Korea and the Cold War Introduction (1950s-60s):

It seemed as if Americans were just cleaning up the tickertape from World War II victory parades when the Cold War began. When the Cold War heated up in Korean, gays and lesbians donned the uniform once again to defend their country. The Cold War fight against communism led to a fear of “subversives” broadly construed to include homosexuals. This “lavender scare” was based on the assumption that gay military personnel and federal employees were susceptible to blackmail by enemy agents who might reveal gay Americans’ secret sexual identities. According to historian David Johnson, gay Americans were no more of a threat to national security than their straight comrades during the Cold War.

Pioneering gay activist and politician Harvey Milk served in the Navy on the U.S.S. Chanticleer during the Korean War. (Photos from the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.)
The illustrator of this propaganda poster was a gay GI during the Korean War. After being propositioned twice in boot camp, he saw gay life and liaisons around his unit headquarters in Tokyo. Some of the men were exclusively gay, and others were simply looking for companionship during a lonely period of their lives. (Courtesy of anonymous donor.)
The Cold War saw the codification of rules against homosexuality in the new Uniform Code of Military Justice (1951). Article 125 of the UCMJ defined “unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex” as an offense worthy of court-martial. Few “unnatural” heterosexual acts were ever prosecuted under the code.
There were witch-hunts during the Korean War, particularly for lesbians. Maurine McFerrin DeLeo served as an air force nurse during the war. It wasn’t an investigation of her homosexuality that drove Maurine from the air force, but the unwanted sexual advances of male superior officers. (Photo courtesy of Maurine McFerrin DeLeo.)
Witch-hunts for gays and lesbians were much worse on the homefront during the Cold War than on the front lines of the Korean war conflict. Historian David Johnson chronicles this domestic "lavender scare" in his book. (Book from the GLBT Historical Society library.)
A World War II combat veteran and Harvard alumnus, Frank Kameny was fired from a civilian job with the army in the 1950s during the purges of hundreds of gay employees from the federal government. Kameny channeled his anger about government prejudice into political activism in the 1960 and early 70s. He was never elected to office, but did raise gay rights as an issue in Washington. (Photo courtesy of Joe Tresh.)