June commemorates LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+) Pride Month, recognizing the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising on June 28, 1969, which symbolizes the LGBTQ+ rights movement. In the decade prior, before Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Stormé DeLarverie gained recognition for their activism, Frank Kameny’s LGBTQ+ activist work grew out of the period of American history known as the “Lavender Scare.”
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the fear of communism, known colloquially as the “Red Scare” or “McCarthyism,” gripped the United States. The subsequent investigation by the federal government into the lives of its LGBTQ+employees, known as the Lavender Scare, began in the late 1940s.
In 1950, S. Res. 280 of the 81st Congress, 2nd Session (private law), authorized the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments (now the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs) to conduct an unprecedented “investigation on a Government-wide scale of homosexuality and other sex perversion” (S. Doc. 241, 81st Cong., 2d Sess., at 1 (1950) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 11401). This document, along with other declassified Congressional documents, can be found in the United States Congressional Serial Set, which the Law Library continues to digitize for public access.
The subcommittee acknowledged at the outset of the investigation that “reliable, factual information on the subject of homosexuality and sex perversion [was] somewhat limited.” Despite this, homosexuality was considered a felony in all 50 states at the time, and as the report further states: “The criminal courts and the police have had considerable experience in the handling of sex perverts as law violators, but the subject as a personnel problem until very recently has received little attention from Government administrators and personnel officers” (S. Doc. 241, 81st Cong., 2d Sess., at 1 (1950) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 11401).
With this, the subcommittee claimed that “homosexuals and other sex perverts are not proper persons to be employed in Government for two reasons; first, they are generally unsuitable, and second, they constitute security risks” (S. Doc. 241, 81st Cong., 2d Sess., at 3 (1950) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 11401).
A perceived “security risk” was considered to be susceptibility “to the blandishments of the foreign espionage agent” (S. Doc. 241, 81st Cong., 2d Sess., at 5 (1950) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 11401). As acts of homosexuality were outlawed at the time, many LGBTQ+ individuals were victimized by acts of blackmail, threatening to expose the lives they were forced to live in secret, and thus did not report these injustices to the police. The Subcommittee argued that the LGBTQ+ community would be “easy prey,” citing instances where “Nazi and Communist agents have attempted to obtain information from [federal] employees…by threatening to expose their abnormal sex activities” (S. Doc. 241, 81st Cong., 2d Sess., at 5 (1950) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 11401).
Dr. Eric Cervini discussed his new book, The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America, with the Library’s Chief Communications Officer, Roswell Encina, on Thursday, May 28, 2020. His work chronicles the experience of astronomer Frank Kameny. Kameny, a gay man, was targeted during the Lavender Scare and fired from his federal position at the Army Map Service. Afterwards, he co-founded the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Mattachine Society, an LGBTQ+ activist group. His legacy as an activist is reflected in the Library’s Kameny Papers collection.
Similar movements garnered momentum over the next 50 years, continuing the struggle for LGBTQ+ civil rights. In the early 2000s, two landmark Supreme Court decisions defended the rights of same sex-couples under the Fourteenth Amendment. Lingering state sodomy laws were invalidated in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, and the right to marry was guaranteed to same-sex couples as a result of the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision. As of June 15th, 2020, the Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia decision ruled that Article VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination on the basis of sex, extends to gender and sexual orientation. This case also ruled in favor of late plaintiffs Aimee Stephens (R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), a transgender woman, and Donald Zarda (Altitude Express v. Zarda) a gay man, who were both fired on the grounds of their gender and sexual orientation, respectively.
The Law Library also collects multilingual resources on the subject of LGBTQ+ rights worldwide. Recent acquisitions, including LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights: in human rights perspectives, Unioni civili e genitorialità: le nuove frontiere della giurisprudenza: interesse del minore e genitorialità same sex, and La primavera rosa: identidad cultural y derechos LGBTI en el mundo, demonstrate the ongoing importance of legal protection and representation for the LGBTQ+ community.