Gay people are loud, flamboyant and in-your-face obsessed with sex. That’s the stereotype that LGBT Americans commonly live with in our modern society. It comes up every time news coverage about the latest Pride Parade focuses on the men in skimpy leather outfits with rainbows painted all over their shirtless chests. It was reinforced with Showtime’s Queer as Folk from the early 2000s. And there are still people who associate the word “homosexuality” with two men having lurid, scandalous sex, without feelings, love and good taste.

I’ve always been bothered by this stereotype, unsure of where exactly it came from. How did this community become so pigeonholed as huge, slutty messes?

It turns out, according to Roger Streitmatter’s book
Voices of Revolution, that the earliest LGBT trailblazers themselves are responsible for creating  the image. The first gay-focused niche publications, including Gay, Come Out! and The San Francisco Gay Free Press, relied heavily on sexual imagery to convey their message: Gay people are here, they’re queer, and they’re rebelling against your heteronormative society. The advertising, covers and other photos screamed images that conveyed this point.

I think that a large part of that is because gays and lesbians in the 1960s were so unfamiliar with seeing their own sexuality—the sexuality that they had been expressing uniquely in private for years—in any form of published media, so they reveled in that lack of censorship, perhaps overdoing the sex-crazed concepts of gay media.

What’s interesting about it all is the number of LGBT publications released that acted as dissident papers
to the dissident gay press. Magazines like The Ladder disagreed with the idea of heralding a guy giving a blowjob as the face of the gay rights movement. Instead, the presented a publication that trumpeted the successes of gay community members—demonstrating, of course, that they could be functioning and contributing members of society even when out of the closet— and covered the progress of the political and social movement, demanding the government and the country to see that gay was okay and that guaranteed equality was necessary. No dicks or gratuitous nudity involved. 

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