Mar 8, 2014

Timothy Leary, the Homophobic Guru of the 1960s Counterculture

The Youth Counterculture of the 1960s turned on to psychedelic drugs, especially LSD, as a means of achieving higher consciousness and recognizing your connection with all beings.

LSD trips were like sexual connections, the participants -- boys and girls both -- expressing love, friendship, and desire on a transcendent level.  As a result, when they came down, they weren't as homophobic as those who abstained from acid.  If it's not hurting anyone else, than whatever turns you on is cool.  Even if it's like, going with someone of another race (then illegal in 23 states), or two dudes going together.

The guy who almost single-handedly turned the Counterculture on to LSD was a Harvard psychologist named Timothy Leary, who started out studying the effects of psychedelics on consciousness in the late 1950s, then became an outspoken evangelist for the drug movement.  He believed that LSD could cure insanity, reduce recidivism in criminals, and eventually result in a society free from war, crime, injustice...and gay people.

Wait -- wasn't the guru of "Do your own thing" in favor of turning on with whatever turned you on?

No, not at all.

According to The Harvard Psychedelic Club by Don Lattin, Richard Alpert (later the guru Ram Dass) lived and worked with Leary for several years in the 1960s, even helping take care of Leary's children.

Most of their friends knew that Alpert was bisexual with a distinct preference for men.  He was constantly falling in love with cute guys, after all, and he and his wife had an open relationship.  But Leary didn't.  When he found out, he started screaming that Alpert was evil, and kicked him out of the commune.


Later, in an interview for Playboy magazine, Leary responded to allegations that sometimes otherwise heterosexual men engage in same-sex activity during the free-fall orgies of an LSD trip.  No, not at all, he said firmly.  In fact, using LSD is a proven "cure for homosexuality."  Hundreds of gay men have used the drug to overcome the hangups that made them think they were women, and went on to a "normal" heterosexual life.

Of course, nothing of the kind ever happened.  Leary was making the whole thing up.  But he had to have some way to reconcile his homophobia with the increasingly open sexuality of the generation he helped create.

He was also friends with gay poet Allen Ginsberg, his lover Peter Orlovsky, and many other gays of the Counterculture (pictured: Neal Cassidy).  Maybe he didn't realize it.

See also: Dr. Spock: The Kids Are All Right.