The Lavender Scare, an multiple award winning documentary from director Josh Howard, reminds viewers of a forgotten chapter in American history — that of LGBTQ civil servants during the Cold War. Most people are familiar with Senator McCarthy’s “red scare” tactics, but few movies look at President Eisenhower’s contemporaneous campaign to oust homosexuals and other “perverts” from government service. Over the second half of the 20th century, tens of thousands of gay Americans lost their jobs (and, in the case of some, their lives) as a part of the vicious and extra-legal campaign.
To tell the story of The Lavender Scare, Howard spoke not only to individuals affected by Eisenhower’s policies, but to the men who enforced the terror — some of whom seem repentant, others of whom are clearly oblivious to the consequences of their actions. Paired with these interviews are narrated excerpts from a huge paper trail, the result of Howard’s rigorous archival research. The latter half of the documentary focuses on the activism of Frank Kameny, an astronomer and activist who vocally challenged the government policies. The film deserves its awards for a nuanced, balanced portrait of a too-often-repressed history.