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Gay History – June 26, 1964: Life Magazine Covers the “Sordid World” of Homosexuality In America

Wrote LIFE magazine:

“Homosexuality shears across the spectrum of American life — the professions, the arts, business and labor. It always has. But today, especially in big cities, homosexuals are discarding their furtive ways and openly admitting, even flaunting, their deviation. Homosexuals have their won drinking places, their special assignation streets, even their own organizations. And for every obvious homosexual, there are probably nine nearly impossible to detect. This social disorder, which society tries to suppress, has forced itself into the public eye because it does present a problem — and parents especially are concerned. The myth and misconception with which homosexuality has so long been clothed must be cleared away, not to condone it but to cope with it.”

Over the next fourteen pages, Life magazine explored what they called the “sordid world” of the gay community. The articles provide interesting vignettes and photos of gay life in the pre-Stonewall era, but reading through them today probably tells us more about society’s revulsion towards gay people than it does about gays themselves. At one point, author Paul Welch accompanies a Los Angeles police officer acting as a decoy to try entrap a gay man into propositioning him. Even if the proposition involves going to a private home for the evening — the same type of invitation being made in straight bars all across Los Angeles that very same night — it would end badly with an arrest and possible lifetime registration as a sex offender. LGBT activist Dale Jennings arrest in the privacy of his own home and the city’s embarrassing failure to secure a conviction in a well-publicized case twelve years earlier had done nothing to stem police harassment. One education pamphlet compiled for Los Angeles police warned that what gay men really want is “a fruit world.” Welch continued: “Although the anti-homosexual stand taken by the Los Angeles police is unswervingly tough, it reflects the attitude of most U.S. law-enforcement agencies on the subject.”

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is one of America's well known LGBT historians, He is also a a accredited journalist and the owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as BBC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Daily Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story, Mr. Kohler is available for comment, interviews and lectures on LGBT History. Contact: Will@Back2Stonewall.com

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4 thoughts on “Gay History – June 26, 1964: Life Magazine Covers the “Sordid World” of Homosexuality In America”

  1. I was about to turn 11. I got attacked when I was 8 for not being masculine enough. You asshole heterosexists can all fucking go to hell.

  2. I try to tell the younger generation what it was like and they flat out don’t believe me. Some laugh. I tell them in 1952 people got busted by the FBI for sending athletic posing magazines through the mail; about the blackmail and the cops’ shakedowns.

  3. During the Dubya administration, some FBI field offices were still prosecuting specific porn producers for sending out gay-themed videos through the mail that “violated community standards”.

  4. Call me slow. I graduated from high school the week this issue came out. I had known I was different from the first day of kindergarten, but I still didn’t know what it meant; otherwise, I might have paid more attention to the article. It was five years before Stonewall, and homosexuality was still only spoken of as a criminal abnormality. There were no role models, no *publicized* protests or sympathetic articles. The word “gay” itself still only meant “lighthearted and carefree.” Kids today can’t even imagine the level of invisibility and apprehension we lived under. It would be 15 more years, including a trip to Vietnam, before I came out.

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