The Lavender Scare as Family Story: Lyndon Johnson, Male Friendship, and the Walter Jenkins Case

Thursday, January 6, 2022: 2:30 PM
Rhythms Ballroom 2 (Sheraton New Orleans)
Timothy David Stewart-Winter, Rutgers University–Newark and New Jersey Institute of Technology
This paper examines an unusual instance in which the President of the United States was forced to conceal future contact with a longtime aide and friend for the duration of his presidency. In 1964, Walter Jenkins, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s longest-serving staff assistant, resigned following his arrest while having sex with another man in a YMCA men’s room. The case illuminates dimensions of the Cold War lavender scare that have often been hidden in accounts of antigay persecution drawn from the records produced directly by the purges or by the homophile activists who challenged them. Viewed through Johnson’s eyes, the Jenkins scandal shows that the hammer of antigay sexual policing during the Cold War lavender scare came down not solely on men who had a gay identity already or would understand themselves as gay in the future, nor even the many more whose intimate lives put them at risk of surveillance and arrest. Rather, the state punished a much broader cast of characters: the dependents, neighbors, wives, children, and friends of the purged, and all those forced to recalibrate their personal ties to the outcast. The tie between Johnson and Jenkins was another male intimacy policed and pressed into a closet. The Jenkins scandal also reveals the shattering impact of the lavender scare on male friendship and on a heterosexual family—as the first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, drove home in an unusual public statement drawing attention to Jenkins’s vulnerable wife and children.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation