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.”