Survival in the Belly of the Beast

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SECRET CITY
The Hidden History of Gay Washington
by James Kirchick
Henry Holt. 848 pages, $38.

 

IN 1964, one Bob Waldron, a friend and admirer of Lyndon Johnson, was betrayed in the course of a background check on his application to work in the LBJ White House. Waldron was just one of countless gay men in Washington whose ambitions and talents were thwarted, their careers often destroyed, in the decades-long panic about homosexuality that ruled our nation’s capital in the postwar era.

            Rescued from near-obscurity by James Kirchick’s sweeping history, Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington, Waldron’s downfall was a footnote, and collateral damage, to the more momentous scandal involving Walter Jenkins, a top aide to Johnson who was arrested for having sex with a man in the basement of a Washington YMCA just weeks before the 1964 election. The casual trashing of Jenkins once the incident came to light seems emblematic of an oppressive atmosphere that weighed on the lives of gay people in Washington for more than half a century.

     Secret City flips a light switch on, illuminating over six decades and eleven presidential administrations, from Roosevelt to Clinton. What’s shown is an epic story with a cast of thousands—well-known and forgotten, villains and victims. It’s a history of gay Washington, where

Mark Moran, a writer based in Washington, D.C., writes about medicine, science, health, and mental health.

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