Saturday, February 20, 2010

Historic Homos: How the world viewed us in 1967

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The Bad Old Days when a paranoid alcoholic, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and a deeply closeted self-loathing lawyer, Ray Cohn used the new medium of television to launch a national witch hunt for communists and gays.

It was a different world for LGBT's before Stonewall. Except for a meager handful of people like Gore Vidal and a few other brave souls, few challenged the status quo. Not only were queers supposedly not happy, but the word "gay" had not yet come into use. Yeah, the 60's were a very long time ago. Most American's alive today weren't even born yet.

This so-called CBS documentary on homosexuality is about as factual as Reefer Madness, and not half as funny.

Half a century ago, almost everyone was deep in the closet, and had been since Oscar Wilde went to jail during the Victorian era. It was not until the 1950's McCarthy-Army Hearings and its promotion of "Lavender Menace" theories that the first few voices of the gay liberation movement began to speak out about the persecution. That is when the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis were founded, and a few very brave souls admitted they were lesbian or gay to an ignorant world.

It was a dark time to be gay. And it is where self-loathing took hold of many men - now in their 60's to 80's - and driving them deep, deep into the closet. Open that door today, and you will find many old Republican white men like Idaho's US Rep. Larry Craig still afraid to come out. So they act out their desires in the anonymity of public rest rooms and react with denial when confronted. Granted, Craig was in his formative years when the infamous witch hunt called "The Boys of Boise" ruined hundreds of lives in that small city of 45,000. And it wasn't just Iowa, it was the whole damn nation. Vice squads were everywhere, looking for homosexuals to harass, arrest and extort. The underworld ran the bars; our business was not welcome elsewhere.

The straight world ruled, and it was one that was filled with public loathing, police hatred, and woefully misinformed psychiatrists and sociologists. Then, the biggest battle was doing away with intrusive laws, that penalized what two consenting adults did in the privacy of their own bedroom.

Those days contrast sharply with our current situation where most of us live and let live with our neighbors. But the old days left their mark for us older folks. That's the power of the shocking kinescope embedded above. It shows Mike Wallace and CBS News doing the first expose of homosexuality ever aired on television. If you think the news is manipulated today, watch how things used to be!

That it resembles Reefer Madness in many of its lies and distortions is not surprising, yet it documents just how far we have come. And have to go. With the right to marry, to serve our country in the armed forces and to live peacefully without harassment still being determined, it is not yet done. Even more worrying is that fundamentalist based homophobia is now spreading across Africa like a plague. The price of freedom, as always, is eternal vigilance.

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