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. 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.” 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.“
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: