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Policies of Pride: Stonewall at 50

The Policies of Pride is a special series curated by the LGBTQ Policy Center at Roosevelt House, in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots–the event which marked the birth of the modern LGBTQ movement.

With film directors, authors, activists and policy makers, we are looking back at our remarkably successful struggle for equality, and forward to all the policy challenges that still lie ahead.


Film Screening and Discussion – The Lavender Scare

The Lavender Scare is a documentary film about a little-known chapter of American history — when, during the panic of the 1950s Cold War, President Eisenhower deemed homosexuals “security risks” and vowed to rid the federal government of all employees discovered to be gay or lesbian.

Following the screening, Josh Howard, director of The Lavender Scare, and the winner 24 Emmy Awards, mostly for his work on the 60 Minutes, joined in conversation with Charles Kaiser, Acting Director of the LGBT Social Science & Public Policy Center at Roosevelt House.

As The Lavender Scare reveals, tens of thousands were fired from their jobs in a decades-long effort by the U.S. government to rid the federal workforce of homosexuals.. But the mass firings had an unintended effect: they stirred outrage in the gay community. In addition to illuminating a largely forgotten part of American history, The Lavender Scare, narrated by Glenn Close, and featuring the voices of Zachary Quinto, T. R. Knight, Cynthia Nixon, and David Hyde Pierce, is a timely reminder of the value of vigilance and social action when civil liberties are under attack.


Remembering Audre Lorde

Remembering Audre Lorde commemorated the life and legacy of the late Audre Lorde, marking what would have been her 85th birthday this month. Lorde was the first African American and first woman poet laureate of New York, appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo. This evening of tribute and recollection included a panel discussion and poetry readings featuring many who were close to Lorde and were influenced by her: Jacqueline Nassy Brown, Associate Professor, Anthropology, Hunter and the Graduate Center; poet Cheryl Clarke, an administrator and teacher at Rutgers for more than 40 years, and founder of the school’s Office of Diverse Community Affairs and Lesbian-Gay Concerns; Blanche Wiesen Cook, Distinguished Professor of History and Women’s Studies, John Jay and the Graduate Center; Donna Masini, Professor of English at Hunter; and Meagan Washington, poet, adjunct professor of literature and composition, Hunter. Moderator: Daniel Hurewitz, Associate Professor of History at Hunter.

Lorde, one of Hunter’s most distinguished alumni, attended the college from 1954-1959, studying Library Science, and earning a Master’s degree in that subject from Columbia University in 1961. At Columbia, she met Edwin Rollins, whom she married in 1962. Their wedding reception took place at Roosevelt House. In 1981, Lorde accepted the Distinguished Thomas Hunter Chair and taught at Hunter until 1986. Lorde also taught in the Department of English; today an annual prize for undergraduate excellence in poetry and prose is named in her honor. Lorde was a mentor at the Audre Lorde Women’s Poetry Center, housed at Roosevelt House in the 1980s-90s prior to its renovation.


LGBTQ Rights in New York City: Looking Back and Looking Forward

For the LGBTQ Rights in New York City: Looking Back and Looking Forward event, the New York City Commission on Human Rights and the LGBTQ Policy Center at Roosevelt House marked the 33rd anniversary of the passage of the New York City gay civil rights law, in 1986, and a distinguished panel discussed the current climate for LGBTQ rights.

The panelists were: Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, then members of the City Council who voted in favor of the bill; James Esseks, Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project; and former City Councilman and State Senator Tom Duane.

Carmelyn P. Malalis, Chair and Commissioner, the New York City Commission on Human Rights, introduced the evening. Charles Kaiser, Acting Director of Hunter’s LGBTQ Policy Center, moderated the discussion.

Carolyn Maloney and Ruth Messinger both played key roles in the passage of the bill as Council members, after a battle of more than a decade to get it out of committee and on to the floor, where it was finally approved by 21 to 14 on March 20, 1986. The panelists will discuss why in 1986 it was so difficult to pass the bill, and how that experience can help understand present and future challenges to safeguarding and extending LGBTQ rights. Progressive majorities in the New York state and city legislatures may foster local advances — yet what are the federal challenges as the judicial landscape changes? What are the issues affecting the trans community, including the right to serve in the military?


The LGBTQ Movement at a Crossroads: A Conversation Between the Generations

On the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, which marked the beginning of the modern gay liberation movement, LGBTQ Americans enjoy unprecedented freedom and acceptance.  LGBTQ people have the right to marry, the right to serve openly in public office, including our own Speaker of the New York City Council and the newly elected Mayor of Chicago, and even the capacity to run for president, so far without sexual orientation becoming a major issue in their campaigns, as South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has demonstrated.

But we also face a backlash from Washington, which is trying to expel trans service people from the military, even as the Department of Health and Human Services considers new regulations that would literally write trans people out of existence in the eyes of the Federal government.

Two of the leading LGBTQ activists of our time, Ria Tobacco Mar and Urvashi Vaid, took a look back at 50 years of progress, and forward to the next decade of challenges, including LGBTQ homelessness, a Congress which still refuses to pass a national non-discrimination act, and the appointment of scores of judges committed to undermining fifty years of LGBTQ progress in the courts.  The two panelists discussed all this and more in a conversation with three Hunter undergraduates: Cole Dempsey, a creative writing major and Secretary and Treasurer of the Queer Students Union; Max Pecora, who is studying music and computer science and navigating disability and life an LGBT+ student on campus; and Ryan Davida Silva, a transgender artist, and vice president of Lesbians Rising of Hunter’s Queer Student Union.


A conversation with Barney Frank

The LGBTQ Policy Center at Roosevelt House hosted a special conversation with Former Congressman Barney Frank 

For nearly two decades, Barney Frank was the most prominent openly gay member of the United States Congress.  First elected to represent the 4th Congressional District of Massachusetts in 1980, he came out as openly gay in 1987.  In 2012, he became the first member of Congress to marry someone of his own sex.  Congressional staffers regularly voted him the smartest member of the House.

As chairman of the Financial Services Committee, Frank was one of the two principal authors of the Dodd-Frank act, which brought about the most sweeping reform of the financial services industry in modern times.

After Congressman Frank’s opening remarks at Roosevelt House, a panel of four Hunter undergraduates, Andrew Shkreli, Cat Watson, Jackie Fennell, and Sergio Mota interviewed him about the future challenges facing the LGBTQ movement.


Peter Shinkle: Ike’s Mystery Man, the Secret Lives of Robert Cutler

Roosevelt House welcomed Peter Shinkle, a veteran journalist and the author of Ike’s Mystery Man. Shinkle’s book is a remarkable biography of Robert Cutler, Dwight Eisenhower’s right-hand man for national security at the White House–and a closeted gay man at the center of gay love triangle.

Cutler served in the government during the height of the “lavender scare,” a terrible period in American history when thousands of federal employees lost their jobs just because of their sexual orientation.  The biggest revelation in Shinkle’s book is that Cutler oversaw the executive order signed by Eisenhower that led to the purge of so many of his fellow gay employees.

Drawing on thousands pages of unpublished diaries and letters, Shinkle draws a startling portrait of a tortured public official. He also captures the painful conditions in the nation’s capital in the early 1950’s: “A strange climate of paranoia and dishonesty permeated Washington, a city where vicious hunts for homosexuals were led by men themselves suspected of being gay [like McCarthy and Cohn], where people laughed as [Joseph] Welch and McCarthy sparred maliciously over the words pixie and fairy … and where senators practiced the art of gay blackmail against political foes.

Shinkle discussed his book in a conversation with Charles Kaiser, the acting director of the LGBTQ Policy Center at Hunter College, and the author of The Gay Metropolis, which is being republished in an updated edition in June for the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.  Please join us for what promises to be a fascinating discussion.

Peter Shinkle worked for 19 years in the news business, most recently as a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He covered the federal court system, and wrote investigative stories on subjects ranging from improper disposal of radioactive waste to the political influence of the payday loan industry and the employment of undocumented immigrants by a major retailer. He is the great-nephew of his book’s subject, Robert Cutler. Peter lives with his wife Marguerite Ross Shinkle in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.