Image - James Kirchick and the U.S. Capitol
Past Event

James Kirchick: The Hidden History of Gay Washington

For decades, the specter of homosexuality haunted Washington. 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 more than 100 people, and material unearthed from presidential libraries and archives around the country, James Kirchick's Secret City is a chronicle of American politics like no other. Beginning with the tragic story of Sumner Welles, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s brilliant diplomatic advisor and the man at the center of “the greatest national scandal since the existence of the United States,” Kirchick illuminates how homosexuality shaped each successive presidential administration through the end of the 20th century. Cultural and political anxiety over gay people sparked a decades-long witch hunt, impacting everything 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.

Join us for a talk with author James Kirchick and the story that could transform our understanding of American history.

About the Speaker

James Kirchick has written about human rights, politics and culture from around the world. A columnist for Tablet magazine, a contributing writer to Air Mail, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, he is the author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age. Kirchick’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement. A graduate of Yale with degrees in history and political science, he resides in Washington, D.C.


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Author photo courtesy the speaker; main image background image is detail from Secret City book cover, published by Henry Holt and Co.

June 13, 2022

The Commonwealth Club of California
United States

Image - James Kirchick

James Kirchick

Journalist; Author, Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington; Twitter @jkirchick

Image - Michelle Meow

Michelle Meow

Producer and Host, "The Michelle Meow Show," KBCW TV and Podcast; Member, Commonwealth Club Board of Governors—Co-host

Image - John Zipperer

John Zipperer

Producer and Host, Week to Week Political Roundtable; Vice President of Media & Editorial, The Commonwealth Club of California—Co-host