During the Cold War era, fear and hatred of communism was extended to those who might be seen as susceptible to blackmail, including gays who worked for the federal government. The belief that "sex perverts" were a threat to the security of the country became part of a witch hunt that started with Senator Joseph McCarthy's investigations and led to a federal policy signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 authorizing the dismissal of tens of thousands of federal employees.
A screening of Josh Howard's film on the era, The Lavender Scare, was sponsored by local PBS affiliate WTTW and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events on June 15 at the Chicago Cultural Center. The film was followed by a panel discussion with historian John D'Emilio and Reader publisher Tracy Baim, with WTTW's Alex Silets moderating the event.
The movie, based on David K. Johnson's book The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, focuses on Frank Kameny, a Harvard-trained astronomer who was fired from the federal government and for decades continued to write letters to fight his dismissal. He took on the cases of other federal government employees who had been dismissed and his fight became an early spark for the "homophile" movement, attracting activists from other parts of the country for the early "Annual Reminder" pickets in Philadelphia.
The film, featuring the voices of Glenn Close, Cynthia Nixon, Zachary Quinto, T. R. Knight and David Hyde Pierce, will air on WTTW-11 on Wed., June 19, at 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.; Thursday, June 20, at 1:30 a.m.; and Saturday, June 22, at 3:30 a.m. More information at schedule.wttw.com/episodes/477816/Lavender-Scare.