In 1953, President Eisenhower signed an Executive Order declaring that homosexual women and men were to be labeled “sexual deviants” and were banned from working in the U.S. government. It became known as the Lavender Scare. More than 5,000 men and woman working at home and abroad lost their jobs with the U.S. Government and were publicly outed. As a result, they were ostracized not only from their employers, but also their families and their government. Many took their own lives; although one could argue their lives had been taken from them.
My good friend and brilliant stage director Kevin Newbury instigated the idea for adapting Thomas Mallon’s novel Fellow Travelers into an opera. It has all the makings of a great opera—at the center is a romantic love story set amidst social upheaval and political corruption. It is beautifully intimate and painfully epic.
Gregory Pierce and Gregory Spears have created an extraordinary work of music-theater, maximizing what opera can do that a drama without music simply cannot. Music steps in where words fail. The characters who inhabit Fellow Travelers are unable to speak the truth, some out of real ignorance and others out of devastating fear. Theirs is “a love that dare not speak its name,” a quote from a poem by Lord Alfred Douglas, published in 1894 and referenced in Oscar Wilde’s gross indecency trial. Like many of the victims of the Lavender Scare, the great playwright and poet Oscar Wilde was found guilty of “sexual deviance,” was ostracized by his government, and died in impoverished exile.
As a gay man living in the 21st Century, I have a profound gratitude for the homosexual people who came before me. Too many of them were forced to live their lives in the shadows, where too many their stories have remained. It is an honor to shed light on the victims and the heroes of the Lavender Scare—may we do their story justice.