November 21, 2017 at 4:19 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
‘Lavender Scare’ turned down by D.C. LGBT film festival
Charles Francis, anti-gay purge, Mattachine Society, gay news, Washington Blade

Charles Francis, president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, has questioned why ‘Lavender Scare’ hasn’t screened in D.C. (Photo courtesy of Charles Francis)

The president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, which was originally founded by D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny in the early 1960s, has expressed concern that D.C.’s Reel Affirmations LGBT film festival declined to show an award-winning documentary film in which Kameny plays a key role.

Charles Francis said he learned last week that Reel Affirmations declined to show in its annual film festival in October a documentary called “Lavender Scare,” which tells the story of how thousands of gay federal workers were fired from their jobs in Washington in the 1950s and 1960s as part of a massive purge of homosexuals.

Kameny was among those fired from his job as an astronomer at the U.S. Army Map Service in 1957, prompting him to become the first known gay person to challenge his dismissal from a federal government job on grounds of homosexuality.

It is based on a book by the same name authored by gay historian David Johnson, who wrote that the massive homosexual purges in federal government agencies in Washington and other locations became known as the “lavender scare.”

The film includes an interview of Kameny telling about the firings and how he emerged as a leader in the early homosexual rights movement, which sought to fight what Kameny and others called the government’s persecution of gays. Kameny died in 2011.

The Reel Affirmations festival is a project of the DC Center for the LGBT Community. Kimberley Bush, its director, declined to say why “Lavender Scare” wasn’t selected for showing at the festival this year.

Josh Howard, the producer of “Lavender Scare,” said he submitted applications to have the film shown in 123 festivals throughout the country through a company called FilmFreeway. He said about 50 festivals accepted the film and 73 turned it down. He said he isn’t upset that Reel Affirmations declined the film, saying festivals have a wide range of reasons for the types of films they choose to show.

“I wish it would have gotten into all of them, but that’s unrealistic,” Howard said. “I don’t criticize them for not including me.”

Francis, who said he raised the issue of the film not being shown in D.C. without consulting with Howard, said he and others he knows who know about the film are puzzled over why it has yet to be shown in the city where much of its story took place.

“How can it be possible that Dr. Franklin E. Kameny and the Lavender Scare are not worthy of a single screening in this town? he asked. “This is the first documentary to tell the story of the 1953 Eisenhower Executive Order that banned gays and lesbians from federal employment for decades,” he said.

David Mariner, executive director of the DC Center, which oversees Reel Affirmations’ operations, said he trusts Bush’s judgment on the selection of films and her decision not to give an explanation for declining to show “Lavender Scare.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Thom Prentice

    It is pretty despicable that the political correctness police of LGBT/DC film fest turned down the exemplary documentary of ACTUAL fascist repression of homosexuals in federal employment IN WASHINGTON DEE CEE for crissakes; said fascist repressionsrebelled against by Franklin Kameny and many, many others in the 1950s on a great risk to lives and careers — especially in this time of INSIPID, JUVENILE, PUERILE, NARCISSISTIC INCESSANT HYSTERICAL WHINING BY BOYS WEARING MAKEUP AND SKIRTS THAT THEIR CONSTITITUIONAL RIGHTS ARE BEING VIOLATED BY NOT HAVING THE PRICILEGE OF HAULING THEIR MALE JUNK INTO WOMENS RESTROOMS TO TINKLE!

    • Scott Henry

      Can anyone inform me where I might be able to see this film, either in a theatre close to DC, or a place where I can download/stream it?

      • Michael Airhart

        The producers decline to make the film available for viewing outside of film festivals.

        • Brian’s Ions

          Spin it all you want. It won’t change the fact that this is Reel Affirmation’s big fail. Most, I suspect, can readily see that. RA ought to simply admit it — and promptly fix it.

          Otherwise, it’s an insult to tens of thousands of area LGBTs, directly or indirectly adversely affected by the Lavender Scare policies– perpetrated over decades.

          And it will remain a stain on Reel Affirmations and The DCC.

  • David Mariner

    I was at Frank Kameny’s grave on Veterans Day as I have been every year since his passing, and continue to honor him by maintaining this facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/FrankKameny/ .

    I have not spoken to Mr. Francis about this film, nor has anyone at the Center. I have not spoken to Josh Howard about this film, nor has anyone at the DC Center. I truly miss the days when people would pick up the phone and call before sending out an angry tweet or press release. Mr. Francis, I hope you will come visit the DC Center and see the truly amazing work that takes place there every day. Join us for Thanksgiving if you don’t have plans! Everyone is welcome.

    And next time you are upset about something at the Center, I hope you will reach out directly!

    All the Best – David Mariner

  • MichaelBedwell

    With all due respect, Mr. Mariner, you have NOT “been at Frank Kameny’s grave on every Veterans Day since his passing.” NO ONE HAS, for there is no grave for Frank in Congressional Cemetery, a fact that the “Blade” has repeatedly documented after his shameless heir broke his agreement to let at least some of Frank’s ashes be interred there after the plot was purchased by HOBS. In fact, some of those articles have been posted on the Frank Facebook page you claim to be “continuing to honor him by maintaining.” E.g. “Kameny’s ashes still not buried 2 years after death” – October 10, 2013. If you genuinely cared about Frank as much as you claim to, you would honor him by having absorbed that he has no grave there; that the markers on that plot are cenotaphs not gravestones—AND have seen that Reel Affirmations added “Lavender Scare” to their program this year INSTEAD OF not only blindly backing Kimberley Bush’s ignorant, indefensible decision to refuse it but also her arrogant refusal to even give a reason. While you’re Googling “cenotaph” might we suggest you also Google “leader”?

  • David Mariner

    I was at Frank Kameny’s memorial site at the Congressional Cemetery on Veterans Day as I have been every year since his passing, and continue to honor him by maintaining this facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/FrankKameny/ .

    I have not spoken to Mr. Francis about this film, nor has anyone at the Center. I have not spoken to Josh Howard about this film, nor has anyone at the DC Center. I truly miss the days when people would pick up the phone and call before sending out an angry tweet or press release. Mr. Francis, I hope you will come visit the DC Center and see the truly amazing work that takes place there every day. Join us for Thanksgiving if you don’t have plans! Everyone is welcome.

    And next time you are upset about something at the Center, I hope you will reach out directly!

    All the Best – David Mariner

  • MichaelBedwell

    Thanks, David, for just removing me as an administrator of that Frank Kameny FB page. You take criticism so well.

  • Skeptical Eye

    There is much discussion taking place that the movie was rejected from Reel Affirmations because it focuses mainly on white gay cis men. If this is not true, than Mr. Mariner should explain the criteria on which it was rejected. His response so far, to dismiss his critics for, apparently, daring to criticize his decision (for shame!), is unworthy of the position he holds in our community. I hope he gets off his high horse and explains his decision or does the right thing and accepts the film.

    • David Mariner

      So the film festival has already taken place. This decision was made a long time ago. I don’t have any input on the films selected, nor do I want to. I appreciate the amazing staff and many volunteers who dedicate their time to reviewing the many, many films submitted to the festival, and I am not going to second-guess their decisions. I know the folks who volunteer their time to review all those films have a lot of difficult decisions and I appreciate their hard work. It’s largely volunteer driven though, so if anybody wants to volunteer and be part of the process next year, you are welcome. Frank Kameny was a friend of mine. He received an award from the DC Center shortly before he passed away. We continue to honor his legacy. This will be my last post on the topic, but of course, my doors are always open. I hope that in the future if folks have questions or concerns, they will at least have the decency to discuss the matter with us before sending out an angry tweet or press release.

      • Brian’s Ions

        So how does dismissive contempt for the DC area’s LGBT history invite further $upport for such exclusionary decision-making?
        —-
        “it’s a heartache you have for the rest of your days.”

        “All of this needs to be said. People need to know.”

        f/ The Lavender Scare
        (see trailer clip)

  • lnm3921

    Lavender Scare sounds like a worthy documentary to allow people to decide on their own if they want to see it or not. Stop the censorship especially if you are unwilling to say why you won’t accept the film! We are adults NOT kids and can decide for ourselves what we want to watch!

  • Brian’s Ions

    The decision is disappointing– and frankly, inexplicable. *DC* is The DC Center’s middle name, after all. it deserves a lot of ‘second-guessing’ from LGBT residents and stakeholders throughout DC and the National Capital region.

  • MichaelBedwell

    Mr. Mariner again protests that no one had “the decency to discuss the matter with us before sending out an angry tweet or press release” BUT also proclaims “I don’t have any input on the films selected, nor do I want to. I am not going to second-guess their decisions.” SO, attempting to discuss the matter with him wouldn’t have made any difference anyway. Sad. Just sad.

    • David Mariner

      Michael, the DC Center has a Director of Arts and Cultural Programs named Kimberley Bush – She is great at her job and she would have been the appropriate person to contact. I sure wish you would have called or e-mailed her before all the angry tirades online. And of course, if you had called me – I would have directed you to her.

      • MichaelBedwell

        No one is “great at her job” who refuses to answer the media’s question about an important decision affecting the community. And, again, you make clear calling you wouldn’t have changed a thing despite the job description of an executive including making executive decisions. In short, all your protestations and excuses to the contrary: this was botched from the beginning. Thank you.

  • Michael Airhart

    1. It is the choice of the documentary’s producers, not Reel Affirmations or the D.C. Center, to make the documentary available only to film festivals and not to organizations or individual viewers.

    2. The critics of Reel Affirmations decline to say which films should have been dropped to make room for “Lavender Scare.” They unjustly expect the festival leaders to second-guess and insult the worthy films that were shown. And there is no indication that they sought to work constructively with the festival planners in the preceding months, perhaps by raising funds to support additional showings.

    3. I don’t see identity politics in this controversy — except in the intentions of those who presume to override the film festival organizers and artists. Frank Kameny himself would not approve of the spirit of entitlement that is on display in some of these comments.

    • MichaelBedwell

      With all due respect, Herr Airhart, you purport to know what Frank Kameny would want, that he would agree with you and your absurd, puerile, arrogant accusation of dissenters’ “spirit of entitlement.” I believe it safe to humbly say that both Mr. Francis and I knew Frank better than you. But knowing him personally for many years isn’t necessary to know how important teaching others about our people’s history was to him, particularly our own people. One need look no farther than any of his decades of public speaking which always included an historical context and his participation in the earlier documentary “Gay Pioneers.”

      But not only was “The Lavender Scare”—one of the most important documentaries ever made about our community—rejected by Ms. Bush, one sees only three documentaries of any kind in this year’s Reel buffet serving as much cliched LGBT film festival crap on a cracker (e.g., the *”brain-draining” “Freak Show” – *MetroWeekly) as feasts such as “Apricot Groves” and “God’s Own Country.” Two of those documentaries are about events in other countries, and there’s nothing jingoistic about saying that, however good they might be in their focus, they—like the craptastic “Freak Show”—could have been saved for the Center’s ongoing film showings.

      If anyone has a “sense of entitlement” it is Ms. Bush who, per Mr. Chibbaro, refused to give any explanation for not booking “The Lavender Scare.” It is a fair question regardless of who asks it or where. Defending her refusal and blaming the victims of her poor decision making should be beneath anyone this side of 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue

      • Michael Airhart

        You continue to demand that the festival, and also a community leader who had little role in the festival, retroactively insult worthwhile films and their creators.

        I applaud the choice of balance of fiction and documentary. I applaud the balance of male and female protagonists. And I applaud the inclusion of foreign documentaries that educate us about gay neighbors that we know too little about.

        “Freak Show” sucked, but “Lavender Scare” wasn’t the only promising movie that got left aside, and “God’s Own Country” and “Apricot Groves” got great reviews.

        What role did you play in organizing and co-sponsoring the festival? If none, then you’re not a victim. Instead, volunteer to help expand next year’s festival.

        • MichaelBedwell

          “Insult”??? Are you new to English? Your bizarre word choices would suggest you are. But running with your construct—Ms. Bush insulted the DC-area LGBT community by booking crap like “Freak Show,” “Signature Move,” “I Dream in Another Language,” and various pieces of the “Shorts” rather than “The Lavender Scare” which, far from just “history,” is as relevant today as any other film, factual or fictional, she chose as the Trump Reich systematically does all it can to destroy LGBT rights advances. She insults the DC-area LGBT community NOW by refusing to comment—how Trumplike. The DC-area LGBT community is, thus, her victim twice over.

          • Michael Airhart

            Peace and blessings to you, Michael.

  • Kemwit Tall Tree

    This is just awful. What kind of lunacy is being engaged here when such a film can’t get into a festival like this?

    If this is about PC culture, then it’s time to pull the contributions we make to these organizations. No more $$ from me!

    Why would I contribute to an organization that has decided to no longer be inclusive of gay men?

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2018. All rights reserved.
Blade Blast

Get the latest LGBTQ news to your inbox every Thursday!