Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2019-09-04
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

'Lavender Scare' director on very real tragedy
by Robert Chiarito
2019-06-26

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


In 1953, in the midst of the Cold War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an executive order that banned gays and lesbians from federal employment, under the pretense that they not only were immoral, but they were susceptible to blackmail from foreign governments because of their immorality.

After the order, investigators scoured the government rolls, looking for telltale signs like women who didn't wear lipstick or dressed 'manly,' and men who had 'jellyfish handshakes' and proceeded to fire or force those who were and those who were suspected of being gay or lesbian to resign.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the order was enforced on most level of government employees—later it would only be enforced in jobs that required security clearances—but it would stay on the books until 1995, when President William Jefferson Clinton would outlaw it in his own Executive Order.

Little was known about Eisenhower's order because victims were often hesitant to talk about it, fearing not getting a job somewhere else. That is, until a few fought back with the help of gay-rights pioneer Frank Kameny and also when documents from the 1950s began to be unclassified in the 1990s. That, and the publication of a book called The Lavender Scare by David Johnson in 2006. A few years after that, retired 60 Minutes producer Josh Howard would read Johnson's book and learn about a story that would bring him out of retirement to make a documentary. Howard's documentary, also called The Lavender Scare, took him 10 years to make but will open in June in New York and Los Angeles and air nationally on PBS later that same month.

Recently, Windy City Times talked with Howard about the story, his film, and its relevancy to current issues.

Windy City Times: Everyone knows about the Red Scare and Sen. Joe McCarthy. Why isn't this story well-known?

Josh Howard: Well, the fact that it's not really well known is what really drew me to it. I think there are a couple of reasons. One, is that LGBTQ history generally has not been taught as part of mainstream American history. The other reason is that when this was going on, it was in everybody's interest to keep it quiet.

The people who were getting fired didn't want to tell friends and family and potential employers why they had been fired. And after an initial burst of publicity, the government stopped talking about how many people were being fired because it became an embarrassment for the government that they had hired these people. It was kind of a conspiracy of silence and it wasn't until the 1990s when documents from this period started to become unclassified that the scope of what happened started to come into focus.

WCT: When did you first learn about it?

JH: In 2009 I came across David Johnson's book The Lavender Scare which had been out for a couple years by then. I had the same reaction most other people had. I was surprised to learn this. I thought I knew American history and gay history. I was actually retired from a long career in television news and wasn't looking for something to work on, but I just found this story so compelling that I looked up David Johnson and we got together and found ourselves working on this documentary.

WCT: This started in 1953 and was in place until President Clinton outlawed it in 1995 with his own executive order. How many people did this impact?

JH: As the 1970s and 1980s progressed, different parts of it got chipped away and were enforced less and less, but it was officially on the books, particularly for jobs that required a security clearance that if you were discovered to be gay, you were out.

It's really impossible to know how many people were impacted. We know from the documents that a number in the thousands were fired because they were found to be gay. But there was a huge group of people who resigned rather than have it go onto their record. You also have a lot of people who were found to be gay during pre-employment background checks that didn't get the jobs. We have no idea the number on that, or the number of people who never applied for jobs because they were afraid of being found out. The historian John D'Emilio says it's conservatively tens and tens of thousands of people who had their lives effected by this.

Part of the executive order said that private companies that did business with the government were required to investigate their employees and fire those who were found to be gay, and no statistics exist on how many of those people were fired. Additionally, the U.S. demanded that all of our NATA allies purge their country employees as well. It really set off a wave of homophobia and it's incalculable how many lives were effected.

WCT: It's fascinating that you were able to talk to both victims of this policy and the government investigators who enforced it. How were you able to track them down?

JH: Most of the victims had been interviewed by David Johnson in his book, so working with him we were able to get their stories on film. For the government investigators, I had a terrific researcher and associate director Jill Landis working with me who was able to track them down. To our surprise, they were quite pleased to go on camera and defend what they did. To a person they said what they did was the right thing to do for those times. A couple of them acknowledged that they wouldn't do the same thing today, but they felt that's what the times called for and they were not shy about defending it.

WCT: Was it hard to get them to participate?

JH: It, surprisingly, wasn't. With trepidation, Jill and I discussed how we should approach them in a letter or whatever and every one of them wrote back and agreed to talk to us. We were pleasantly surprised because we wanted to include their perspective in the film.

WCT: What does it say that so many are still alive?

JH: Well, there weren't that many, actually. We started filming in 2010. We interviewed Frank Kameny in 2010 and he died the following year. Most of the people who we interviewed have since passed away, so we were lucky to have started the project when we did.

WCT: I saw a short article from 7 years ago that said the film would be out the following fall. Was the delay because of funding?

JH: It was hard to raise funds. This was my first independent project. I had worked for CBS and NBC so I was used to having a support staff and other people to depend on, so I think I underestimated how long it would take working alone. I read David Johnson's book and I tracked him down, he was living in Florida. He was coming to New York so I met him there in July of 2009. We are approaching our 10-year anniversary since we first discussed this project. At that first lunch, I told him that it should take a year to 18 months, but it finally is done now.

WCT: The lack of due process and lack of empathy is stunning. One investigator is quoted in the film saying, "Get rid of that son of a bitch. Put him on a bread line." Do you see any similarities with anything today?

JH: I do. And I think that's one of the important messages in the film. As important as I felt it was to capture this moment in LGBTQ history, I think there's a broader message for society in terms of the ease in which we can demonize any minority in the name of national security or patriotism.

WCT: There wasn't much if any pushback from the media back when this started, nor from the ACLU. What changed?

JH: I think they finally came to their senses that this was not a security threat. There were no cases of gay people giving government secrets to foreign agents. I think it was partly a matter of education. I think one of the important reasons to study gay history is that as the broader population learns more about the history of LGBTQ people, there's a greater understanding.

WCT: It's amazing how easily someone could be accused—simply by not wearing lipstick or appearing "mannish" for women or "having a jelly handshake" for men. It's almost laughable but scary at the same time.

JH: Definitely. The government had these investigators who thought they could identify gay people by how they looked or walked or how they dressed. Not wearing lipstick was a sure giveaway in those days for a woman.

WCT: It was interesting that in the 1930s, two decades before Eisenhower's executive order, gays and lesbians had it easier in Washington. So, was the Lavender Scare something that the Red Scare morph into or was it something that the Red Scare simply enabled?

JH: That's a great question. It's really a combination. I think during the Depression and during the war years there were other things on people's minds than other people's sexuality. I think as we got into the 1950s, society in general became more conservative and more concerned about national security. That's when the idea that gay people might be a danger to us really took hold. I think it's another important message in the film, that what happened in the 1950s with The Lavender Scare was a reaction to that earlier time period when there was more acceptance to homosexuality or at least less discrimination. I think that's another important message for the times we are living in now, that for as much progress as we've made over the past decade or more, the struggle for equality doesn't necessarily continue in a straight line. There are setbacks as well as advancements and I think it's important to know that history.

WCT: You have Glenn Close narrating it and we hear the voices of Cynthia Nixon and David Hyde Pierce reading letters and diary entries of victims. What does their participation bring to the film?

JH: I think they are all great actors. In earlier rough cuts, we had anonymous people reading those parts and as good as they might have been, there is a certain talent in being able to deliver the lines. So, I think artistically it raised the film to another level and their names and their celebrity is helpful in attracting an audience.

WCT: Although you started on this a decade ago and it will be out in June, in a weird way it's almost fitting. Do you know what I'm getting at?

JH: Definitely. I now like to say that this was my plan all along. [Laughs] Not only because of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, but I think it has more relevance now than it would have a few years ago.

The Lavender Scare recently aired nationally on PBS, and can be pre-ordered at educate.tugg.com/titles/the-lavender-scare. The movie will be out on DVD/Blu-ray and VOD later this year.

See related: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/WTTW-hosts-screening-of-The-Lavender-Scare/66330.html .


facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email





Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

Champaign center reveals Pride theme 2019-09-12 - The UP Center of Champaign County has announced the theme for the 10th annual C-U Pride Parade and Fest: 50/10: "Queer History, Our ...


Gay News

Filmmaker Martell discusses web series Damaged Goods 2019-09-11 - A Chicago-based filmmaker and production house head is preparing for a second season of his web series about the lives of young Chicagoans ...


Gay News

ACE Comic Con Midwest Oct. 11-13 2019-09-10 - ACE Comic Con Midwest will be at the Donald E. Stephen Convention Center in Rosemont on Oct. 11-13. Guests for this year's show ...


Gay News

SHOWBIZ Designer dies, Kristen Stewart, Oprah, Freddie Mercury 2019-09-10 - Chris March—a costume designer who rose to fame after appearing on season four of Bravo's reality show Project Runway—died of a heart attack ...


Gay News

MOVIES Reeling festival rolls out new LGBT films 2019-09-04 - Reeling 2019, the 37th annual edition of Chicago's LGBT film festival, kicks off Sept. 19, and lasts through Sept. 29 in various venues ...


Gay News

NUNN ON ONE COMEDY Rachel Dratch talks Biance del Rio, gay friends 2019-09-03 - Rachel Dratch is originally from Massachusetts; she moved to Chicago to further her comedy career by working with The Second City and ImprovOlympic. ...


Gay News

WORLD Bermuda Pride, Russian bakery, marriage in Oaxaca 2019-09-03 - Organizers of the first Bermuda Pride parade, which took place Aug. 31, said they were overwhelmed with the outpouring of support, The Royal ...


Gay News

SHOWBIZ 'Judy,' Jill Soloway, John Cameron Mitchell, Octavia Spencer 2019-09-03 - Decca and Republic Records announced the release of two star-studded duet, to appear on the brand-new album Judy ( the soundtrack to the ...


Gay News

In a first, Arcola event to include LGBTQ group 2019-09-03 - On Saturday, Sept. 7, the 49th edition of the Arcola Broom Corn Festival will include its first LGBTQ-themed parade entry—consisting of a group ...


Gay News

Comic Con dazzles with stars, cosplay 2019-09-03 - Thousands of pop-culture aficionados ( many donning the costumes of their favorite characters ) visited Rosemont's Donald E. Stephens Convention Convention Center on ...


 



Copyright © 2019 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor


 



About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.