On this day: Homosexuality in America, LIFE, 1964

LIFE Homosexuality in America
Image: LIFE Magazine

In its June 26, 1964 issue, the popular American magazine, LIFE, ran a 14-page feature on the hitherto little-discussed subject of Homosexuality in America.

The article opened with an explanation of the above photo (taken at San Francisco’s Tool Box Leather Bar).

“These brawny, young men in their leather caps, shirts, jackets, and pants are practising homosexuals, men who turn to other men for affection and sexual satisfaction. They are part of what they call the ‘gay world’, which is actually a sad and often sordid world.”

The editors of LIFE later claimed they had aimed to present ‘a balanced and fair account of the problems surrounding homosexuality’.

Nothing fair about denigrating gays as sordid while including an uncritical account of LA police clearly entrapping gays. The article also gave oxygen to the opinions of conversion therapy advocate and demented nutter psychoanalyst, Dr Irving Bieber.

Bieber described homosexuals as ‘psychologically sick, the emotionally disturbed offspring of emotionally disturbed parents’.

“[Beiber] believes strongly that the homosexual society is neither healthy nor happy, and that indeed the very term ‘gay world’ is only a flippant and rather pathetic attempt to cover up deep and chronic feelings of pathological depression.”

Despite its shortcomings, the LIFE article compares favourably to a similar piece in TIME two years later. That offensive diatribe pulled out every anti-gay trope possible including ‘the clear-cut condemnations of the Bible’. Even when the author attempted to demonstrate some compassion, he could not resist a nasty kicker.

“[Homosexuality] 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 pretence that it is anything but a pernicious sickness.”

Tight pants, sneakers, sweaters…

However, the LIFE article provides a fascinating glimpse into the early 60s San Francisco gay scene. Indeed, so fascinating that the city afterwards experienced a marked increase in gay and lesbian immigration. Gays and lesbians all over the US read the article and subsequently heard the call to Go West.

Gay men of the era favoured tight pants according to numerous mentions in the article. Many teamed their seam-splitters with ‘fluffy’ sweaters and sneakers. LA cops had taken note. Preparation for entrapment operations included dressing decoys in tight-fitting pants, sneakers and sweaters ‘to look like homosexuals’.  But, under instruction to ‘never to make an overt advance’ (yeah, we believe ya, millions wouldn’t)), the young cops supposedly only provided ‘an opportunity for the homosexual to proposition them’.

The article perhaps inspired a later entrapment operation at Victoria’s Black Rock Beach. The Victorian police dressed young recruits in swimwear and taught them to imitate ‘homosexual mannerisms’.

The Tool Box

The tight pant, sneaker and sweater disguise wouldn’t have worked at the Tool Box. Bar owner Bill Ruquy told LIFE such attire was unwelcome at his bar.

“This is a place for men. A place without all those screaming f_ggots, fuzzy sweaters and sneakers.”

A ‘cluster’ of sneakers dangled from the ceiling of the Tool Box along with a sign declaring ‘Down with Sneakers’.

“We throw out anyone who is too swishy,” said Ruquy, “If one is going to be homosexual, why have anything to do with women of either sex?”

Hopefully, Bill Ruquy never ventured to Hollywood’s Santa Monica Boulevard Bar. He would have experienced there the same sort of discrimination he dished out to others in San Francisco. Bar owner Barney Anthony proudly displayed a sign saying ‘F-gots – stay out’. Apparently, Barney knew a f-got when he saw one, even if he couldn’t spell it.

“I don’t like ’em. There’s no excuse. They’ll approach any nice-looking guy. Anybody does any recruiting, I say, shoot him. Who cares?”

Poor old bigot. These days, Barney is rubble and Santa Monica Boulevard is a queer mecca. The f_gots are dancing on your grave, you nasty man.

First, Santa Monica Boulevard, then the world.

homosexuality in america life
Image: LIFE

Read also: On this Day: June 25 – Thomas Eakins’ homoerotic masterpiece, The Swimming Hole.

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