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Popular Topics in Social Sciences
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Topics In the News
New Film Explores Gay Witch Hunts
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/05/11
Last updated on: 12/05/11
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Josh Howard's new film, The Lavender Scare, scheduled for release in 2012, explores the witch hunts of the 1950s and 1960s. It vividly reminds us that for gay men and lesbians the McCarthy-era was a time of police harassment, suspicions of disloyalty, and dismissals from jobs, especially in the public sector. The abuses of gay men and lesbians did not end with the repudiation of Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy in 1953, but continued into the 1960s and, with lesser intensity, beyond.

Directed by Academy Award-winner Howard, the film is based on historian David K. Johnson's 2006 book, The Lavender Scare. It is the first feature-length documentary film to tell the story of the U.S. government's ruthless campaign to hunt down and fire every Federal employee it suspected was gay.

Before the lavender scare was over, more than 10,000 federal employees had been fired. The film examines the tactics used by the government to identify homosexuals, and takes audiences inside interrogation rooms where gay men and lesbians were subjected to grueling and demeaning questioning. These stories are told through the first-hand accounts of the people who experienced them.

The Lavender Scare shows how the government's actions ignited a homophobic frenzy that spread throughout the country, affecting the lives of all gay men and lesbians whether they worked for the government or not.

But the harassment of homosexuals throughout the 1950s also led them to believe in the necessity of mutual support. Although fighting back was not always possible and many gay men and lesbians were affected by guilt and internalized the stereotypes of the era, the 1950s was also the beginning of activism in the lesbian and gay communities.

The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, which together inaugurated the American homophile movement, were in many ways shaped by McCarthyism.

Instead of destroying American homosexuals, the actions of the government had the opposite effect: they stirred a sense of outrage and activism that helped ignite the gay rights movement.

To learn more about film, visit the website The Lavender Scare.

Here is the trailer:

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