The Great Depression’s Impact on Homophobia

May 5, 2018

Many factors have had an impact on homophobia, however the Great Depression may have been the most influential. During the economic crisis of the Great Depression many things changed including the social, political, and cultural outlook of the public, specifically on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, etc.  (LGBTQIA+) community. During the previous decade, the 1920s, gayness and queerness was flourishing, culture was increasing, and the LGBTQIA+ community began to grow. However, when the stock market crashed in 1929, the culture changed rapidly. Cities went from accepting gay culture to extorting and belittling it. The impacts of the financial crisis lead to nearly a decade of tension in ways that none of the country had expected. In accordance with multiple reliable sources, the Great Depression had a vast impact on homophobia in all ways.
   

Due to the Great Depression putting the public on edge, especially regarding traditional gender roles, many were threatened by queer masculinity which lead to a homophobic society.  In the article  “A Gay World, Vibrant and Forgotten”, written by George Chauncey, he sums up the idea by writing, “With million of male breadwinners losing their jobs, people were fearful of any additional threats to traditional family hierarchies” (Chauncey 2). Because the country was in an economic crisis, many lost their jobs so the traditional “breadwinner” position was therefore compromised (Chauncey 2). This led the people to be concerned with their already diminishing masculinities allowing for an uproar when gay and queer masculinity challenged what the public knew to be true. So, because the people were insecure, they perceived queer masculinity as “a threat to traditional family hierarchies” (Chauncey 2). This lead to problems such as violence and changes in the perspective of men throughout the country. This point can also be supported in the journal “Queering the (New) Deal: Lesbian and Gay Representation and the Depression-Era Cultural Politics of Hollywood's Production Code.” written by David Lugowski.  He writes, “In the darkest days of the Great Depression, a great deal was at stake, as every successful man felt that his winning streak could end at any moment” (Lugowski 3). That quote proves exactly how homophobia became common, through the insecurity and the feeling that the traditional masculine man's “winning streak could end at any moment” (Lugowski 3).  Additionally, what set the precedent for that was “the darkest days of the Great Depression”, where men were out of work and struggling to uphold the rigid gender roles provided to them (Lugowski 3). Because of all the added stress on traditional gender stereotypes from the Great Depression, people were wary and cautious of the LGBTQIA+ community.
   

Likewise, the government’s will to control the public during the Great Depression caused homophobic laws and unjust actions to occur. In the journal “The Straight State of Oregon: Notes Toward Queering the History of the Past Century” written by Jacqueline Dirks it explains how the U.S. Government was affected by the gender binaries of the time. She explains, “Officials increasingly sorted citizens and awarded rights according to a homosexual-heterosexual binary. By mid-century ‘an increasingly powerful state wrote this new knowledge into federal policy’” (Dirks 384). By making new policies, especially those that restricted parts of the population, it allowed for the government to have more control, something the government was losing before Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency. That quotes clearly shows that the government “awarded rights” to an unfair standard that disregarded and ignored the LGBTQIA+community (Dirks 384). Also, by doing that it enforces the “homosexual-heterosexual binary” which is very harmful in the queer community (Dirks 384). To continue, in the same article Dirks wrote,


“Consolidating negative definitions of homosexuality, federal policy makers explicitly targeted queer men and women as unfit for the duties and benefits of citizenship, and rewarded straight citizens” (Dirks 384). By doing this, not only did it enforce the mistreatment of “queer men and women”, but it shows that the “federal policy makers”  allowed and encouraged it during the Great Depression (Dirks 384). So, the evident homophobic actions of the government were all due to and influenced by the Great Depression.
   

During the 1930s stakes were extremely high resulting in the need of relief through art, unfortunately due to government actions and gender role related stress many artists created extorting others.  To begin, in Lugowski’s journal, he explains, “Audiences seemed to delight in the flip, fruity, risque repartee of pre-PCA queers as these ‘free radicals’ flitted gayly through film texts, often near their openings and largely unburdened by plot or any recuperative strategies” (Lugowski 16). This shows a multitude of things, the first being that gay people were being exploited because their characters were “unburdened by plot” so they were merely comedic relief (Lugowski 16). It also shows that through the stress made by the Great Depression, artists used queer characters because “audiences seemed to delight in the flip, fruity, risque repartee of pre-PCA queers”, therefore giving the little LGBTQIA+ representation no meaning and making the characters the laughingstock of the film (Lugowski 16). However, what happened next altered the queer representation in the media to this day. In 1927, “a state law passed prohibiting the representation or discussion of homosexuality on the stage” (Chauncey 3). This not only allowed for the government to discriminate queer men and women, but artists, eliminating a platform, something that had been a free form of expression. Because the “law passed” prohibited anything to do with gayness being displayed on the stage, it isolated the gay faction and caused for a lack of education and knowledge around the LGBTQIA+ groups (Chauncey 3) during the era. It also affected generations to follow because of the homophobic ideologies in their upbringing.  Because the climate was so tense, art reflected the very real need for light-heartedness, even at the expense to others.
   

As shown through the government’s actions, art, and relative masculinity, the Great Depression increased homophobia in the United States of America. So, not only did the 1930s impact homophobia then, but through wartime and to modern day. The harsh government actions set a precedent for the restrictions placed in the military based on sexuality during World War II. The lack of representation in art and the media has continued to be an issue all throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century. Lastly, the rise and fall of queer masculinity throughout the following decades was dependent on the original oppression of gay men and queer masculinity in the Great Depression. In conclusion, the Great Depression influenced homophobic ideologies during the 1930s and in the decades to follow.

 


Works Cited
Chauncy, George. “A Gay World, Vibrant and Forgotten.” The New York Times, 26 June 1994.
Jacqueline Dirks. “The Straight State of Oregon: Notes Toward Queering the History of the Past Century.” Oregon Historical Quarterly, vol. 113, no. 3, 2012, pp. 382–391. JSTOR, JSTOR.
Lugowski, David M. “Queering the (New) Deal: Lesbian and Gay Representation and the Depression-Era Cultural Politics of Hollywood's Production Code.” Cinema Journal, vol. 38, no. 2, 1999, pp. 3–35. JSTOR, JSTOR.






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