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ImageOut: The Rochester LGBT Film Festival

Program 03: The Lavender Scare

Directed by Josh Howard

Next Generation Series, Documentary Feature, Saturday, Oct. 7 / USA / 2016 / 79 mins

Program 03: The Lavender Scare

Dryden Theatre (George Eastman House)
October 7, 2017 11:45 am Buy Tickets


Washington, D.C. in the 1930s was a sanctuary for gays and lesbians. The New Deal meant an abundance of new federal jobs, and many of the people filling these positions were part of the LGBT community, leaving behind their smaller, more conservative hometowns. Gays and lesbians were able to live openly in DC.

Following World War II, a perfect storm was forming that would dramatically change life for gays and lesbians in America. Once Senator Joseph McCarthy led the crusade to rid the U.S. of Communists, a new target was needed. The Kinsey Report’s revelation that 37% of American men had had a homosexual experience helped determine who would be the next focus of the witch hunt.

In the 1950s, homosexuality was still regarded as a disease, more dreaded than TB. This fear served the interests of the Republican Party: having been out of power since the Depression, the GOP was desperate to win. Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon decided to campaign on “cleaning up” the government and restoring morality. It paid off.

One of Eisenhower’s first actions was signing an Executive Order banning “immoral” people from federal employment. And by “immoral,” he meant “gay.” He argued that gays and lesbians posed a national security risk, as they could be subject to blackmail due to the threat of being exposed. Over the next four decades, tens of thousands of gays and lesbians lost their jobs as a result.

Based on the book by David K. Johnson, The Lavender Scare serves as a powerful reminder of the vulnerability of the LGBT community to the exploitation of fear and ignorance by those in power. Donald Trump’s proposed ban of transgender military service members earlier this year makes it all too clear that our struggle continues. When U.S. Army astronomer Frank Kameny became the first gay federal employee to fight back after being fired during the “Lavender Scare,” he became the unlikeliest of heroes, helping create the national gay rights movement, and demonstrating how critical it is that we persist and endure.

— Christopher Roesch



  • JURY AWARD, Best Documentary – qFest New Jersey LGBT Film Festival
  • JURY AWARD, Best Documentary – FilmOut San Diego
  • JURY AWARD, Best Documentary – qFest New Jersey LGBT Film Festival
  • AUDIENCE AWARD, Best Documentary Runner-Up – OUTshine Miami LGBT Film Festival
  • AUDIENCE AWARD, Best Documentary – Out Film CT Connecticut LGBT Film Festival
  • COURAGE AWARD – Out Here Now Film Festival (Kansas City)
  • FREEDOM AWARD – FilmOut San Diego
  • SOCIAL EQUALITY AWARD – Garden State Film Festival (New Jersey)
  • OFFICIAL SELECTION – Frameline San Francisco LGBTQ International Film Festival
  • OFFICIAL SELECTION – Inside Out Toronto International LGBT Film Festival
  • OFFICIAL SELECTION – qFLIX Philadelphia LGBT Film Festival
  • OFFICIAL SELECTION –  QDoc LGBT Film Festival (Portland)

The Human Rights Campaign
Pride At Work AFL-CIO

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Dates & Times

Program 03: The Lavender Scare

Dryden Theatre (George Eastman House)
October 7, 2017 11:45 am Buy Tickets