The Lavender Scare

The Lavender Scare

Film Session(s)


78 minutes, USA, 2017



“We have information you are a homosexual. What do you have to say in your defense?”

That's the question federal agents asked tens of thousands of U.S. government workers in a decades-long effort to remove gay men and lesbians from the federal workforce.

The Lavender Scare is the first documentary film to tell the story of this vicious witch hunt -- and the unlikely hero who was thrust into the forefront of what would become the modern-day LGBT rights movement.

While the McCarthy Era is remembered as the time of the Red Scare, the headline-grabbing hunt for Communists in the United States, it was the Lavender Scare, a vicious and vehement purge of homosexuals, that lasted longer and ruined many more lives.

Before the government’s anti-gay witch hunt officially ended in 1995, tens of thousands of gay and lesbian Americans had lost their jobs. Some lost their lives. Partly based on the award-winning book by historian David K. Johnson, The Lavender Scare shines a light on a chapter of American history that has never received the attention it deserves.

It examines the tactics used by the government to identify homosexuals, and takes audiences inside interrogation rooms where gay men and women were subjected to grueling questioning about their personal lives. 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 an anti-gay frenzy that spread throughout the country in an era in which The New York Times used the words "homosexual" and "pervert" interchangeably, and public officials warned that homosexuality was a dangerous, contagious disease.

While the story is at times infuriating and heartbreaking, its underlying message is uplifting and inspiring. Instead of destroying gay men and lesbians, the actions of the government had the opposite effect: they stirred a sense of outrage and activism that helped ignite the gay rights movement.


Director(s): Josh Howard