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Lavender Scare

  • Published
    13th Jul, 2022
Context

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, has come under intense criticism from the LGBTQ community for its name.

About

What was the Lavender Scare?

  • The Lavender Scare was the marginalisation of LGBTQ employees working in the US government’s offices during the 1950s and 1960s.
  • It is often described as a “witch-hunt”, where those suspected of being from the LGBTQ community were fired from their jobs.
  • Under President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Executive Order 10450, the investigation, interrogation and systematic removal of gay men and lesbians from the federal government became policy.
  • The policy was based on the unfounded fear that gay men and lesbians “posed a threat to national security because they were vulnerable to blackmail and were considered to have weak moral characters.

Who was James Webb?

  • James Edwin Webb was an American government official who served as Undersecretary of State from 1949 to 1952.
  • He was also the second appointed administrator of NASA.
  • Webb led NASA from the beginning of the Kennedy administration through the end of the Johnson administration, thus overseeing each of the critical first crewed missions throughout the Mercury and Gemini programs until days before the launch of the first Apollo mission.
  • He also dealt with the Apollo 1 fire.
  • In 2002, the Next Generation Space Telescope was renamed the James Webb Space Telescope as a tribute to Webb.

What was his role in Lavender Scare?

  • James Webb, as the head of NASA during that period, is alleged to have played a role in the dismissal of LGBTQ employees for their identity.
  • In 2021, four astronomers in the US wrote about the demand for renaming the telescope in ‘Scientific American’.
  • There is also an argument that Webb did not personally seek to remove the employees, but was merely following a government directive at the time.
  • However, others say that whatever his role may have been, the sackings undoubtedly happened under his watch.
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