Don’t forget the damage Mike Wallace did to LGBT people

As the media pours out the love for Mike Wallace this week– most of it absolutely well deserved, it’s worth remembering a dark moment for him, for CBS, and for LGBT Americans generally.  The show, “CBS Reports: The Homosexuals” is full of half-truths, distortions, and just plain lies.  It surely harmed the cause of civil rights for gay men and lesbians, and trans people were hardly even on the radar.

Wikipedia reports, “For his part, anchor Mike Wallace came to regret his participation in the episode. “I should have known better,” he said in 1992.[25] Speaking in 1996, Wallace stated, “That is — God help us — what our understanding was of the homosexual lifestyle a mere twenty-five years ago because nobody was out of the closet and because that’s what we heard from doctors — that’s what Socarides told us, it was a matter of shame.”[27] However, Wallace was at the time of broadcast close friends with noted designer James Amster (creator of the landmark Amster Yard courtyard in New York City) and Amster’s male long-term companion, men whom Wallace later described as “a wonderful old married couple” and “[b]oth people that [he] admired”. Despite this personal knowledge, Wallace relied on the American Psychiatric Association’s categorization of homosexuality as a mental illness rather than his own experience in creating the episode. As recently as 1995, Wallace told an interviewer that he believed homosexuals could change their orientation if they really wanted to.[16]

The complete Wikipedia entry on the show is here.

I know what my friend historian Claire Potter would say, “Historicize, historicize, historicize,” and that’s a good approach to take to most things.  Surely the public perception of the lives of gay and lesbian Americans has changed since 1967 in ways almost impossible to over-state at this hour.  Still, looking back, it’s a dark hour, especially for those of us for whom the struggle for full equality continues.

Here’s a short recap version of the episode.  Make sure you have something ready to throw at hand.CBS News:

The Homosexuals, CBS, 1967

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One Comment

  1. David Whiting
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    It’s impossible to second guess the past and “What Might Have Been” is often too painful to project. You live a certain life feeling, believing that in some way you are damaged, disturbed and so you suppress these feelings and yes, you grow up in a time where this sort of information was, “The Word and the Law”. This and much worse. That’s when the real damage begins. You spend your life trying to hold back feelings that even you can’t express.
    You witness advances in understanding and acceptance for the gay and lesbian communities but, damn! You don’t fit in there any more than you do with the straight community.
    Then one day you catch an article in the paper’s “Pink” page and that leads to reading this remarkable book about an incredible journey and a great weight flies off of your soul, your heart.
    I can’t live in the past and can’t change the way I was meant to have lived my life. I can only rejoice in the freedom I now have. And the knowledge that I’m not alone.

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  1. […] Wallace later said, “I should have known better,” and regretted his participation in the program. But for thousands of LGBT people around the country, the name of Mike Wallace will always be associated–along with his many triumphs–with a p… […]

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