A film called The Lavender Scare may sound amusing now, but it was no laughing matter in the 1950s, when the mass firings of federal employees marked as being sexually perverted “• those perceived as LGBT “• began.
Currently, LGBT Americans have no federal protection from being fired because of their sexual orientation, and a project on Kickstarter aims to highlight exactly why it’s needed. In 1953, during the much better known Red Scare, Executive Order 10450 drastically changed what defined which people might pose a security risk. On the list of characteristics that made a person no longer eligible for federal employment, effective immediately, was “sexual perversion.”
This began a viciously anti-gay witch-hunt that resulted in a wave of mass firings. It continued virtually unchecked until Executive Order 13087 was signed in 1998; during the forty-five years in between, hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs, and many saw their careers ruined”•and some of those who lost everything were driven to suicide.
Producer and director Josh Howard was shocked to hear this when he read the book The Lavender Scare by David K. Johnson, which prompted the campaign. On the Kickstarter page, he says, “I found the stories of the people who were caught up in the witch hunt to be fascinating and heartbreaking. I wanted to capture those stories on film before it was too late, so they could be preserved for history.”
The bulk of the work on the film is finished; Johnson and his team have completed interviews with many of the former federal employees who were fired under Order 10450, as well as surviving family members of some who committed suicide. They also conducted interviews with high-ranking government officials of the day who were responsible for the content of the order, as well as its execution.
Another reason Johnson wants to get this story told is its positive impact on LGBT history; a side effect of the Lavender Scare was that it enraged the LGBT community enough to take a stand, years before Stonewall.
Johnson told 429Magazine, “One of the reasons we’re excited about this project is that it fills in an important chapter in the story of LGBT people in America that has been completely overlooked. But we see the film as having a broader message as well. It’s a cautionary tale that is very relevant today, about how easy it is to trample the rights of any minority group, and scapegoat an entire group of people, during times of concern over national security.”
Their Kickstarter campaign is seeking $50,000 to finance editing and post-production, as well as licensing for the archival material they collected. The campaign ends on May 26.