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“Growth of homosexuality in city provokes wide concern”

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That was the headline of a front page story in the New York Times on December 17, 1963. You can read the story here. It’s a fascinating time capsule of a world that seems so far away in some respects, but in historical terms was basically yesterday (Joe Biden was 21 and Donald Trump was 17 at the time).

Some observations:

The average reader of the Times in 1963 was probably unaware of the meaning of the nomenclature “gay” and “straight,” which were apparently still semi-underground terms.

The gay civil rights position, as represented by the article, is that homosexuality was an incurable disease, which made legal proscription of same sex sexual activity cruel and pointless. The opposition to this idea came from the psychiatric profession, where the consensus view seems to have been that “inverted” sexuality was a product of bad parenting, rather than a congenital disease.

The article is a good reminder of what a complete trash pseudo-science analytic psychiatry was in the mid-20th century, and what a baleful influence Freud had on intellectual life in general at that time.

It was apparently the style of the NYT at the time that you couldn’t use the word “Mafia” for some reason, with the euphemism “criminal syndicate” used in its stead, although interestingly the phrase Cosa Nostra is used once. (The Mafia controlled most of the gay bars and clubs in NYC at the time).

The official position of the NYPD was that completely private homosexual activity would not be prosecuted, but that any public manifestation of same sex sexual orientation would not be tolerated (This pretty much remains the position of the contemporary Republican party 59 years later).

The article isn’t completely unsympathetic: it notes that gay men (lesbians are barely mentioned) are no more likely to commit sex crimes against minors than heterosexuals. It also ends by pointing out that almost no gay men would choose to be straight if they had the option.

All in all, reading this kind of thing is a good reminder of how much has changed in such a relatively short time, which of course is the biggest driver of the reactionary backlash that is the sole reason for the existence of the contemporary Republican party.

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