CBS Airs

CBS Reports: The Homosexualswas the first U.S. network television program to feature self-identified gays. Though the program’s tone was generally sympathetic, it nevertheless focused on views of homosexuality as a social and psychological problem.

Summary of Event

When CBS Reports: The Homosexuals finally aired on March 7, 1967, the documentary already had been on a nearly three-year journey through two network news presidents, two producers, canceled air dates, and several re-edits. The hour-long program that audiences saw likely struck viewers as fact-based, comprehensive, balanced, and even sympathetic. By early twenty-first century standards, however, viewers can see that the program focuses on homosexuality as socially deviant and pathological; Psychology
Homosexuality;as pathological[pathological] also, it omits mention of women almost entirely. According to insiders, the program that was broadcast was considerably less sympathetic than the version the network originally planned to broadcast. [kw]CBS Airs CBS Reports: The Homosexuals (Mar. 7, 1967)
[kw]CBS Reports: The Homosexuals, CBS Airs (Mar. 7, 1967)
CBS Reports: The Homosexuals (television program)[CBS Reports The Homosexuals]
Media;television programs
Television;and early report on homosexuality[homosexuality]
[c]Cultural and intellectual history;Mar. 7, 1967: CBS Airs CBS Reports: The Homosexuals[0640]
Wallace, Mike
Adkins, Warren
Goldman, Albert
Vidal, Gore
Craven, James Braxton
Socarides, Charles

The documentary was narrated by Mike Wallace, who would later become a long-time 60 Minutes coanchor, and Wallace conducted most of the interviews. The first two interviews presented sharply contrasting views of the self-perceptions of gays. A young man identified as Warren Adkins, who was a member of the Mattachine Society, appeared confident and well adjusted, and was accepted by his family. He was followed by a second, unidentified young man whose face was obscured by a large houseplant. He had been in and out of jail, was unable to hold a job, and said he believed he was sick.

A second pair of interviews at the end of the documentary emphasized divergent views of the impact of homosexuality on culture. Author Albert Goldman, famous for disparaging biographies of cultural icons such as Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and Lenny Bruce, accused gays in the arts and in the fashion industry of having a distorted view of life, a view that was manifested as distorted visions of masculinity and femininity. Author and screenwriter Gore Vidal countered that the problem with American culture was its emphasis on outdated social institutions such as marriage.

Indeed, although it was evident that CBS attempted to provide two sides to many of the issues raised in the documentary, it is also evident that the network did not provide balanced viewpoints. Wallace, for instance, reported results of an in-house survey that found most Americans favored criminal punishment for homosexual acts between consenting adults. That was juxtaposed with a clip of U.S. district court judge James Braxton Craven comparing sentences for sodomy to those for other crimes, and then wondering aloud if homosexual acts are twice as bad as second-degree murder, since the sentences for sodomy are twice as long as those for second-degree murder.

Considerable airtime was devoted to homosexual behavior as a crime, Homosexuality;as a crime[crime] which perhaps was not surprising given that, in 1967, most U.S. states still had antisodomy statutes. A dramatic sequence shows the arrest of a nineteen-year-old military man who left his girlfriend to have sex with another man in a restroom in a public park. The audience never sees his face, but it hears him express concern that the arrest will ruin his life. It also hears his halting efforts to explain the incident since, after all, he loves his girlfriend. The sequence is juxtaposed with a sound bite from a Los Angeles Police Department inspector talking about the number of gays arrested for public sex.

The perspective of the mental health community in the documentary was much more one-sided. Charles Socarides, at the time of the documentary a professor at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein School of Medicine, tells students during a lecture that homosexuality is a mental illness that had reached epidemic proportions and that people were not born homosexual; homosexuality was a behavior learned early in life. Ironically, twenty-five years later, Socarides’ out gay son Richard would join the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton and serve as Clinton’s liaison to the lesbian and gay community during his presidency. Another psychologist can be heard on the broadcast saying that male homosexuality is the result of an overly protective mother and an emotionally detached father. Furthermore, Socarides, with Joseph Nicolosi in the 1990’s, would lead the argument for the use of “reparative therapy” to “cure” gays and lesbians.

Little of the original filming for the TV program, most of which was done in 1964 and 1965, made the final cut. Scenes that did make the cut included street scenes and the interior of a gay bar. Those images served as backdrop to Wallace’s explanation for why gays were attracted to big cities (their anonymity and permissiveness) and his assessment of their romantic lives (they are promiscuous and incapable of lasting relationships).

The last interview of the program is of a thirty-one-year-old psychology professor—shown in silhouette—whose wife indicates she is aware of his homosexuality. He seems matter-of-fact about his physical attraction to men, though he says that he does not believe in having a long-term love relationship with another man.

For those in the audience who might have missed the point, Wallace’s closing sentences clearly mark gays as the problematic “other”:

The dilemma of the homosexual. Told by the medical profession he is sick. By the law that he is a criminal. Shunned by employers. Rejected by heterosexual society. Incapable of a fulfilling relationship with a woman or for that matter with a man. At the center of his life he remains anonymous.…A displaced person. An outsider.


Though the program’s audience was not large— network news specials then, as now, typically were not viewer magnets—it did provide for the vast majority of its viewers what they assumed to be their first exposure to real, self-identified gays. Also, while the politics surrounding the program’s production and eventual broadcast made its message less positive than was originally intended, its timing was significant: By March of 1967, the growing gay and lesbian rights movement was increasing public visibility of lesbians and gays, particularly in metropolitan areas, but not necessarily their media exposure. A few big-city stations had included gays in discussions of “the homosexual problem” on locally produced late-night talk shows, but lesbians and gays had remained absent from the networks and from prime time.

A little more than two years after the broadcast, patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in lower Manhattan, rebelled over several nights because of ongoing harassment by police, something the media could not completely ignore. Increased media visibility was a positive step, but only a first one. For the next quarter century, lesbians and gays still would be represented largely as everything from leather-clad or bare-breasted freaks at pride rallies to tragic, stereotyped, and marginalized characters on situation comedies and dramas. These images are slowly changing, as media coverage has expanded its range to include positive portrayals of GLBT characters (in sitcoms, in TV dramas, and in film) and coverage of issues regarding GLBT families, same-gender marriage, politics, and culture. CBS Reports: The Homosexuals (television program)[CBS Reports The Homosexuals]
Media;television programs
Television;and early report on homosexuality[homosexuality]

Further Reading

  • Alwood, Edward. Straight News: Gays, Lesbians, and the News Media. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.
  • Capsuto, Steven. Alternate Channels: The Uncensored Story of Gay and Lesbian Images in Radio and Television, 1930’s to the Present. New York: Ballantine Books, 2000.
  • Gross, Larry. Up from Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
  • Tropiano, Stephen. The Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV. New York: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2002.
  • Walters, Suzanna Danuta. All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

October 31, 1969: TIME Magazine Issues “The Homosexual in America”

1979-1981: First Gay British Television Series Airs

June 5 and July 3, 1981: Reports of Rare Diseases Mark Beginning of AIDS Epidemic

1985: GLAAD Begins Monitoring Media Coverage of Gays and Lesbians

1985: Lesbian Film Desert Hearts Is Released

July 25, 1985: Actor Hudson Announces He Has AIDS

1988: Macho Dancer Is Released in the Philippines

1992-2002: Celebrity Lesbians Come Out

March 21, 2000: Hollywood Awards Transgender Portrayals in Film

September 7, 2001: First Gay and Lesbian Television Network Is Launched in Canada

March 5, 2006: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, and Transamerica Receive Oscars