Magazine Issues “The Homosexual in America” Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A cover story on gay and lesbian rights in Time, a leading newsmagazine, suggested a broadening of attitudes in the United States in discussing, defining, and dealing with same-gender sexuality.

Summary of Event

In the mid-twentieth century, before the rise of the Internet or cable television news channels, weekly newsmagazines wielded considerable influence in U.S. society, and among these the most influential was Time. This publication was satirized by Allen Ginsberg in his 1956 poem “America” for its pervasive influence over the flow of ideas and interpretive values for mainstream America. As late as January 21, 1966, in an unsigned Time editorial, homosexuality was described as “a pitiable flight from life” that deserved “no encouragement, no glamorization, no rationalization, no fake status as minority martyrdom, no sophistry about simple differences in taste—and above all, no pretense that it is anything but a pernicious sickness.” [kw]Time Magazine Issues “The Homosexual in America” (Oct. 31, 1969) [kw]Homosexual in America," Time Magazine Issues “The (Oct. 31, 1969) [kw]America,” Time Magazine Issues “The Homosexual in (Oct. 31, 1969) "Homosexual in America, The" (Time magazine)[Homosexual in America] Publications;Time magazine Media;Time magazine Time magazine;"The Homosexual in America" (1969)[Homosexual in America] [c]Publications;Oct. 31, 1969: Time Magazine Issues “The Homosexual in America”[0760] [c]Civil rights;Oct. 31, 1969: Time Magazine Issues “The Homosexual in America”[0760] Hooker, Evelyn Kameny, Franklin Pomeroy, Wardell

The October 24, 1969, issue, however, in the column “Behavior,” showed a somewhat progressive step forward, based on a new report by the National Institute of Mental Health’s Task Force on Homosexuality. The fourteen-member NIH panel, after a thorough two-year study led by University of California, Los Angeles, psychologist Evelyn Hooker, became the first U.S. government-sponsored group to formally call for a reevaluation of and change in social attitudes toward homosexuality. The panel urged states to abolish all laws making homosexuality a crime for consenting adults in private, and it called upon employers to stop discriminating against competent homosexuals in the workplace. Reflecting upon these suggestions, the unsigned 1969 Time column concluded that Americans could now come to understand that “an undesirable handicap does not necessarily make everyone afflicted with it undesirable.”

The following week, the periodical took an even bigger step: The October 31, 1969, issue of Time ran the cover story “The Homosexual in America.” Dated on Halloween, the article noted Halloween’s special significance of masking and role-playing in the visible urban gay subcultures celebrating it in such cities as San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and St. Louis, Missouri. The article described the growing political movement and increasing influence of “homophile” organizations clamoring for civil rights, and it noted the similar rise in attention to gay and lesbian perspectives in literature, theater, and cinema available to the general public. At the same time, though, the article noted a Harris poll taken just a week earlier that indicated 63 percent of the nation believed homosexuals were “harmful to American life.”

Time worked to dispel some misconceptions and myths about homosexuality. It pointed out that gays and lesbians are no more likely than heterosexuals to be child molesters, and that gays and lesbians are more likely to be victimized by crime than to commit crimes themselves. Time suggested that only 10 percent of the males who had experienced same-gender sex in the United States fit the definition of the easily identifiable and stereotypical limp-wristed sissy; the other 90 percent were labeled “secret lifers,” those who passed as heterosexual in daily life but still actively participated in “secret” homosexual activities. Diversity in sexual practices was addressed by such summary categories as “The Desperate,” “The Adjusted,” “The Bisexual,” and “The Situational-Experimental,” the latter referring to men who have sex with men without any deep homosexual motivation.

The report on gay life and culture included a review of the then-prevalent idea that homosexuality must be a learned behavior because gender identity is a learned behavior, while it admitted there were no simple answers for what makes a person gay or lesbian. Despite offering some trepidation that, historically, greater acceptance of homosexuality seemed often to be related to the decline, then demise, of earlier societies, in the end the Time cover story called for greater tolerance of gays and lesbians with these words: “While homosexuality is a serious and sometimes crippling maladjustment, research has made clear that it is no longer necessary or morally justifiable to treat all inverts as outcasts.”

Time also invited eight acknowledged experts on homosexuality to discuss the topic “Are Homosexuals Sick?” Excerpts from this exchange were published as an addendum to the cover story. Included in the group were openly gay Franklin Kameny and psychoanalyst Wardell Pomeroy. Kameny argued that homophobic social attitudes are detrimental to gays just as racist social attitudes are detrimental to racial minorities. Pomeroy noted that he did encounter “sick” homosexuals in his practice, but in his twenty years of research outside the analyst’s office he had also encountered hundreds of “happy homosexuals” living successful lives with no desire for therapy. When leading heterosexual psychoanalysts on the panel agreed that homosexuals deserved civil rights but maintained homosexuality must definitely be declared an emotional illness, Kameny refused to accept this label, and Time allowed him the last word in the printed exchange.


Coming a few months after the Stonewall Rebellion Stonewall Rebellion in New York City, this cover story in Time signaled that a formerly taboo discussion topic, the issue of civil rights for gays and lesbians, was not only permissible but also, perhaps, needed, for the good of gays and lesbians as well as for the common good of society. The tone of the article was respectful of the findings of Hooker’s NIH task force and cognizant of the many injustices gays and lesbians face in their daily lives. This broadening of the public discourse to include gay and lesbian concerns and perspectives was part of a larger social phenomenon activated by the rise of the 1960’s counterculture, but its impact on mainstream society was undeniable.

Furthermore, Frank Kameny would be vindicated in 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association formally removed “homosexual” from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Other changes took more time: It was not until 2003 that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned antisodomy laws, which traditionally had been the legal argument for police harassment of homosexuals. "Homosexual in America, The" (Time magazine)[Homosexual in America] Publications;Time magazine Media;Time magazine Time magazine;"The Homosexual in America" (1969)[Homosexual in America]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bull, Chris, ed. Come Out Fighting: A Century of Essential Writing on Gay and Lesbian Liberation. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gross, Larry. Up from Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gross, Larry, and James D. Woods, eds. The Columbia Reader on Lesbians and Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hooker, Evelyn. “Reflections of a Forty-Year Exploration: A Scientific View of Homosexuality.” American Psychologist 48, no. 4 (1993): 450-454.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Loughery, John. The Other Side of Silence: Men’s Lives and Gay Identities, a Twentieth Century History. New York: H. Holt, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McGarry, Molly, and Fred Wasserman. Becoming Visible: An Illustrated History of Lesbian and Gay Life in Twentieth Century America. New York: Penguin Studio, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, Patricia Juliana. The Queer Sixties. New York: Routledge, 1999.

1929: Davis’s Research Identifies Lesbian Sexuality as Common and Normal

1953-1957: Evelyn Hooker Debunks Beliefs That Homosexuality is a “Sickness”

March 7, 1967: CBS Airs CBS Reports: The Homosexuals

1971: Kameny Is First Out Candidate for U.S. Congress

December 15, 1973: Homosexuality Is Delisted by the APA

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

Categories: History