“Eradicating This Menace”: Homophobia and Anti-Communism in Congress, 1947-1954


Dissertation addressing what has come to be known as the "Lavender Scare," and what was known in the popular press of 1950 as the "Pervert Purge": the investigation and firing of gay and lesbian civil servants during the late 1940s and 1950s.

This dissertation examines the relationship between homophobia and American politics as suggested in the political rhetoric of early Cold War "anti-communism" in general and specifically in the U.S. Senate's 1950 investigations of "Homosexuals and Other Moral Perverts in Federal Employment." Avoiding the usual simplification of "anticommunism" into a political-ideological debate devoid of gender and sexuality analysis, this work expands upon the traditional definition of "anti-communism" as against a "foreign" threat to include oft-hidden domestic fears of (especially male) homosexuality--in the context of a preoccupation with masculinity and national security--both in society at large and as potential "security risks" in government. Fear of "latent homosexuality" became a touchstone for McCarthy-era conspiracy-theorists using "masculinist" political rhetoric. Such fears distorted most U.S. government leaders' views during the Cold War; the 1950 investigations led to the extension to every level of federal, state and city government of the military's anti-homosexual, World War II-era screening and discharge policies. Later, the Eisenhower administration implemented a screening process against such "security risks" more stringent than those of the Truman years.

This project details the circumstances and progression of the 1950 investigation, including an examination of the writings, worldviews and views on homosexuality of key leaders--Republican Senator and Minority Floor Leader Kenneth Wherry, who vowed to "eradicate" the "menace" of homosexuals in government; and Democratic Senators Lister Hill and Clyde Hoey--the response of the Truman administration, the press and constituents; and the effects of the inquiry on government policy and employees, some of which lasted into the 1990s. The work thus delves into little-explored areas of a topic fraught with sexual and political fears, and allows for the construction of a model for future studies of anti-liberal and anti-homosexual attitudes.

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Posting to Rainbow History Project website courtesy of the author.




Randolph Baxter; rbaxter@Exchange.fullerton.edu, ““Eradicating This Menace”: Homophobia and Anti-Communism in Congress, 1947-1954,” Rainbow History Project Digital Collections, accessed June 15, 2024, https://archives.rainbowhistory.org/items/show/1461.

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