeed gay. Being gay up until very recently was grounds for easy blackmail, and many gay and bi in influential positions, including government positions, were routinely blackmailed or felt the threat breathing down their necks. The same with gay and bi celebrities and other public personalities.

    What we take for granted today as regards our personal levels of freedoms and security as gay people really only came to fruition over the past 25-30 odd years or so. The 1960s was the epicenter of truly radical social change, but that really didn't include homosexuals. We gays were still pretty much despised, even by the 'progressives' and activists of that period.

    Posted by: ratbastard | May 10, 2013 11:34:56 AM

  3. I'm looking forward to seeing this, as the NSA did a very similar thing to me four years later in 1984. It was bad. Very bad.

    Posted by: woody | May 10, 2013 11:39:59 AM

  4. The filmmakers might put on a more sympathetic case if they didn't highlight a crotch grab in their promo trailer. Sure sign of an amateurish, poorly executed film.

    Posted by: Tom | May 10, 2013 11:50:22 AM

  5. Yes, it's despicable that this occurred, but what's significant now is that this important part of our history is being brought to light.

    The filmmakers are close to reaching their funding goal, if you'd like to chip in and be part of this.

    Posted by: Douglas | May 10, 2013 12:00:38 PM

  6. And then the Christians and NOM and 10 moms will have their 2 cents about how this never happened and its just another move by 'the gays' to push the 'gay agenda'

    Posted by: Will | May 10, 2013 12:02:50 PM

  7. Thanks, I really want to see this--I just have to figure out how much I can contribute.

    Posted by: db | May 10, 2013 12:09:54 PM

  8. This is a tragic and important story that needs to be told. It also is a testament to the power of being OUT in large numbers.

    The 'lavender scare' was of course motivated by anti-gay animus, to be sure. But it was also premised on the reality at that time that gay Americans were mostly only SECRETLY gay. Security agencies like the NSA explicitly exclude people with 'secrets' because it makes those individuals susceptible to blackmail. Ergo, gay people were too much of a security risk, and had to be rooted out.

    None of this is meant as justification, only a bit of context. The bottom line is that the phenomenon of living openly and out -- in large numbers -- changed the calculus, and thereby made our jobs and our lives more secure.

    Posted by: Lars | May 10, 2013 12:18:38 PM

  9. There is also a book if you want more details:
    The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government
    By David K. Johnson

    Posted by: simon | May 10, 2013 12:51:35 PM

  10. We owe those brave souls who fought against this oppression a debt of gratitude.

    Posted by: Voet | May 10, 2013 1:10:17 PM

  11. Very interesting in that I had clearances at the same time, in the late 70's and 1980s. Never could get a clear answer as to where I stood as far as being gay went. This is very chilling knowing how close I was to losing my job(s) and being blacklisted.

    Actually, getting blacklisted came later in the late 90s when I no longer had a clearance and the right wing management of a company I was working for discovered I was gay. They let me know that unless I changed, they would make it impossible for me to get another job - and that's what happened.

    Posted by: RC | May 10, 2013 1:19:21 PM

  12. As recently as ten or twelve years ago, I approached an officer of the ACLU here in North Carolina and asked what the organization would try to do about getting rid of the crimes against nature laws in the state. He acted like that wasn't a civil rights issue, and seemed baffled that gays would bring that up. We haven't had a lot of allies for a very long time.

    Posted by: candideinnc | May 10, 2013 2:31:23 PM

  13. Actually, the first organized gay rights protest in the United States wasn't the one at the White House in 1965, but the year before at New York City's Whitehall Induction Center against the ban on gays in the military. Photo at:

    Posted by: Michael Bedwell | May 10, 2013 4:02:53 PM

  14. This documentary looks fascinating. It shows just how far we have come. Young people like me, in spite of existing discrimination, don't realize how conservative society used to be.

    Posted by: | May 10, 2013 5:40:58 PM

  15. To ratbastard: You said "many gay and bi in influential positions, including government positions, were routinely blackmailed..."

    Fact is that, until at least the last 10 years or so (I haven't followed this since then), there was never a case in the US of an LGBT person compromising their security clearance. There were a few cases of attempted blackmail, but in each of the known cases, the LGBT person cooperated in apprehending the blackmailer and protecting the nation's security interest, even at great personal cost.

    There are, however, numerous cases of heterosexuals being compromised due to their sexual indiscretions.

    In Europe, I am aware of only a single case involving 2 gay lovers since WWII, and their sexual orientation played no direct role in their betrayal.

    Loved seeing Jamie's interview. I'm proud to know you, Jamie!

    Posted by: DeaconMac | May 21, 2013 11:21:53 AM

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