Bilerico Report

TIME Magazine, circa 1966: Homosexuality ‘A Pernicious Sickness’


Forty-five years ago this week, Time Magazine published a 2-page essay titled “The Homosexual in America.”

As you would imagine, the ideas presented in the article would now be considered arcane, but in order to understand the strides we have made as individuals and as a community – we must consider our history. We cannot move forward without understanding how far we have come in a relatively very-short period of time.

This article was written when my father was 20 years old and certainly these ideas were part of the norm opinion of Americans at that time.

In reading this essay, one must do one’s best in trying to understand society’s impressions of homosexuality at the time. We were hated, but we were starting to become visible. It’s clear in the article that we had become noticed – specifically within the artistic fields.

“Homosexuals are present in every walk of life, on any social level, often anxiously camouflaged; the camouflage will sometimes even include a wife and children, and psychoanalysts are busy treating wives who have suddenly discovered a husband’s homosexuality.”

The writer continues:

“On Broadway, it would be difficult to find a production without homosexuals playing important parts, either onstage or off. And in Hollywood, says Broadway Producer David Merrick, “you have to scrape them off the ceiling.” The notion that the arts are dominated by a kind of homosexual mafia—or “Homintern,” as it has been called—is sometimes exaggerated, particularly by spiteful failures looking for scapegoats. But in the theater, dance and music world, deviates are so widespread that they sometimes seem to be running a kind of closed shop. Art Critic Harold Rosenberg reports a “banding together of homosexual painters and their nonpainting auxiliaries.”

But what is most interesting is the fact that this was a time when we had begun standing up for our rights. The Mattachine Society, one of the first and certainly the most visible early gay rights groups is mentioned in the article:

“Such views are enthusiastically taken up by several so-called homophile groups, a relatively new phenomenon. Best known of these deviate lobbies is the Mattachine Society, which takes its name from the court jesters of the Middle Ages, who uttered social criticism from behind masks. In recent years, the Mattachines have been increasingly discarding their masks; the Washington branch has even put picket lines outside the White House to protest exclusion of known homosexuals from the civil service and the armed forces, has lately protested exclusion from the Poverty Program. Borrowing a device from the civil rights movement, homophiles have even issued lapel buttons bearing a small equality sign ( = ) on a lavender background”

(Can’t help but notice the logo that seems to have been picked up by a certain modern-day gay rights group.)

I can’t help escape the fact that our lives are being discussed as if they were something so foreign, but again, one must step into the shoes of someone living 55 years ago in a recently post-McCarthy America, where the rotting roots of fear and Puritanism were still running deep. This analysis is not unlike a National Geographic special, making it sound as though “the homosexual” was no more than an endangered Madagascan marsupial.

“Today in the U.S., there are “mixed” bars where all homosexuals, male and female, are persona grata; “cuff-linky” bars that cater to the college and junior-executive type; “swish” bars for the effeminates and “hair fairies” with their careful coiffures; “TV” bars, which cater not to television fans but to transvestites; “leather” bars for the tough-guy types with their fondness for chains and belts; San Francisco’s new “Topless Boys” discotheques, featuring bare-chested entertainers. San Francisco and Los Angeles are rivals for the distinction of being the capital of the gay world; the nod probably goes to San Francisco.”

The article continues on, discussing the fact that the UK was leaps and bounds ahead of the US when it came to legal protections for gays (some things never change), and goes on to solidify what seemed to be a consensus in America by quoting New York Supreme Court Justice Samuel Hofstadter in saying “to legalize homosexual conduct is an injustice to society’s future and an evasion of the problem.” But it’s not until the final paragraph that the writer lets his or her opinion be known (there is no easily-identifiable author of the essay in question):

“Even in purely nonreligious terms, homosexuality represents a misuse of the sexual faculty and, in the words of one Catholic educator, of “human construction.” It is a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life. As such it deserves fairness, compassion, understanding and, when possible, treatment. But it deserves no encouragement, no glamorization, no rationalization, no fake status as minority martyrdom, no sophistry about simple differences in taste—and, above all, no pretense that it is anything but a pernicious sickness.”

It is this final paragraph which clearly defines the majority of our country’s views on who we were at the time. It is also perhaps the most troubling and dismissive. While much of the article certainly doesn’t condone or support gay people, it acknowledge the relevance of our existence, but in this final paragraph, the author releases the full arsenal of their hatred on a portion of our country’s population that was desperately in need of protection.

In reading this and other writing from this time, I have become more and more grateful that I live in the decade in which I live. We are alive now, at a time when our voices are being heard, when our friends and family have become increasingly supportive and embracing of who we are. We live in a time where our actions can create more and more change. I ask you all to go read the whole article and show it to others. Tell your friends and family just how far we have come and encourage them to make change in their own communities. It is this work that has brought us from then to now…and will ultimately introduce a time when our children will no longer fear what resides deep in their own hearts.

Note: The photo is actually from a later issue where the cover story dealt more specifically with the topic first related in the magazine in January, 1966.

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