Laud Humphreys was born Robert Allan Humphreys on October 16, 1930, in Chickasha, Oklahoma. His parents were Ira Denver and Stella Bernice Humphreys. His brother Howard was twenty years older and brother William ten years older; Laud was never close with either. Ira Humphreys represented Grady County as a Democrat in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1951 until his death on November 18, 1953. Laud did not think highly of his father and later wrote: "as a state legislator, my father was most diligent in promoting the passage of Sunday 'blue laws.' He also helped establish a law school in the attic of the State Capitol so that blacks would not have to be admitted to the University."
Laud graduated from Chikasha High School in 1948 and studied the following year at the University of Virginia. He graduated from Colorado College in 1952. Although his family was Methodist, Laud was drawn to the Episcopal Church and attended Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, graduating in 1955. Signaling his new life of faith, he was baptized in 1955 and took the name "Laud," from William Laud, Anglican leader who was Archbishop of Canterbury in 17th century England.
Ordained an Episcopal priest, Laud served several parishes over the next ten years: Woodward & Guymon in Oklahoma (1955-56); Cripple Creek, Colorado (1956-59); Bartlesville, Oklahoma (1959-61); Guthrie, Oklahoma (1961-63); and Wichita, Kansas (1964-65). Because of his strong public advocacy for the Civil Rights Movement and his support for the rights of blacks in the church, Laud's relationship with his parishes was often tenuous, if not tinged with animosity. When St. James Parish in Wichita ousted him in 1965, Laud turned away from the church and enrolled in graduate school at Washington University.
Laud married Nancy Margaret Wallace on October 1, 1960. Nancy was a graduate of the University of Tulsa and a member of Tulsa high society. Laud and Nancy adopted two children as infants: Clair (1963) and David (1964).
Laud breezed through the graduate program in sociology at Washington University and received his Ph.D. degree in 1968. His ground-breaking dissertation was published in 1970 as Tearoom Trade, a field study of men who sought sexual encounters with other men in public restrooms of the St. Louis area. The book was highly controversial--attacked for its methodology of covert research of an illegal behavior and invasion of privacy, yet very informative about of an area of human behavior that had not previously been studied. The book won the C. Wright Mills Award of the Society for the Study of Social Problems in 1970.
Humphreys was an assistant professor at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville from 1968 to 1970. His social and political activism continued there. In the heighth of the student antiwar protests in spring 1970, Humphreys led a group of students to take over the local Selective Service office. Humphreys was arrested and indicted by a federal grand jury for destruction of federal property and violation of the Selective Service Act. He negotiated a plea bargain in which he pleaded guilty to the charges and served three months in jail during the summer of 1972.
Humphreys served as associate professor at the School of Criminal Justice at SUNY-Albany from 1970 to 1972. Unhappy in Albany, he sought and received an appointment at Pitzer College in California in 1972 where he became a full professor of sociology in 1975 and remained for the duration of his academic career.
In 1972, Humphreys published Out of the Closets: The Sociology of Homosexual Liberation, a textbook that covered the history and patterns of discrimination against gays and lesbians, as well as their resistance to this oppression. After years of writing from the closet, Humphreys came out dramatically at the 1974 meeting of the American Sociological Association during an emotional exchange with Edward Sagarin who wrote under the pseudonym Donald Webster Cory. This thrust Humphreys into the limelight as an openly gay sociologist but also ended his marriage with Nancy.
In 1980, Humphreys began work on a uncompleted manuscript entitled "Immoral Crusaders" in which he explored the phenomenon he labeled the "breastplace of righteousness." This refers to public leaders shrouding themselves in strong moral stands while privately pursuing unconventional sexual practices. Humphreys may have first made this connection when he learned years earlier that his archconservative father made regular trips to New Orleans to have sex with men.
In 1980, Humphreys became a certified psychotherapist in California and began a counseling practice. He devoted much less time to academia while also serving as a consultant to police forces on homosexual issues and providing expert testimony in court cases. Under financial strain, he sought these cases to generate income. His health declined, in part a result of his years of heavy drinking and alcoholism. A long-time heavy smoker, he contracted lung cancer and died on August 22, 1988.
Through these years Humphreys maintained strong ambivalence toward church--while he was drawn to its ritual and heritage, he abhored its political conservatism and its oppression of gay persons. He did write an article, "Jesus Christ, a Sexual Person?" that was published in the San Francisco magazine Vector in December 1970. The article laid out a queer interpretation of Jesus and Paul that was further developed by LGBT theologians years later. During his final years, he did carry out some priestly functions at St. Thomas Church in Hollywood.
(Information for this biographical statement taken from Laud Humphreys: Prophet of Homosexualiy and Sociology by John F. Galliher, Wayne H. Brekhus, and David P. Keys, University of Wisconsin Press; and Laud Humphreys entry written by Stephen O. Murray in the Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Culture.)
Biography Date: December, 2009
Episcopal Church | Author/editor | Civil Rights Movement | Clergy Activist | Gay Liberation Movement | Humphreys, Laud
“I was a teenager in high school in Cripple Creek, Colorado, in the late 1950’s when Father Laud Humphreys was the vicar at St. Andrews Episcopal Church there. He became like a pied piper for many of the teenagers in the area. He instituted a teen canteen in a room under the church and became a strong influence on us. Several of us became confirmed Episcopalians. He was a rabble rouser even then. When the local high school principal was found behaving inappropriately in a parked car with a female high school student, it was Father Humphreys who spearheaded his dismissal. We respected and loved him. He gave me a St. Christopher medal which I have carried in my wallet to this day - 50+ years. Rest in peace, Father.”
– as remembered by Kay Moulton Carlson on January 19, 2013
“I remember Dr. Humphreys from A.A. meetings at a Presbyterian church in North Hollywood that I attended in the mid to late 1980's. Always called him Laud, a very spiritual person and a hoot to be around. I remember him expressing feelings of how important it was to be sober and remain so with one's Higher Power.”
– as remembered by Richard Viner on June 8, 2012
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