Washington, D.C., has always been a city of secrets. James Kirchick’s Secret City includes many. For decades, the specter of homosexuality haunted Washington, and the mere suggestion that a person might be gay destroyed reputations, ended careers, and ruined lives.
At the height of the Cold War, fear of homosexuality became intertwined with the growing threat of international communism, leading to a purge of gay men and lesbians from the federal government. In the fevered atmosphere of political Washington, the secret “too loathsome to mention” held enormous, terrifying power.
Utilizing thousands of pages of declassified documents, interviews with over one hundred people, and material unearthed from presidential libraries and archives around the country, Secret City is an unusual chronicle of American politics. Beginning with the tragic story of Sumner Welles, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s diplomatic advisor and the man at the center of national scandal, James Kirchick examines how homosexuality shaped each successive presidential administration through the end of the twentieth century.
Cultural and political anxiety over gay people sparked a decades-long witch hunt, impacting dynamics ranging from the rivalry between the CIA and the FBI to the ascent of Joseph McCarthy, the struggle for Black civil rights, and the rise of the conservative movement. Among other revelations, Kirchick tells of the World War II–era gay spymaster who pioneered seduction as a tool of American espionage, the devoted aide whom Lyndon Johnson treated as a son yet abandoned once his homosexuality was discovered, and how allegations of a “homosexual ring” controlling Ronald Reagan nearly derailed his 1980 election victory.
Sean Strub is a long-time LGBT and political activist who first went to Washington, DC, as a young closeted man in 1976, to operate a ‘Senators Only’ elevator in the U.S. Capitol. He was the first openly HIV+ person to run for federal office and today serves as Mayor of Milford, Pennsylvania.
At the height of the Cold War, fear of homosexuality became intertwined with the growing threat of international communism, leading to a purge of gay men and lesbians from the federal government.