Because the psychiatric community regarded homosexuality as a mental illness, gay men and lesbians were considered susceptible to blackmail, thus constituting a security risk. U.S. government officials assumed that communists would blackmail homosexual employees of the federal government who would provide them classified information rather than risk exposure.
In 1950, the same year that Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed 205 communists were working in the State Department, Undersecretary of State John Peurifoy said that the State Department had allowed 91 homosexuals to resign.
McCarthy hired Roy Cohn — widely believed to be a closeted homosexual — as chief counsel of his Congressional subcommittee. Together, McCarthy and Cohn were responsible for the firing of scores of gay men from government employment, and strong-armed many opponents into silence using rumors of their homosexuality.
The term for this persecution was popularized by David K. Johnson's study of this anti-homosexual campaign, The Lavender Scare, which drew its title from the term "lavender lads," used repeatedly by Sen. Everett Dirksen as a synonym for homosexuals. In 1952 he said that a Republican victory in the November elections would mean the removal of "the lavender lads" from the State Department. The phrase was also used by Confidential magazine, a periodical known for gossiping about the sexuality of politicians and prominent Hollywood stars.
See also 
- Advise and Consent
- Joseph Alsop
- Blue discharge
- Boise homosexuality scandal
- Civil Service Reform Act of 1978
- Executive Order 10450
- Executive Order 11478
- Executive Order 13087
- Florida Legislative Investigation Committee
- Fruit machine (homosexuality test)
- Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies
- Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida
- John W. Hanes, Jr.
- Frank Kameny
- Martin and Mitchell Defection
- R. W. Scott McLeod
- Carmel Offie
- Samuel Reber
- Seduction of the Innocent
- Sexual orientation and the United States military
- Charles W. Thayer
- Arthur H. Vandenberg, Jr.
- Walter Jenkins
- Ayyar, Raj. "Historian David K. Johnson: Exposes the U.S. Government's Anti-Gay Crusades". Gay Today.
- Representative Miller (NE). "Homosexuals in Government." Congressional Record 96:4 (March 29, 1950), H4527
- "Smiling Jack". Time. August 22, 1955.
- Johnson, David K. (2004). The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government. University of Chicago Press.[page needed]. ISBN 0-226-40190-1.
- Stephen J. Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War, 2nd ed. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), p. 44; Byron C. Hulsey, Everett Dirksen and his Presidents: How a Senate Giant Shaped American Politics (University Press of Kansas, 2000), 48–9
- Samuel Bernstein, "Lavender Lads Bartone Babes", The Advocate, February 27, 2007. On the association of a variety colors with homosexuality, see Venetia Newall, "Folklore and Male Homosexuality", Folklore, vol. 97, no. 2, 1986, 126
- Melendez, Barbara (June 9, 2010). "Book Lavender Scare To Be Documentary". University of South Florida News.
- "Film Documents Antigay Witch Hunt," The Advocate online, March 5, 2012, accessed June 15, 2012
- Robert D. Dean, Imperial Brotherhood: Gender and the Making of Cold War Foreign Policy (University of Massachusetts Press, 2003), ISBN 978-1-55849-414-5
- Longernecker v. Higley, December 22, 1955
- The Lavender Scare - official website for documentary film