IN 1927, THE STATE OF NEW YORK banned theater productions that promoted homosexual content. In the 1930s, the Hays Code forbid homosexual content in movies. Book and magazine publishers commonly refused to print positive portrayals of gay, lesbian, and transgender people for fear of legal prosecution.
In the 1950s, print media gave voice to the psychiatric view that homosexuality was a mental illness and a threat to male and female gender norms. Articles advised how to rear children to ensure they did not become homosexual. Tabloids printed conspiracy theories of a gay and lesbian underground targeting children and family values.
In the 1950s, cheap and sensationalized gay and lesbian fiction became abundantly available. Called “pulp fiction” for the cheap paper it was printed on, these works utilized tragic cautionary endings so as to avoid their confiscation by authorities for promoting homosexuality. Still, the stories were popular in the lesbian and gay community because they were among the few sources of mass media coverage of lesbian and gay people.
The San Francisco beat writers addressed homosexuality and bisexuality in their literature and poetry and harbored openly gay and bisexual members, including William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch both successfully fought off obscenity charges brought, in part, because of homosexual content.