Renewed Repression

With the return to peacetime conditions, the millions of Americans who had encountered gay people and relationships in the services or war economy saw this temporary opening-up of U.S. society come to an end. Most of the new wartime gay venues closed their doors, as service people were demobilized and the bulk of the new women workers were sent home from the factories.

The lid of sexual orthodoxy came crashing down, and a dark age was about to dawn for gay people. But the genie of lesbian and gay experimentation had been let out of the bottle. Things could never be quite the same again. One of the enduring effects of the war was the large number of lesbian and gay ex-service people who decided to stay in the port cities to retain some sexual freedom, away from their families and the pressure to marry.

In the 1940s and 1950s, post-war reconstruction and the shift to consumer production, taking place against the background of the Cold War, resulted in the authorities heavily promoting the model of the orthodox nuclear family to buttress the social and economic system of capitalism. The other side of the coin was a clampdown on those who stepped out of the magic circle of matrimony, parenthood, and homemaking by engaging in same-sex relationships.

The inquiries of the House Un-American Activities Committee led to thousands of homosexuals losing their jobs in government departments. The ban on the employment of homosexuals at the federal level remained in place until 1975. In the District of Columbia alone, there were 1,000 arrests each year in the early 1950s. In every state, local newspapers published the names of those charged together with their place of work, resulting in many workers getting fired. The postal service opened the mail of LGBT people and passed on names. Colleges maintained lists of suspected gay students.