Heterosexuality in America: Fifty Years and Counting

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tags: GLBT



Marc Stein is the author of "Rethinking the Gay and Lesbian Movement" (2012), "Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe" (2010), and "City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972" (2000). He is a professor of history and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at York University in Toronto and in August will become the Jamie and Phyllis Pasker Professor of History at San Francisco State University.

This month, the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco is marking the fiftieth anniversary of LIFE magazine’s influential photographic essay “Homosexuality in America.” The essay, which appeared in a weekly periodical that was read by millions of U.S. Americans, is featured in an exhibit curated by community historian Paul Gabriel. According to the museum’s website, the exhibit, titled “1964: The Year San Francisco Came Out,” addresses “an infamous LIFE magazine article that catapulted San Francisco into national consciousness as the ‘gay capital’ of America.” In highlighting the historical significance of “Homosexuality in America,” the GLBT History Museum joins the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto, which is featuring the LIFE magazine essay in “What It Means To Be Seen: Photography and Queer Visibility.” Curated by Sophie Hackett, the associate curator of photography at the Art Gallery of Ontario, this exhibit was part of the recently-concluded WorldPride 2014 festivities in Toronto.

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Homosexuality in America,” Life, 26 June 1964, pp. 66-80.

Discussing “Homosexuality in America” on Huffington Post, Hackett writes that the article in LIFE was “one of the first depictions of gay life in a mainstream magazine.” Hackett is right to say that it was “one of the first”; for example, in December 1962 Philadelphia Magazine published“The Furtive Fraternity,” a lengthy expose on gay life by journalist Gaeton Fonzi. As is so often the case in the history of mainstream media, “national” media stories were preceded and anticipated by “local” ones.

In October 1964, two years after “The Furtive Fraternity” was “exposed,” one of the most interesting and revealing responses to “Homosexuality in America” also was published in Philadelphia. The first issue of Drum, the self-described “gay Playboy” that quickly became the most popular gay movement magazine in North America, featured “Heterosexuality in America,” an essay by the internationally acclaimed writer “P. Arody.” Arody’s campy name and the politics of “Heterosexuality in America” were consistent with the magazine’s first advertisement, which declared: “Drum presents news for ‘queers,’ and fiction for ‘perverts.’ Photo essays for ‘fairies,’ and laughs for ‘faggots.’” Over the next five years, Drum charted a new direction for the homophile movement and led the way in calling for gay rights advocates to join the sexual revolution...




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