44 years ago this week, March 7, 1967, CBS News aired a Special Report hosted by Mike Wallace titled simply, “The Homosexuals.”
Wallace begins quoting a 1967 CBS-commissioned opinion poll that showed “most Americans are repelled by the mere notion of homosexuality” and “two out of three look upon homosexuals with disgust, discomfort or fear. One out of ten says hatred.” He goes on to say:
The majority of Americans favor legal punishment even for homosexual acts performed in private between consenting adults. The homosexual, bitterly aware of his rejection, responds by going underground, they frequent their own clubs, bars and coffee houses where they can act out in the fashion that they want to.
Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out calls this “the single most destructive hour of antigay propaganda in our nation’s history.”
It is definitely painful but important look into a bygone era, but one that is not so very far in our past (I was, myself, merely 21 days away from coming into this world).
Dave White took a fresh look at this documentary in an article for The Advocate last year. Describing his review process, he says:
I took notes. And when I was done my pad of paper was a laundry list of every horrible thing you’ve ever heard about the gays: smothering mothers, mental illness, animalistic sexual gratification, society’s repulsion, promiscuity, recruitment, etc.
Some quotes, some from Wallace, some from clergy and other “experts” on the subject:
“They frequent their own bars … where they can act out…”
“The average homosexual isn’t capable of love.”
“Homosexuality is, in fact, a mental illness.”
“The church has a great deal of sympathy for those who are handicapped in this way.”
“[Being a homosexual] automatically rules out that [the man in question] will remain happy.”
But what I find interesting is not so much the archaic, offensive language but the insight into how the law played into a culture of oppression. Wallace reminds us in 1967, Illinois was the only state that did not outlaw homosexual acts. (Most sodomy laws would live on until the Supreme Court struck them down in 6-3 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003.)
We’re now living in a time when finally the paradigm is shifting. But 1967, it was unquestioned that it was the appropriate place of government to manage, control, and contain the homosexuals and protect good society from them. In the clip below you will hear a police chief explain the importance of maintaining the “moral aptness here in the community” (which, at that time, would mean endless sting arrests, bar raids, in some places, even home invasions.) The government, top to bottom, was an enthusiastic participant and propagator of LGBT oppression.
But it seems, gratefully, that ship is turning around. But also it seems too that movement may have confused some people. I see people pointing to landmarks, like the passage of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 1993 or Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, as somehow a marker of the beginning of the LGBT struggle for equality.
In fact, those moments in time only serve to illustrate that the LGBT community’s call for equality became too strident, too effective, too threatening and hence, legislative roadblocks had to be constructed to slow or stop it.
Below, I’ve share a six minute clip I found particularly heartbreaking and disturbing. The intro starts off, with seeming benevolent condescension, then takes a turn:
Most homosexuals do not consider themselves ill, and they are able to live with their condition fairly comfortably.
On the other hand, there are those whose compulsive behavior becomes a problem for the police. This is such an example.
Wallace then accompanies the police on a ride along where a 19-year old serviceman is picked up for trolling for sex in a public park bathroom. He is heard, but not shown, pleading and begging to deaf ears that his life will be over. And he’s probably right.
What might have become of this young man after his arrest? Well, his name and picture would probably have been run in the local paper. He was a servicemember, so it was likely the police contacted his CO and he was dishonorably discharged.
But he was only 19, he might still be saved. His parents might have committed him to an asylum, for reparative therapy, that might have included electroshock, chemical or actual castration, and yes, even lobotomies.
But why would someone risk such consequences? There were no other options, of course. It was another time, there was no Craigslist, Grindr, or Facebook.
But much more significantly, municipalities across the country gave not a second thought to violating LGBT Americans’ First Amendment right to free association. Gay bars were illegal in much of the country. Even hosting a gathering of “known homosexuals” in the privacy of your home was often an arrestable offense. We see the circuitous nature of the oppression, where gay people are granted no space to exist in private, and are declared a public menace, which becomes a convenient excuse to hunt them down in private… And round and round we go.
In the clip, the police chief brags of the 3,000 arrests he’s made, and warns the problem is growing:
I'm concerned with the moral aptness here in the community and I'm opposed as a matter of principle to making anything which is improper or immoral conspicuous and by this conspicuousness making it easy for a person to engage in this kind of activity.
I can’t help thinking how similar these concerns of “conspicuousness” are like many current objections to marriage equality, which conservatives fear it will “make it easier for people to engage in this kind of activity.” We must keep them “less conspicuous” for the children! Or objections to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” confirmed it was best for everyone if gay people were kept as inconspicuous as possible (for the sake of “troop morale.”)
The police chief adds in a rueful tone:
The law is itself is much that, really, there isn't a great deal we can do about those things that occur in private places.
A morality police’s lament: they can’t just knock down the doors of our bedrooms and put an end to our depravity once and for all. Thankfully, the Supreme Court definitively closed the door on that option in 2003.
To clarify, gay establishments existed, but they were most often clandestine operations. To even enter one was to risk arrest. Forbidding them opened the door to exploitation. They usually operated only by the grace of pay-offs to both police and the Mafia. Gays were subjected to an endless vicious cycle of exploitation from the law and the lawless alike. This pressure-cooker of corruption was, in part, what fed the critical mass that culminated in the famous Stonewall Riots of 1969.
By the 1980s the worst of this police harassment was a thing of the past. Although not entirely, the raids continue to this day, under dubious pretext from Texas to Atlanta to New York City. And the arrival of the AIDS crisis served as a bitter reminder we were still a disposable population, unworthy of attention or care.
[A]fter we finished and the camera was turned off, Mike Wallace sat down with me and talked for about half an hour. He said, “You know, you answered all of my questions capably, but I have a feeling that you don’t really believe that homosexuality is as acceptable as you make it sound.” I asked him why he would say that. “Because,” he said, “in your heart I think you know it’s wrong.” It was infuriating. I told him I thought being gay was just fine, but that in his heart he thought it was wrong.
From Wikipedia, (a very interesting read):
For his part, anchor Mike Wallace came to regret his participation in the episode. “I should have known better,” he said in 1992.
Speaking in 1996, Wallace stated, “That is — God help us — what our understanding was of the homosexual lifestyle a mere twenty-five years ago because nobody was out of the closet and because that’s what we heard from doctors — that’s what Socarides told us, it was a matter of shame.”
The Socarides he references would be Charles Socarides, a prominent Columbia University psychiatrist. He is featured in the documentary and was very active at the time, fighting the movement to remove homosexuality from the DSM as a mental illness. He also penned a book Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far (a collection of anti-gay nonsense pseudo-science, still popular with anti-gay hate groups like Family Research Council). Sort of an East coast, elite Anita Bryant.
Today’s youth may associate the name Socarides with his son, Richard, who currently serves as President of Equality Matters and has served as LGBT liaison to the Clinton Administration, and has long been an outspoken voice for the LGBT equality movement.
Clearly we’ve come a long way, apparently you can now endure a sting operation like the serviceman’s and not only avoid jail and commitment but keep your Senate seat.
And LGBT images in the media aren’t this awful, by any means. But they still need a lot of work, 44 years later. It was less than a year ago, CNN’s Kyra Phillips wanted to address the issue of “Can homosexuality be cured?” “NO!” is already a long-held consensus opinion of the following leading professional organizations:
- The American Psychiatric Association
- The American Psychological Association
- The American Psychoanalytical Association
- The American Academy Of Pediatrics
- The National Association of Social Workers
And these organizations would object to the question frame of “cure.” They think it’s definitely not an illness, and there’s no sound evidence orientation can be changed.
But apparently, those scientists and respected professionals don’t know what they’re talking about. No, Ms. Phillips of CNN—the one network committed to “Moving Truth Forward”—looked far and wide, until she found a discredited former-psychologist under a rock who would come on the air and tell her what she wanted to hear: “Yes.” That man was Richard Cohen. If his name is familiar you may remember his meltdown on the Rachel Maddow Show (when he had the misfortune of encountering a real journalist).
Among the endorsers of Richard Cohen’s book, Coming out Straight?, Dr. Laura C. Schlessinger and Charles Socarides, who wrote before his death in 2005:
“This book is a testament to a heroic and successful struggle to regain one’s heterosexual destiny. It gives hope to many.”
–Charles W. Socarides, M.D., Author,
Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far
How far we’ve come. How far we still have to go to marginalizing the voices of hate and ignorance that are featured in our media as credible sources.
The full hour video may be viewed via this link.
FYI: Wallace makes not a single reference to lesbians in the special. A very telling non-commentary comment on attitudes toward women’s sexuality, indeed.
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