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Humanities LibreTexts

2.0: Prelude to the Homophile Movement

  • Page ID
    68352
  • Personal Story

    There was no relevant discussion in schools, churches, or colleges. Psychology books taught that gays were afflicted with a self-destructive sickness for which there was no known cure, except perhaps psychotherapy designed to turn gays straight. This mental disorder carried with it a social stigma that would bar us from jobs. It was inconceivable that we could ever lead a “normal” life, much less settle down with a permanent same sex partner. Many of us just forcibly shut down that side of our lives.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): THE GAY PERSECUTION and police raids of World War II and its Cold War aftermath were powerful warnings against “coming out” as gay or lesbian. There were almost no positive resources to help one figure out one’s sexual orientation. I didn’t know anyone who was gay. For most of us, it was “go-it-alone.”

    In college I enrolled in ROTC, whose stipends in the final two years I needed for tuition. I was acceptable enough to become a “Distinguished Military Graduate” with a lieutenant’s commission in addition to my bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude. I ranked fourth in my Officer’s Basic course (out of 80), and served out my term in New York, undetected, with increasing responsibilities and top security clearance.

    After I had landed a job teaching, one of my promising freshman students didn’t return for a second semester. He had been arrested in a police raid on a gay bar. The police notified his parents and also the college’s president, who had told him not to return to school.
    – William Koelsch

    DEFINITION OF TERMS

    Although the terms gay, lesbian, transgender, and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) have been used throughout the text, these were not terms people predominantly used in 1950s and 1960s. Homosexual was the term most often used for lesbian and gay people in the era. Many gay and lesbian activists of the 1950s and 1960s preferred the term homophile to homosexual and referred to their fight for equal rights as the homophile movement. Queer was considered a derogatory term, unlike the positive all-inclusive meaning it has today. In the 1950s and 1960s, transsexual became the most widely used term for transgender. Today the term transsexual is used more as a subset of transgender if it is used at all.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Donald Webster Cory’s The Homosexual in America: A Subjective Approach published in 1950 was the first non-fiction book in the United States to identify gay and lesbian people as an oppressed minority group. Unlike most psychological accounts of the day, it criticized the idea that homosexuality could be cured and encouraged gay and lesbian people to shed their guilt and shame. The book’s argument for the rights of homosexuals inspired activists of the era and set the stage for the gay rights movement to follow.
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