If you were queer in the 1950s and you heard someone say Roy Cohn's name around you, it made you squirm. Cohn, the homophobic gay lawyer, assisted Sen. Joseph McCarthy in hunting for communists in the U.S. government during the Red Scare and the lesser-known Lavender Scare, when at least 1,000 federal employees lost their jobs because they were gay, lesbian, or suspected to be. Cohn also served as a lawyer and close mentor to President-elect Donald J. Trump. Cohn "never saw himself as a gay man, even though he engaged in sex with men," Jim Downs, the author of Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation, tells The Advocate. When Cohn was growing up, in the 1920s and '30s, men having sex with men "were pathologized and criminalized and vilified, so nobody wanted to be 'gay,'" Downs says. One particular lesson to learn from that, says Downs, is that LGBT identity should be looked at as a "political identity" not just as "who we have sex with." The author drew parallels between Cohn and the gay Republican tech investor Peter Thiel, who is a Trump supporter.
January 18 / Advocate