clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Watch: The surprising advice a dairy farmer gave his gay son in the 1950s

Growing up in a rural area during the 1950s as a gay man could be very difficult. Support for LGBTQ rights was far, far from mainstream, and it would be more than a dozen years before the Stonewall riots launched a formidable LGBTQ movement — and half a century before the first fully legal same-sex marriages would begin.

That's what makes the video above, from the oral history project StoryCorps, so moving. In the 1950s, Patrick Haggerty was a teen boy in rural Washington state, beginning to realize he was gay — a fact he thought he had kept well hidden. But in 1959, after Haggerty hid from his father — a dairy farmer — at school to perform in a school assembly with glitter and makeup, his father gave him some very unexpected advice: "Don't sneak."

"If you sneak, like you did today, it means you think you're doing the wrong thing," Haggerty's father said. "And if you're running around spending your whole life thinking that you're doing the wrong thing, then you'll ruin your immortal soul."

Telling your son to essentially take pride in his gayness was an astonishingly progressive position for the 1950s. According to Gallup, 43 percent of Americans in 1977 said that consensual homosexual relationships should be illegal — a number that was very likely higher two decades before. Yet in 1959, Haggerty's dad not only seemed to accept his son's sexual orientation, but actually told his son not to be ashamed of it.

But as touching as this is on a personal level, it's also the kind of advice that has advanced LGBTQ rights for the past several decades. The LGBTQ movement has long pushed pride as a cornerstone of the cause through marches, parades, and as a general message. This was not just to make people feel good about themselves — the theory was that if people were proud enough to come out to their friends and family, they could show the world that essentially anyone could be gay or transgender. And it worked: People coming out and showing the almost boring normalcy of many gay and lesbian relationships is widely credited with helping swing support in favor of same-sex marriage rights over the past few years.

Obviously, there are good reasons — personal safety, for instance — for some people to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity from others, especially in the 1950s and in countries where homosexuality is still illegal. But pride has become a crucial part of the LGBTQ movement today, which makes the position Haggerty's father took decades ago all the more impressive.

VIDEO: Living as one's true self

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.