Gay History: March 1950 – The Lavender Scare: McCarthy and Cohn Hunt Homosexuals in the United States

 

Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn

 

The Lavender Scare blew wide open in the nation’s newspapers in late March of 1950 when arch-conservative columnist George Sokolsky, an early admirer of Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) and  Roy Cohn, (pictured above) took to his column to blast the U.S. State Department, once again, for harboring “known Communists” and worse.  HOMOSEXUALS!

Wrote Sokolsky:

When Maximillian Harden, the German journalist, called attention to a similar camarilla in the Kaiser’s court, involving Prince Eulenburg, it shocked and astonished the world. Yet, in this generation, in the United States, a charge that 91 employees of the state department were dismissed for being homosexuals passes with little excitement.

And so the Lavender Scare began.

The Lavender Scare is a rarely talked about but is an  important part of our history.  In the 1950’s during the anti-communist campaign known as McCarthyism. Gay men and lesbians were often considered “fellow travelers” of the communists, with McCarthy also charging not only that the government had been infiltrated by homosexuals, and that they posed a threat equally as grave to national security because gay men and lesbians could be blackmailed into revealing state secrets.  The lavender scare began “may be seen as the time when homosexuals became the chief scapegoats of the Cold War because of fear, bigotry and hatred.

The Lavender Scare

In 1950, the same year that Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed 205 communists were working in the State Department.

On April 19, 1950, the Republican National Chairman Guy George Gabrielson said that “sexual perverts who have infiltrated our Government in recent years” were perhaps as “dangerous as the actual Communists”. 

The State Department at first denied that it employed any suspected communists. But under intense questioning from McCarthy’s Republican allies, they did admit that they had fired 91 homosexuals as “security risks.” This seemed to substantiate McCarthy’s otherwise wild charges and increase his popular support. Soon outraged citizens, newspaper editors, and members of Congress were calling for an investigation. In the summer of 1950, a committee of the US Senate investigated “the employment of homosexuals and other sex perverts in the government.” Although they could not uncover a single example of a homosexual American citizen who had betrayed secrets as a result of blackmail, they wrote a highly circulated and influential report that asserted that gay men and lesbians exhibited weak moral character and had a “corrosive influence” on their fellow employees. “One homosexual can pollute a government office,” the Senate report concluded. Based on little evidence, the attacks represented a way for Republicans, the minority party at the time, to attack the Democrats and the New Deal agencies they had created as centers of immorality.

McCarthy then hired Roy Cohn –later exposed as being a homosexual himself and who died of AIDS in 1986,  as chief counsel of his Congressional subcommittee. Together, McCarthy and Cohn were responsible for the firing of scores of gay men and women from government employment and strong-armed many opponents into silence using rumors of their homosexuality. In 1953, during the final months of the Truman administration, the State Department reported that it had fired 425 employees for allegations of homosexuality.

McCarthy often used accusations of homosexuality as a smear tactic in his anti-communist crusade, often combining the Second Red Scare with the Lavender Scare. On one occasion, he went so far as to announce to reporters, “If you want to be against McCarthy, boys, you’ve got to be either a Communist or a cocksucker.” Some historians have argued that, in linking communism and homosexuality and psychological imbalance, McCarthy was employing guilt-by-association if evidence for communist activity was lacking.

On April 27th, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower that year declared homosexuals a threat to national security and ordered the immediate firing of every gay man and lesbian working for the U.S. government using an Executive Order which would stay in effect until  President Clinton on May 28, 1998  finally signed Executive Order 13087 banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in federal hiring practices and in the granting of security clearances.

The Lavender Scare ended many gay men and women’s promising careers, ruined lives, and pushed many to suicide. It is a darker side of our history that is rarely talked about and one that we should never forget to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

 

 

 

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

You may also like...

5 Responses

  1. jr costello says:

    there should be a pilgrimage every yr to where Roy Cohn is buried – so that we could PISS on his GRAVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • lIVING IN MIAMI FROM 1943 /1976 GROWING UP IN THE 60’S WAS TOUGHT ENOUGH, GETTING TO GO OUT AT NIGHT OF COURSE I HAD TO HAVE A GAY (MALE) PICK ME UP AT HOME & MEET MOM & DAD, OF COURSE BE HOME BY 11 pm..WE GO TO THE CORNER & HE PICKS UP HIS BOY FRIEND & I GO OFF WITH MY GIRL FRIEND..MAINLY IT WAS FUN TO BE ON THE BEACH & WATCH THE LIMOSIMES PULL IN TO THE HOTELS & LOOK ACROSS THE BAY IT WAS BEAUTIFUL…i MET A GIRL THAT I FELL IN LOVE WITH & I FEEL WE’D STILL BE TOGETHER TODAY HAD WE ‘D BE ABLE TO MARRY EACH OTHER..THAT WAS BACK IN 1961..WE WOULD HAVE BEEN MARRIED 54 YEARS TODAY..I STAYED IN THE nw SECTION OF TOWN..EVERY SUNDAY WE WENT TO 21 ST BEACH (THE GAY BEACH) NEAR WOLFIES. ZORITA & HER SNAKE HAD A STRIP JOINT ON THE BEACH & SHE HAD A SPECIAL SECTION FOR US & IF ANY GUY BOTHERED US THE BOUNCER (WHO WAS ZOITA’S GIRLFRIEND)WOULD COME OVER & OUT HE’S GO..IN 1976 i MOVED TO aLTAMONTE sPRINGS, fl WITH MY PARTNER & HER 2 CHILDREN..i NEVER THOUGHT i’D RAISE 2 CHILDREN BUT WE DID…ONLY TIME i HAD A PROBLEM WAS WHEN THE BOY JOINED CUB SCOUTS..WE MADE A STOCK CAR TOGETHER & WENT TO RACE IT.IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE FaTHER & SON, BUT AFTER A FEW WORDS WE WERE IN THE RACE…WE CAME IN THIRD, BUT I WAS PROUD & I THINK HE WAS ALSO..tHE BOY WENT TO VA. TECH FOR 6 YEARS & THE GIRL WENT TO 2 YEARS STATE COLLEGE & 2 YEARS ROLLINS COLLEGE..THEY DID QUITE WELL FOR THEMSELVES THESE DAYS WHICH MAKES ME HAPPY…tHE BOY HAD 2 GIRLS..SO THE GIRLS HAS ALL GRANDMAS & NO GRANDPAS.MY PARTNER & I SPLIT IN OCT.OF 1991… .BUT STILL YOU HAD TO BE CAREFUL JUST BECAUSE WE WERE GAY…tHESE KIDS TODAY MAKE ME SO HAPPY, THEY TOOK ON WHAT WE TRIED & WERE SUCCESSFUL….IT WAS A LONG ROAD TO TRAVEL BUT THEY DID IT…HORRAY..GOD BLESS THEM..

  1. June 14, 2015

    […] to national security, and that they were particularly susceptible to blackmail. In March 1950, conservative columnist George Sokolsky accused the State Department of harbouring homosexuals. In April 1953, President Eisenhower signed an executive order to fire all gay and lesbian […]

  2. March 9, 2016

    […] March 21, 1950: 65 Years Ago Today The Lavender Scare Hit The Newspapers, Homosexuals Hunted In The … […]

  3. April 3, 2016

    […] by many, the University of Florida had its own home-grown version of the McCarthy/Cohn Lavender Scares that lasted from 1956 to […]

What do you think?