In 1967 CBS aired a controversial episode of CBS Reports on a taboo subject at the time entitled, The Homosexuals. It was hosted by Mike Wallace and was the first national network documentary dealing with the topic of homosexuality. Originally proposed in 1964, it took three years, two producers and multiple revisions to complete.
It is fascinating to see how far American culture has come when watching this documentary. There is exclusive attention to gay men. At no point in the documentary are lesbian women mentioned. The otherworldly approach to the gay community is interesting. Homosexuality is explicitly and implicitly treated as an aberration, a condition, a desease, a syndrome or even a handicap. There is constant talk of treatment and cure and what parents can do to prevent it. The gay-rights movement was viewed as a conspiracy, a kind of mafia, a cosa nostra, as clannish.
Mike Wallace cites some statistics of the time. According to a 1967 CBS News survey, 90% of the American public viewed homosexuality as an illness, with two-thirds viewing homosexuals with disgust, discomfort or fear and one-in-ten viewing homosexuals with hatred. A majority of Americans favored legal punishment even for homosexual acts even performed in private.
At one point Wallace states,
The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in nor capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage.
To get an idea of the disproportionate approach of the law at the time, a Judge James Brackston Craven of the Federal District Court in Charlotte, North Carolina appears saying,
Is there any public purpose served by a possible 60 year maximum or even 5 year minimum imprisonment of the occasional or one time homosexual without treatment? And if so, what is it? Are homosexuals twice as dangerous to society as second degree murderers? Is there any good reason why a person convicted of a single homosexual act with another adult may be imprisoned six times as long as an abortionist, twice as long as an armed bank robber, 730 times as long as the public drunk?
Warren Adkins, who is in fact the prominent gay rights activist Jack Jichols, founder of the Mattachine Society, appears early saying,
The innermost aspects of a person’s personality is his sexual orientation, and I can’t imagine myself giving this up, and I don’t think most other people who are sure of their sexuality, whether they’re homosexuals or heterosexuals, can imagine giving that up either.
The great Gore Vidal is also interviewed offering a metacultural view,
We have a sexual ethic which is the joke of the world. We are laughed at in every country of the world for our attitudes toward sex. The United States is living out some mad Protestant 19th century dream of human behavior. Instead of saying, aren’t we wicked because we are at the highest divorce rate? Or aren’t we wicked because men like to go to bed with men and women like to go bed with women? Why not begin by saying that our basic values are all wrong. The idea of marriage is obsolete in our society. Everybody knows it. There are natural manogamers. There are people who indeed enjoy one another’s company, but can you imagine a man and a woman who are told that for 60 years they are going to have to live together and have sex only with one another? This is nonsense. Why not began by accepting the fact of what human beings really are, men and women, which is we are open. We have something André Gide referred to as “floating sensuality.” We can be aroused by this, by that, not necessarily by men, not necessarily by women. So let us begin with the reality of human relations and not start talking about moral fibre because we are not living out this mad 19th century dream of that everybody, we must, of Noah’s Ark and tombs, one male and one female and for 60 years in one another’s company. This is what’s at fault. This is breaking down. I think the so called breaking of the moral fibre of the country that these commentators speak of is one of the healthiest things that has begun to happen.
Wallace closes the documentary with the following,
The dilemma of the homosexual, told by the medial 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 and for that matter with a man. At the center of his life he remains anonymous, a displaced person, an outsider.
44 years later, we can look at all of this as an old attitude largely dead thanks to the efforts of so many men and women, gay and straight, who have tirelessly worked at moving the culture.