Criminal – Lavender Scare

avatars-000128129445-pvtfbd-t500x500Episode: Lavender Scare

Series: Criminal

Release Date: 06/15/2018
Producer and Host: Phoebe Judge

Episode Link:

Tags: History, Queer, Sexuality, Cold War, Lavender Scare, Homophobia, Gay Rights, Lesbian, Military, Red Scare, McCarthyism History, Soldier, US History, American History, Veteran, Oral History, Women’s History, LGBTQ History



Narrative/Microhistory/Oral History Interview This episode tells the story of the Lavender Scare through the experience of a woman, Helen James, who was serving in the US military when she was dishonorably discharged for accusations that she was a lesbian. The episode situates her experiences within the broader Cold War-era Lavender Scare and concludes by discussing how veterans sharing this experience challenged this institutionalized homophobia.

Notes: Kera Lovell: I like assigning this podcast because it offers a personal side to this form of homophobia and creates empathy for the discrimination queer people in this era faced. As mostly an oral history interview with James, it focuses more on her emotions. It is clearly a hard subject for her to discuss so sometimes she doesn’t go into much detail regarding the harassment she experienced.

You can see more photos like these donated by James to the National Air and Space Museum archived online:

Assignment Ideas:

1) Primary Source Analysis: The GI Press Collection offers a great opportunity for students to learn more from the perspective of US soldiers.

2) Primary Source Analysis: Resources for History Teachers has a list of primary sources on the Lavender Scare that you can pair with the podcast, including CBS & ABC clips: and Executive Order 10450 barring the employment of homosexuals in the federal government:

3) Podcast Comparison: There are a few other podcast episodes on homophobia in the military, including the episode Oliver Sipple from Nancy:

4) Comparative Analysis: The podcast could be paired with an analysis of Trump’s recent trans ban in the US military, like this one from BBC: In addition, the NYC Trans Oral History Project could offer more resources for a comparative oral history analysis of the lives of queer and trans people:

NASM-9A14833-059B (1)
Helen James during her time in the Air Force before she was dishonorably discharged for being accused of being a lesbian.

Potential Reflection Questions:

1) What was the Lavender Scare? How did this broader national fear shape the experiences of individuals like Helen James and why?

2) Why did fear of homosexuality become coupled with the fear of communism and revolt? Or rephrased: How did the conditions of the Cold War lead to the criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans?

3) By criminalizing homosexuality, how did the Lavender Scare limit opportunities for gay men and women and bisexuals Americans beginning in the 1950s?

Other Relevant Sources:

Wiki overview:

Book: David Johnson’s The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government:

Article: Judith Adkins in Prologue Magazine at

Site: List of sources compiled by Robert Maloy:

Book: Lillian Faderman’s Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers is a really great read on lesbian history for undergraduate students:

Oral History Collection: Experiencing War: Speaking Out, LGBT Veterans:

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