The Lavender Scare

    Tell Us Your Story

    Tell Us Your Story
    Apr, 17 2013
    Thousands of people were affected by the witch hunts that resulted from President Eisenhower's order to remove all gay and lesbian federal employees from their jobs. Some of those stories will be told in The Lavender Scare.

    But we know there are many more stories out there.

    If you have been the victim of employment discrimination, or have witnessed unfair treatment of a colleague -- either years ago or more recently -- we want to hear about it.  If you've participated in an effort to make your workplace a more welcoming place for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, we want to hear about that as well.

    Click the "comment" button and share your experiences! (Limit 4,000 characters).






    Dave commented on 21-Apr-2013 09:30 AM
    More than two decades ago, I was fired for being gay. It’s not something you forget.

    It was 1989 and I’d been hired as a researcher at a publishing firm. I was excited to work in a field I loved and the man who hired me told me how happy he was to bring me on board. We had so much in common, he said at the time. We’d gone to good schools, had MBA degrees, were tall and white, and loved media. He was twenty years older and said he saw himself in me.

    The first few months of working for him went very well. He introduced me to top executives, flattered me on my excellent work, invited me to socialize outside of the office, and was clearly invested in helping my career.

    That is, until he found out I was gay.

    It happened innocuously. When he asked me during lunch if I was dating, I said something vague. I didn’t go into details and kept the conversation gender free, which happened a lot back then. This was 1989 – more than thirty years since The Lavender Scare, twenty years after the Stonewall Riots, smack in the middle of the worst of the AIDS pandemic, and still a world away from equality.

    I said nothing to let him know that, despite some similarities, there was one big difference. Later that day, I found out that he’d suggested to a female colleague who knew my story that she fix me up with a female friend of hers. She’d told him I was gay, thinking it was no big deal.

    His attitude toward me changed immediately. He avoided eye contact, stopped giving me new assignments, and ceased all social contact. Was he disappointed that I didn’t live up to what he assumed was the golden trifecta of white, preppy, and straight? Angry that he’d championed a queer at work?

    A few awkward weeks later, I was summoned to his office, where he fired me, admitting there was no specific reason. It just “wasn’t a good fit.” I wasn’t aware of any recourse. A human resources manager who spoke with me post firing said that my employment was “at will,” even after I shared the real story. I heard from several colleagues that, after my departure, my former boss made derogatory comments about my being gay.

    I didn’t know how to fight back then. I worried about finding my next job if I made a stink. I had bills and student loans to pay. I didn’t tell family since, at the time, my father didn’t know I was gay. I didn’t have money for a lawyer and wasn’t convinced anyone would take a fired gay guy’s case. And frankly, I felt shame – find me a gay person back then who didn’t internalize a toxic level of that. I said nothing to anyone except my best friend, who was equally baffled as to what I should do about this blatant employment job discrimination. It was a scary, lonely time.

    I’ve learned subsequently how widespread LGBT employment discrimination is – and what a horrible history our country has with it. I get so angry when I think of the damage that employers have heaped upon our community. Seeing The Lavender Scare stories brought to life in the film’s trailer makes me imagine how even scarier it must have been for gays and lesbians fired back in the 1950s, when support and resources were even weaker than they were when I was canned in 1989.

    It makes me angrier still when I think of how rampant employment discrimination is today. Anyone LGBT who thinks this couldn’t happen to them is woefully naïve. We are a country in dire need of widespread “lavender” protections. I hope our stories feed a fire within us to stand up against employment discrimination and fight against workplace equality until there are LGBT protections in every state.

    We shouldn’t forget. Let the memories fuel action.
    Heidi Peck commented on 14-May-2013 08:16 PM

    I worked as an openly gay federal employee at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for more than 5 years in New York. As a federal employee, I faced ongoing harassment regarding my sexual orientation. I reported this to EEOC, OSC, AFGE, and more in a case that lasted almost 2 years. But my department (social work) continued to retaliate against me, including in job assignment performance appraisals, etc. My supervisor retired during the investigation of my case, never speaking on the record. I do think that there were some good people at my local ORM office who did act competently, but this did not stop the day-to-day actions of management or overall negative impact on my career.

    Homophobia in the federal workplace is a widespread epidemic. Worse was suffering thru seeing other colleagues being discrimination against, including some who were veteran and completed almost 30 years of service. I participated in the VA LGBT SEP, but usually we got slaps on the wrists for speaking up. I brought my voice to the NYC Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, where I was appointed to an Advisory Board, They welcomed my experience being openly gay, and I brought my girlfriend to Gracie Mansion for Fleet Week and Veterans Day. I marched in the NYC Pride Parade every year. I played on a military rec softball league and always wore a pair of sweatpants with Provincetown written on the leg, when we practiced on Ft. Hamilton Army Base, even before DADT was repealed.

    Often I was met with responses demonstrating that workplace equality isn’t priority in our community, especially in New York where many just don’t understand. Although I'm in my 30s, I was disowned by my religious family when I came out. I always say, if I wouldn’t be forced back into the closet for my family then, I sure as heck won’t be forced back into the closet for a job now!

    Working with veterans was my passion. It seemed too unfair to have to give that up. I was deeply saddened by the stories of many who confided in me that served under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Eventually my feelings of depression and anxiety became unshakable. They started to affect my personal life, relationships, and overall self worth. In 2013, I made the decision to leave. Leaving my passion, hopes and dreams of a federal career, pride of coming from a military family, pension, friends, etc. behind. Luckily I did get a great job at a local LGBT organization, and am very happy today.

    My decision wasn’t easy. As long as gay employees continued to be treated this way at the VA, gay veterans will be discriminated against too. Words aren’t enough to express the grief I feel over what I’ve seen and heard.

    I am glad people are starting to pay more attention. The federal government is our nation’s largest employer! And in all 50 states it is still legal to discriminate against LGBT federal employees. There is a misinformed web of lies that is rampant, including on the hiring page which says they don’t discriminate based on sexual orientation discrimination. This is based on a Presidential Initiative to promote diversity in the workplace, and is ONLY for HIRING. I've seen all sorts of things twisted and misquoted by very popular news and LGBT sources. It's hard to find the facts, when what you're looking for is - what ISN'T there. Trust me, as soon as you go to EEO you find out the truth.

    All of the other protections passed by the different departments result in a confusing mess of checks and balances that equals, inequality. Until LGBT federal employees can proceed before EEOC just like all other protected classes, we cannot call this employee protection. Discrimination permitted on any level, means homophobia will prevail. Thank you for reading this. And if you’re a federal employee, please take care of yourself - I support you, i will continue to fight!
    James Stewart commented on 27-May-2013 10:53 AM
    In 1996 I was teaching public school in a small East Texas town. I was a veteran teacher of 19 years, but this marked my first year of teaching in this particular community. As I began teaching my second year, I was summoned to the principal's office where I was informed that three mothers of children in my classes suspected that I was gay. They were demanding that I be terminated immediately, every gay school teacher's worst nightmare. The principal encouraged me to simply “. . .let it all blow over.”

    My partner of 2 years, (now 20 years), and I were financially secure. I had published a series of piano books. My royalties would support us economically, but would we survive the strain emotionally? Ironically, I had been named teacher of the year by the Lubbock, Texas Music Teachers Association two years prior to my move to East Texas. I had always held a strong belief in myself, but no matter how much inner strength one may posses, when branded a sub-human pervert, your world changes quite dramatically. But I continued teaching, as the board requested. And the children were very supportive.

    In summary,

    1) The three parents continued meeting with the board monthly, demanding my termination.

    2) The community began boycotting the businesses of the parents, enraging them further.

    3) The Texas media had a field day, accusing me of outrageous behavior.

    4) I decided to hand in my resignation; the little community was literally being torn apart between my supporters and my adversaries.

    5) I was contacted by the television show, 20/20, then hosted by Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters, to agree to an interview.

    6) An enterprising and very persuasive young founder of GLSEN, Kevin Jennings, telephoned me and convinced me that sharing my story could accomplish much for the LGBT community. I concurred.

    7) At the end of the show, I was very pleased and grateful to hear Barbara Walters state, “When will we ever learn to treat people as individuals?”

    Following my resignation, we moved to Florida. The pressure was off until 2004, when President Bush announced his efforts to amend the constitution against LGBT marriages. We became the first gay couple to sue Governor Jeb Bush and the state of Florida for the right to marriage. Ironically, our lawyer was Ellis Rubin, the former lawyer for Anita Bryant. Ellis had decided his stance against the gays was wrong, and was attempting to 'atone for his sins'.

    Jerry Falwell sent three Liberty Council lawyers to derail our case. They succeeded. We returned to my native Oklahoma. Then Anita Bryant returned to Oklahoma where she joined Sally Kern in their crusade against the LGBT community. Sally's husband, minister Steve Kern, is preparing to run for the office of state senator. Senators Tom Coburn and James Inhoffe continue their gay bashing.

    At age 70 I have found it impossible to remain mute as our state leaders continue their defamation of the LGBT community. I have completed a narrative screenplay, focusing upon America's 20th century Culture Wars against Native Americans, African Americans and Gay Americans. Based upon a true story, the three individuals, one representative of each minority group, become life long friends, uniting to demand their civil rights.

    In America's 21st century judicial system, their adversaries proceed to throw “the good book” at them, until a wise old sage teaches them how to turn wounds into wisdom as they move from victims to victors. Please send Kevin Jennings our best wishes. Thank you, Mr. Jennings, for making a telephone call 17 years ago that made me aware that someone was on my side during one of the darkest periods of my life.

    Congratulations to the successful campaign waged by the members of the LAVENDER SCARE. We thank you, sincerely, for shedding light on one of the most evil, immoral acts against the LGBT community in the history of this country.

    James Stewart
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