For over 50 years Life magazine informed Americans what was happening in the States and abroad. Its photos and content were dramatic, mostly conservative, occasionally controversial, once in awhile shocking.
When Life folded in 1973, circulation was 13 million; readership, ten times that amount. Its sister publication, Time, continues to this day.
Five years before the Stonewall Riots of 1969, Life tackled a little discussed, taboo subject: “Homosexualities in America.” An expose focusing on the “gay underworld” of cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.
Thanks to Life, Middle Americans woke up to the fact that homosexuals were purportedly growing in number. Becoming more visible. Watch out! They’re a social threat to be somehow remedied.
In 1964, San Francisco was not the dynamic gay center of Castro/Market Street, clone-look militancy. It hadn’t the high-density population complex of the 1970s and pre-AIDS 1980s; but Life’s wide-audience article – unintentionally, to be sure – served as a catalyst for early gay migration there.
(My own first visit was in 1975. I was both fascinated and overwhelmed by The Castro. It didn’t help that I’d been drinking martinis all the way on American Airlines. First class. Jet lag caught up. I came back three days later. No class. I’ve been back twice in the mid-90s. Sober.)
Life opened its expose head on: “Homosexuality shears across the spectrum of American life – the professional, the arts, business and labor. It always has. But today, especially in big cities, homosexuals are discarding their furtive ways and openly admitting, even flaunting, their deviation.
“Homosexuals have their own drinking places, their special assignation streets, even their own organizations. And for every obvious homosexual, there are probably nine nearly impossible to detect. This social disorder, which society tries to suppress, has forced itself into the public eye because it does present a problem – and parents especially are concerned.
“The myth and misconception with which homosexuality has so long been clothed must be cleared away, not to condone it but to cope with it.”
Accompanying the 14-page article are a dozen photos. Nameless gay men clustered in dark bars or milling about on dimly lighted streets. A caption reads, “These brawny young men in their leather caps, shirts, jackets and pants are practicing homosexuals, men who turn to other men for affection and sexual satisfaction.
“They are part of what they call the ‘gay world,’ which is actually a sad and often sordid world.”
Gay bars are exposed: “As each new customer walks into the dimly lit room he will lock eyes with a half dozen young men before reaching his place at the bar. Throughout the evening there is a constant turnover of customers as contacts are made and two men slip out together, or individuals move on to other bars in search of better luck.
“As closing time – 2 a.m. – approaches, the atmosphere grows perceptibly more tense. It is the ‘frantic hour,’ the now-or-never time for making a contact.” (Sound familiar?)
Here’s the early version of the gay agenda theme: “As part of its anti-homosexual drive the Los Angeles police force has compiled an ‘educational’ pamphlet for law enforcement officers entitled, ‘Some Characteristics of the Homosexual.’ The strongly opinionated pamphlet includes the warning that what the homosexuals really want is a ‘fruit world.'” (Not a cocktail.)
Gays in the military, 1964: “If we didn’t throw them out, we’d be condoning homosexuality. The services’ position has to be that homosexual practices prejudice morale and discipline.”
Life concludes, “For the first time the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the homosexual case, but no legal procedures are likely to change society’s basic repugnance to homosexuality as an immoral and disruptive force that should somehow be removed.”