Former 60 Minutes producer and now independent filmmaker Josh Howard is preparing a documentary, The Lavender Scare, about the mass firing of gay federal employees, designated as national security risks, in the 1950s and ’60s.
ABC News has a profile of Howard and the subjects of his film, such as Joan Cassidy, now 84, who left her post as a U.S. Navy intelligence officer after President Eisenhower issued an executive order in 1953 ordering the dismissal of all gays and lesbians employed by the U.S. government. The excuse was that gay people would be targets for blackmail and therefore likely to expose state secrets. “We were supposed to be in touch with the Russians,” Cassidy told ABC News.
Cassidy was one of thousands who either resigned or were fired because of the order, which she says initiated a “witch hunt.” Although she resigned, she noted it was out of fear. “I thought to myself, what if somebody goes digging around and finds out, I would lose everything,” she said. Among those fired was pioneering gay activist Frank Kameny, discharged from the U.S. Army Map Service in 1957. Kameny, who died in October, gave one of his last interviews for the film.
The film, which is based on a book by David K. Johnson, is expected to be ready for release at film festivals this fall. President Clinton rescinded Eisenhower’s order in 1995, but “there are still battles to be fought,” said Emmy-winner Howard, who is gay. He noted that President Obama is considering an executive order requiring companies doing business with the government to have LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination policies. “That would be huge, particularly in these times of outsourcing,” he said.
Watch a trailer for the documentary below.