Two women stand in a stairwell looking upset in 'Fellow Travelers.'

‘Fellow Travelers’ Shows the Devastation of the Lavender Scare

Showtime’s Fellow Travelers is a historical romance showing the secret lives of the LGBTQ community from the 1950s to the 1990s. Episode 2 shows just how the Lavender Scare of the 1950s rocked the lives of those working in the government.

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Fellow Travelers mostly follows the epic love affair of Hawk Fuller (Matt Bomer) and Tim Laughlin (Jonathan Bailey). In episode 2, “Bullet Proof,” we see more of the other characters and just how perilous it was to be gay during the 1950s. Senator Joseph McCarthy is well known for his crusade against communism, also called the Red Scare. His department also lumped in “queers” as existential threats to the United States and democracy as we know it.

At the end of episode one, we saw McCarthy (Chris Bauer) announce Executive Order 10450, which barred any homosexual from working in the government. It was that statement in the show, and real life, that started the Lavender Scare.

The Lavender Scare

During the 1950s, it was believed that gay people could be more easily influenced and drawn to communism, since they were already on the fringes of society and considered “sinners.” It’s obvious the church has never been very far from the state in our country, no matter what the Constitution says. The term “Lavender Scare” combines the use of “Red Scare” and the phrase “lavender lads,” which was a term for gay men at the time.

Senator McCarthy and his team linked communism and homosexuality with being morally bankrupt and a sign of mental illness. He also used these points to keep people from speaking out against him, claiming you were a communist or gay if you weren’t with McCarthy. Interestingly, since the 1950s, there have been rumors that Joseph McCarthy himself was gay. His number two guy in command, Roy Cohn, was also rumored to be gay.

Fellow Travelers brings these allegations to light.

Ruining lives with the Lavender Scare

In the show, a friend and colleague of Hawk and Tim, Mary Johnson (Erin Neufer), is a lesbian working in the state department. Although women were far less likely to be outed, they were still targeted. Her girlfriend, Caroline (Gabbi Kosmidis), also works for the government. The two live together under the guise of being roommates. No one questions two ladies trying to stick to a limited budget while they work on their careers—that is, until a male coworker harasses Caroline repeatedly to go on a date with him.

After refusing him politely multiple times, Caroline breaks down and says she isn’t interested in men. Since he was rejected, the man goes to the McCarthy team to report her. The report launches a full investigation into Caroline and Mary’s lives. Federal agents visit their home, talk to their friends and family, and scrutinize every detail of their lives. Mary uses her fake relationship with Tim (they were each other’s beards) to save herself and toss Caroline under the bus.

The investigation ends Caroline’s career in government and forces her to move from Washington D.C. back to her parents’ home in Ohio. We don’t see how Caroline handled the mess. However, we do see Mary weeping in bed and touching the spot where Caroline usually slept. The close call also causes issues in Tim and Hawk’s relationship. Hawk fears getting caught visiting each other’s apartments. It’s gut-wrenching that being with the person you love may end up with a trial for treason.

(featured image: Showtime)

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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.