As I prepared for my first visit to the USA in 1983, I remember having mixed feelings about what to put on my visa application form. I had been led to understand that, along with the question ‘Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?’, I would also be required to state whether or not I was homosexual.
This question was, so I understood, the current manifestation of the US government’s sustained attempts to keep homosexuals out of the country. Not that ‘homosexual’ was the word that they had used in the previous decades of immigration law. They had started the ball rolling in 1917 by declaring us “mental defectives”. In 1952, Congress updated the term to “individuals afflicted with psychopathic personality”.
Following a legal challenge in 1963 wherein the US Court of Appeals ruled that the term was too vague and, therefore, unconstitutional, Congress lifted its game. Drawing upon the American Psychiatric Association’s official list of disorders, the legislation was changed to exclude us on the grounds that we were “afflicted with a sexual deviation”.
And despite the APA removing homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1973 Congress remained unmoved. Even when, in 1979, the Public Health Service formally notified the government that they would no longer certify homosexuality as a disorder, Congress remained unmoved. Indeed, so determined were they to keep us out, the Department of Justice issued guidelines in 1980 declaring that they considered the exclusion of homosexuals to be their legal obligation.