Life magazine and Google have continued to digitize, index, and provide for free online the magazine’s entire archive of past issues from 1936-2000, which includes the historic, in-depth article, “Homosexuality in America,” published in their June 25, 1964 issue – that’s a full five years before Stonewall happened.
It was the first article of its kind to appear in the national popular press (the New York Times published an article six months earlier, reproduced here) – and Life magazine was very popular, published weekly with a circulation of over 8.5 million during those years.
The article opened with a photograph of shadowy figures standing around one of San Francisco’s first leather bars. The article has been credited by Jack Fritscher (it’s referenced no less than a dozen times on his website -- see here), among others, for increasing the migration of gay men and women from small towns to larger cities – especially to San Francisco – where they could have a greater support system from being among larger concentrations of gay people (a textbook way of saying more opportunities for sex, as well as friendships and relationships), and perhaps enjoy some degree of anonymity and openmindedness that comes from living in larger cities.
The article ran for a full 12 oversize pages – large even by standards then. Rather than overwhelm you with it all at once – and also to make the posting a more manageable job for me – here are the first few pages, with the remainder to come.
Click for a larger version of the article's first four pages, and here is a transcription of the introductory text.
(Note: each and every instance of the word “gay” is highlighted in the reproductions of the magazine pages, since that is the word I searched by in the Life archives to find this article. The pink highlighting of Life magazine’s often sensationalistic and biased reporting is mine.)
Life magazine, June 26, 1964
HOMOSEXUALITY IN AMERICA
A secret world grows open and bolder.
Society is forced to look at it – and try to understand it
Photographed for LIFE by Bill Eppridge
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. On these pages, LIFE reports on homosexuality in America, on its locale and habits (pp. 66-74) and sums up (pp. 78-80) what science knows and seeks to know about it.
Homosexuality shears across the spectrum of American life – the professions, 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 are especially 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.
[photo caption] A San Francisco bar run for and by homosexuals is crowded with patrons who wear leather jackets, make a show of masculinity and scorn effeminate members of their world. Mural shows men in leather.