McCarthyism, Homophobia, and Homosexuality: 1940s-1950s

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Anti-communism and anti-homosexuality: late-1940s--early-1950s

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In David Ehrenstein's book, Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1928-1998 (pp. 114-115), he states that "so many" of the McCarthy era's "key figures (Roy Cohn, Whittaker Chambers, J. Edgar Hoover, and McCarthy himself) were closeted homosexuals whose anti-Communist zeal was spurred by fear of being found out."

What evidence do we have about the sexual acts, feelings, and identities of figures involved in McCarthy Era red-baiting and queer-baiting? How do we study rumors about the sexual orientation of people involved in the McCarthy Era repression? This entry attempts to explore that subject.

For example, how do we evaluate the following:

Harvey Matusow, an FBI informer and witness who later recanted and said he lied, is quoted as saying:

“See, Hoover and Cardinal Spellman and Cohn were part of a kind of closet gay group. Cohn’s rise to political power came because of his gay relationship with Cardinal Spellman. It was a high-level group of closet gays who kind of kept to themselves. If you look at Nazi Germany, there was a similar group in Germany that built the Nazi Party.”[1]

People Discussed

Chambers, Whittaker

Cohn, Roy

Holiday, Judy

Hoover, J. Edgar

McCarthy, Joseph

Robbins, Jerome

Spellman, Cardinal Joseph

Tolson, Clyde


Davis, Lisa E. "Undercover Girl -- The FBI's Lesbian: A Note on Resources." CLAGS News. Summer 2003/Vol. XIII, No. 2, page 8.

Ehrenstein, David. Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1928-1998. New York, William Morrow & Co, Inc., 1998. Update: Open Secret: Gay Hollywood--1928-2000 (Paperback) <pub data?>

Fariello, Griffin. Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition. An Oral History NY: W.W. Norton, 1995.

Johnson, David K. The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hardback: ISBN: 9780226404813 Published January 2004. Paper: ISBN: 9780226401904 Published May 2006.

Mallon, Thomas. Fellow Travelers. [Novel about gay love affair between two men set in the 1950s.]

Navasky, Victor. <Jerome Robbins blackmail by FBI discussed.>


  1. Quoted in Griffin Fariello, Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition. An Oral History (W.W. Norton, 1995) p. 101. Thanks to Lisa Davis for this quote.