America is in the grip of a new ‘Lavender Scare,’ spreading fear of LGBTQ+ people

May 21, 2023 3:30 pm
The cover of the Hoey committee report released Dec. 15, 1950, concluding that homosexuals were unsuitable for employment in the federal government and constituted security risks in positions of public trust

The cover of the Hoey committee report released Dec. 15, 1950, concluding that homosexuals were unsuitable for employment in the federal government and constituted security risks in positions of public trust. (Canva illustration; records of the U.S. Senate, RG 46 via National Archives)

In the early 1950s, the Eisenhower administration fired or barred thousands of gay, lesbian, and transgender people from federal government jobs. It was the Cold War era when fear of communists, called “The Red Scare,” overtook America.

A questionable connection between communists and “homosexuals” arose from the following “reasoning.” Communists would threaten to out “homosexuals,” blackmailing them into giving state secrets to communist governments. Therefore, “homosexuals” posed a national security risk. This was called “The Lavender Scare.”

To discredit LGBTQ+ people and to justify persecuting them, they were called “perverts” and “sexual deviants.” They were portrayed as sexual predators who wanted to corrupt young men and boys. Once people were outed, their job prospects dried up. This senseless discrimination ruined lives. And took lives. This hysteria occurred despite no proof that a queer person ever cooperated with a foreign government.

Seventy years later, America is again in the grip of a Lavender Scare. Republican-majority states are copy-and-pasting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation from one statehouse to the next with frightening speed and ruthlessness. Legislation like “Don’t Say Gay” bills, halting gender-affirming care for transgender youth, and banning LGBTQ+-themed books seek to silence, erase, or drive out queer people. Requiring a trusted teacher to out a gay or transgender student puts the teacher in an impossible moral position and potentially puts the student in danger.

Also, like during the 1950s’ Lavender Scare, queer people (and their allies) are labeled with a dangerous slur. The word used now is “groomer.” This inaccurate characterization implies, as before, that LGBTQ+ people want to “recruit” children into their “lifestyle.”

This word and this attitude are dangerous because we’ve seen time and again that words influence behavior. Note the recent increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans, Latinos, and Jews following the use of racist language. We’ve also seen a spike in death threats to politicians and federal employees.

When people are told to fear them, “the others” become easy targets. We are told “the others” are dangerous; we have a right to defend ourselves from “them.” Slurs are rooted in misinformation and fear. Hurtful words become hateful attitudes. Hateful attitudes become violent acts.

The truth is LGBTQ+ people want what we all want: To be treated with dignity. To live and raise families in safety. To gain an education. To have fulfilling jobs. To be afforded the same rights as any other American citizen. To have the right to exist. Queer people are not out to destroy your way of life, harm your children, or “replace” you. We ask for peaceful, respectful coexistence.

Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s good that only a few of Iowa’s 30+ anti-LGBTQ+ bills became law. Or that the Iowa Legislature will stop at condemning only transgender youth. The bills that were not passed are still out there. Other rights will fall — rights like gender-affirming care for transgender adults, same-sex marriage, and anti-discrimination protections in hiring and housing.

The hard-earned progress made in the last 50 years could be undone within the next decade. Remember, Iowa was among the first states in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009, six years before it became the law of the land. Being anti-LGBTQ+ is not an Iowa value. The Iowa Legislature’s majority party is importing these ideas and forcing them on us, because they can.

Becoming an ally is not hard but it takes more than attending Pride Fest once a year. Educate yourself, then educate others. Get involved civically. Stand up for LGBTQ+ people. Write your elected officials. Vote for candidates who support LGBTQ+ rights. Our friends need us more now than ever!


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Gordie Felger
Gordie Felger

Gordie Felger is a volunteer member of two LGBTQ+ organizations (CR Pride and Free Mom Hugs) and a One Iowa volunteer activist. He produced a marketing campaign called The Power of Pronouns. He is a friend of many LGBTQ+ folks and an ally to the community.