One Equal World

Sixty Years Since the Lavender Scare

Posted on: May 6, 2013

Last week marked the sixtieth anniversary since the “Lavender Scare,” when President Eisenhower signed an executive order that made it illegal for LGBT people to be employed by the federal government. Like its much more publicized counterpart, the Red Scare, this scare ruined countless lives as the government rooted out, exposed, and fired LGBT workers.

The purging continued for another thirty years after it began.

The Lavender Scare purging of homosexuals in federal government began sixty years ago.

And though it’s been sixty years since the signing of the order, the federal government actively hunted down LGBT workers for thirty years after that. The McCarthy-esque law didn’t just ruin careers, either; it also ruined lives—and in some cases literally destroyed them. In a time when being openly gay was taboo, many killed themselves rather than be exposed to family and friends.

The law came into effect during a time when homosexuality was commonly thought to be a mental illness; gays and lesbians were thought to be a security threat and susceptible to blackmail by communists wanting classified information. McCarthy and Roy Cohn (ironically believed to have been a closeted homosexual) sought out and fired many gay workers. They also fought opposition by blackmailing others with threats of spreading rumors of homosexuality.

The Lavender Scare began 60 years ago.

The Lavender Scare began 60 years ago.

Today, there are far more protections for LGBT people in the workplace—depending on the state you’re in. Federal government workers are now protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation, but unfortunately those laws don’t protect workers in private companies and corporations. Some states have passed non-discrimination laws that are LGBT inclusive, but most do not have those protections. To be sure, there are still many battles ahead before full equality in the workplace is reached.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is a bill that would provide basic yet express protections in the workplace for LGBT people, with the exception of religious organizations, the military, and small businesses. It was first presented in Congress in 1994 and has been revised and re-presented several times since then. It has yet to be passed.

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