John Jay Hosts The New York City Debut Of The Lavender Scare

John Jay Hosts The New York City Debut Of The Lavender Scare

John Jay Hosts The New York City Debut Of The Lavender Scare

The thought of federal employees being dragged into humiliating interrogations because they didn’t wear lipstick, seemed too masculine or feminine, or went to a bar or a party with other gay people, seems preposterous and outright illegal to us today. But the truth of the matter is, this unconscionable government-sponsored witch hunt happened for decades, ruining the lives of gay people, sending them into hiding and prohibiting them from fruitful careers. That’s why The Lavender Scare, a documentary from Josh Howard, Producer and Director, and Kevin Jennings, Executive Producer, was screened at John Jay on December 5, to shed light on this historical injustice. The film revealed how the U.S. government fired federal employees they discovered to be homosexual.

Josh Howard and Mitchell Draizin enjoying time with John Jay students and faculty
Josh Howard and Mitchell Draizin enjoying time with John Jay students and faculty

“They were targeted simply because they were gay. They were dismissed without any kind of justice.” —Josh Howard

The Injustice
Just as McCarthyism, or the Red Scare, spread fear and accusations of communist influence, the Lavender Scare made people question if gay men and lesbians were security risks or communist sympathizers—all without a single case or example supporting this theory. “These were loyal hard-working Americans who were serving in the military and civil-service jobs. They were targeted simply because they were gay,” said Howard. “They were dismissed without any kind of justice. They didn't have a hearing or the ability to present their side of the story. In many cases, they didn't know who accused them of being gay.” Howard went on to explain that many young people today don’t really understand how difficult life was for LGBTQI people in the beginning of the 1940s and the years that followed. “Homosexual acts were illegal in 49 out of 50 states, and so gay people were criminals. They were mentally ill, and that's how the government, society, and religion treated us,” said Howard. He went on to describe how police would raid gay bars and practice mass arrests of people in gay bars for no other reason than that it was a gay bar. “I talk to young people today and they say, ‘Are you sure that really happened?’ We’ve come so far from those difficult days.”

The Spark
The events depicted in The Lavender Scare happened long before Stonewall, and long before the Gay Rights Movement was fully underway. In fact, out of fear and intimidation, most of the federal employees that were targeted in the documentary painfully accepted their terminations and tried to move on without drawing more attention to their situations. “Probably thousands of people had been fired before any one of those people stood up and said, ‘Why am I being fired and what did I do wrong?’” said Howard. “Then Frank Kameny, a Harvard trained astronomer and brilliant scientist, was fired because there was an anonymous allegation that he was gay. He was the first person to fight back and appeal his dismissal and file court cases.” Kameny and nine other people picketed the White House in 1965. It was the first Gay Rights demonstration that was ever held, igniting the Gay Rights Movement.

“It's a film that reminds us how easily fear and uncertainty foster acts of discrimination, rolling back the rights of an entire class of people,” —Karol V. Mason

The Responsibility
As a college focused on justice issues, President Karol V. Mason reminded the audience that the documentary spoke directly to our mission of exploring justice in its many dimensions. “It's a film that reminds us how easily fear and uncertainty foster acts of discrimination, rolling back the rights of an entire class of people,” said Mason. “I’m hoping that this is a call to action and a reminder for all of us about why we need to stay vigilant.” She went on to say that CUNY enrolls an estimated 17,000 LGBTQI students, and reminded them that they have a strong network of support, including: Christorpher Rosa, Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs; David Rivera, Co-Chair of the Center for LGBTQI Studies; and Mitch Draizin, the Chair of the CUNY LGBTQI Leadership Council, who helped make the film screening possible. We talked with a some John Jay students at the event, and learned more about their interest in the docmentary.

Yuliya Brodska, Josh Howard, Gina Capone
left to right,Yuliya Brodska, Josh Howard, Gina Capone

Gina Capone ’19
"The Lavender Scare screening was an incredible opportunity to be exposed to a justice issue widely discussed on our campus through a different lens. Having the director there for a Q&A also reinforced the notion that giving these stories a platform is always necessary—especially in our current day and age." 

left to right, Dillon Epperson, Annie Tenantitla, Marianne Mba
left to right, Dillon Epperson, Annie Tenantitla, Marianne Mba

Marianne Mba ’20
“I’m gay and I’m an Economics major, so I’ve had a lot of conversations about the Red Scare in relation to Communism. Recently, I saw another documentary on Netflix, and there was a small clip about the Lavender Scare in it. That made me really interested in the topic. I think it’s important that we’re having this film screening here on campus.”

Learn more about the documentary The Lavender Scare

Learn more about the CUNY LGBTQI Leadership Program