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The Lavender Scare: Red Scare Neaeby

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Witch hunts are born in times of mass panic or anxiety, often when people mix hysteria with personal beliefs so that they can victimize, scapegoat, or otherwise blame they look down on. The Lavender Scare of the 1950’s is a textbook example. Throughout the 1950’s, America was engulfed in the hysteria of the Second Red Scare, also known as McCarthyism. During this time everyone—but especially minorities—were vulnerable to being unfairly persecuted in the name of patriotism. 

It was then that people started persecuting and firing lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from the government under the reasoning that they were ‘sexual perverts’ who were easily blackmailed by communists, and therefore untrustworthy. (Adkins) Now that we’re no longer in a time of panic and since we’ve come a long way in terms of accepting homosexuality, it’s easy to see that the Lavender Scare was caused by hysteria and prejudice.

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The Lavender Scare itself began in the early 1950’s during the second half of McCarthyism. However, unease over the topic had been growing for quite a while before then. During and especially after World War II, younger people started to move into cities, where anonymity and population density made same-sex partners easier to find and same-sex relationships. This made the general public more aware of the existence of homosexuality. (Adkins) 

Then Sexual Behavior in the Human Male written by Alfred Kinsey and published in 1948 drew attention from its bold claim that 37% of males have had at least one homosexual experience. (Kinsley 656) The research is now believed flawed by sample bias, but that didn’t stop it from making a splash with the general public, eventually becoming a bestseller. The Lavender Scare was a witch hunt due to amount of hysteria from McCarthyism and growing awareness about homosexuality. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual indivuduals ended up being harassed, persecuted, and fired for ‘sexual perversion.’

The effects of the Lavender Scare set back LBGT movements by quite a bit. During and for a while after the event, people were forced to stay closeted for fear of losing their job due to persecution and Executive Order 10450 which made ‘sexual perversion’ in the government grounds for termination. Being terminated for ‘sexual perversion’ often meant becoming a social exile and victim of harassment and hate crimes. Some would be forced into confessing, much like during the Salem witch trials. 

Many of them would end falling into poverty or committing suicide without a job or friends shortly after being exposed. (Adkins) Even some heterosexuals would have their lives ruined by false accusations. Most importantly though, the Lavender Scare quieted the growing homosexual populations and communities in bigger cities just as they were starting to take hold. It forced people to turn down promotions and job offers and give up on certain positions for fear of discovery.

The Lavender Scare, like the Salem witch trials, was caused by unfounded hysteria and ended up having extremely negative outcomes. In both cases, people were unfairly used as scapegoats and the law didn’t protect them. People died by false accusations and ruined reputations from biased courts of law that used deceitful claims. Throughout both cases and after all these years, we still haven’t found anyone who was truly guilty of what they were accused of. There were never any homosexual communists, just as there were never any witches. Just false accusations and a heavy air of hysteria.  

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