Fellow Travelers: The history behind Jonathan Bailey's new Paramount+ show

Jonathan Bailey and Matt Bomer in Fellow Travelers (Paramount+)
Jonathan Bailey and Matt Bomer in Fellow Travelers (Paramount+) (Ben Mark Holzberg/SHOWTIME)

Fellow Travelers will soon premiere on Paramount+, and while the series is a drama it explores the very real hardships faced by LGBTQ+ people in America from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Starring Jonathan Bailey and Matt Bomer, the show charts the romantic relationship between their characters Hawkins Fuller and Tim Laughlin while working in Washington D.C.

Read more: Bisexuality is having a moment: How the LGBTQ+ group is becoming more visible on screen

The show, which is based on Thomas Mallon's 2007 book of the same name, charts several decades in the lives of Hawkins and Tim, the two periods that are predominant are the 1950s, at the height of McCarthyism, and the 1980s, during the Aids crisis.

Here is everything you need to know about the history behind Fellow Travelers.

The struggles of being gay during the McCarthy Era

Jonathan Bailey in Fellow Travelers (Paramount+)
Jonathan Bailey in Fellow Travelers (Paramount+) (Courtesy of SHOWTIME)

In the 1950s, US senator Joseph McCarthy launched a crusade of political repression and persecution of those with left-wing views, which was argued as being a way to fight communism, Soviet influence and Soviet espionage during the Cold War.

McCarthyism, or the second Red Scare, did not solely attack communists, though, as it also gave way to queer people being targeted on the false idea that it was related to anticommunist efforts.

This notion is explored in Fellow Travelers through Hawkins and Tim, who both hold jobs in government and must keep their relationship a secret at all costs or risk being caught up in this attack, the same goes for their queer friends — all of whom remain in hiding.

McCarthy and the government's "lavender scare", which is the name given to the targeting of LGBTQ+ people at the time, led to queer people being treated as if they were a threat to national security, and according to research done by the Williams Institute the terms "homosexual" and "pervert" became synonymous with "communist" and "traitor" during this period.

Jelani Alladin as Marcus Hooks in Fellow Travelers (Paramount+)
Jelani Alladin as Marcus Hooks in Fellow Travelers (Paramount+) (Ben Mark Holzberg/SHOWTIME)

The Williams Institute also reported how during the purge of federal and state government from 1947 to 1961 there were more than 5,000 allegedly homosexual federal civil servants lost their jobs, while thousands of applicants were rejected.

In the State Department more than 1,000 men and women suspected of being queer were fired, which is actually more than the number of people let go of because of their association, or membership with, the Communist Party.

Read more: New on Paramount+ in October

Their research states that the experience the LGBTQ+ community went through during the McCarthy era "explains why employment discrimination against LGBT people is so widespread and persistent today in both the public and private sectors."

At the time, and long after, America also had state sodomy laws in place, making certain sexual acts a criminal offence including relations between two people of the same sex.

The AIDS Crisis in America in the 1980s

Jonathan Bailey and Matt Bomer in Fellow Travelers (Paramount+)
Jonathan Bailey and Matt Bomer in Fellow Travelers (Paramount+) (Courtesy of SHOWTIME)

The HIV/AIDS epidemic was a difficult period all around the world, but it is how it was dealt with in America during the 1980s that is the focus in Fellow Travelers.

The 1970s and 1980s saw panic and prejudice reign with regards to the AIDS crisis, a virus that spread and was labelled a "gay disease" because gay men were primarily diagnosed with it.

This was a widespread misconception and led to huge stigma against the LGBTQ+ community, namely gay men like Tim and Hawkins in Fellow Travelers.

Matt Bomer as Hawkins Fuller and Jonathan Bailey as Tim Laughlin in Fellow Travelers (Paramount+).
Matt Bomer as Hawkins Fuller and Jonathan Bailey as Tim Laughlin in Fellow Travelers (Paramount+). (Ben Mark Holzberg/SHOWTIME)

The way in which the AIDS crisis was publicly depicted caused panic to spread over those with HIV or AIDS, and the stigma is still prevalent today despite the fact the disease can now be managed and the risks averted through medicine like PrEP.

By the end of 1984 more than 3,500 people had died from the disease, and affected some 7,700 people. Yet the main issue was actually from the silence an unresponsive nature of U.S. leaders at the time to help tackle the crisis.

The unwillingness of leaders, such as President Reagan, to acknowledge the crisis, let alone help tackle it by providing adequate funding, meant that it became a widespread epidemic by the time they did. President Reagan finally spoke of AIDS publicly in 1985.

Fellow Travelers premieres on Paramount+ on Saturday, 28 October.

Watch the trailer for Fellow Travelers:

This article originally appeared on Yahoo TV UK at https://uk.news.yahoo.com/fellow-travelers-history-paramount-jonathan-bailey-124839698.html