Queero or Villain?

New biography explores the closeted gay man behind Eisenhower’s success

Eisenhower (center) with administration officials, including Cutler (far right). Courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives

They call it the “Pink Scare.”

At the height of the Red Scare, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt for accused communists in Washington and in Hollywood, the demagogue, along with his chief lieutenants, Roy Cohn and Richard Nixon, also began searching out accused gay men and women. Thus did the Pink Scare begin, ruining the lives of countless patriots over suspicion of their sexuality.

A new biography profiles the life of Robert Cutler, one of the closeted gay men who used the Pink Scare as a means to shield his own sexuality from scrutiny.

Unlike other gay men–namely Cohn and J. Edgar Hoover–who did the same, however, Cutler held a position of enormous power: that of National Security Adviser (the first in history) for President Eisenhower.

There, Cutler did enormous good in helping Eisenhower develop American foreign policy in the space race, fighting global communism and in development of more advanced nuclear arms.

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The new biography, written by Cutler’s great nephew Peter Shinkle, reveals a man tortured by his secret life. Away from the bustle of Washington, Cutler loved to write poetry and loved to do drag in amateur theatrical productions. He also struggled with drug addiction, and with his relationship with Skip Coons, another closeted gay man on the National Security Council.

Unfortunately, amid all his successes, Cutler also helped in the construction of a 1953 Executive Order that banned gay people from working for the federal government. The order ruined the lives of thousands of LGBTQ people for years to come.

Shinkle portrays Cutler as a man devoted to his nation, and to fighting Communism, even to his own detriment.

Could that possibly make up for his betrayal of other queer Americans? Granted, in 1953 Alfred Kinsey had only just published his first volume of landmark research into human sexuality which revealed homosexuality as a normal, healthy human orientation.

As Shinkle lays out his history of Cutler’s policy achievements and life affairs, he also begs the question of how history should regard Cutler: as a queer, American hero, or as a destructive turncoat.

Time will tell.