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Humanities LibreTexts

1.3: Government

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  • THE ANTI-COMMUNIST FRENZY following World War II led to the Lavender Scare in which gay and lesbian people were targeted by the federal government. Anti-homosexual crusaders argued that gay and lesbian people’s innate immorality and mental instability left them vulnerable to blackmail by Communist agents. No evidence corroborated this accusation, but gay and lesbian people had no political influence nor advocates to counter the hyperbolic claims against them. In 1953, President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, banning lesbian and gay people from working for the federal government or any of its private contractors. Consequently, the FBI launched a campaign to root out gay and lesbian people from federal employment. Thousands of gay and lesbian people were ultimately fired as security risks from federal employment in the 1950s and 1960s. The investigation also had a broader impact, as unknown numbers of LGBTQ people simply quit their federal jobs rather than face a possible FBI inquiry. Many state and municipal governments, as well as private employers, followed the federal lead to root out gay and lesbian employees. In some professional fields, this campaign effectively created blacklists of gay and lesbian people who could no longer find employment in their respective fields.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Bayard Rustin 1912 – 1987

    AN OPENLY GAY AFRICAN-AMERICAN QUAKER PACIFIST, Bayard Rustin was one of the most important and influential civil rights activists of the 20th century. He schooled Martin Luther King Jr. about Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence. With King, he formed the Southern Christian Leadership Council. In 1963, he conceived and then organized (in just eight weeks) the March on Washington, site of King’s “I have a dream” speech. However, on the eve of the march, he was denounced on the Senate floor as a “Communist, draft dodger, and pervert.” Eventually Rustin was forced out of the civil rights movement by internal politicking in which his homosexuality left him vulnerable. He continued to advocate a protest agenda informed by a belief that “economic inequality is the graveyard of democracy.” Rustin was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

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