Hugh Hefner’s Surprising Contribution To The Early Gay Rights Movement

"Sexual adventure is rooted in curiosity."

Hugh Hefner passed away Thursday at age 91, and while the Playboy publisher is best known as a heterosexual hedonist, he was an early ally to the nascent gay rights movement.

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Back in 1955, more than a decade before the Stonewall riots, Playboy published “The Crooked Man,” a sci-fi story by Charles Beaumont set in a world where homosexuality was the norm and heterosexuals were persecuted.

It turns out some people did read Playboy for the articles, as the magazine received a flood of angry letters about the story. Hefner wasn’t having it: “If it was wrong to persecute heterosexuals in a homosexual society, then the reverse was wrong too,” he wrote in response.


“I published it first and foremost because I thought it was a good story,” he told the Advocate’s Jeremy Kinser in 2010.

“But I was well aware of the fact that it would be perceived as controversial because Esquire had already turned it down… At the same time I was obviously aware of the fact that it would be controversial and, as we discovered, in some corners misunderstood. Some people felt it was homophobic.”

And he practiced what he preached: In the 2008 biography Mr Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream, Hef revealed he was once propositioned by a gay man and decided to give it a go.

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Though ultimately it wasn’t for him, he told Kinser, “Sexual adventure is rooted in curiosity.”

Critics have argued Hefner was a misogynist who’s life work degraded women, but he funded numerous legal battles for reproductive rights and birth control, declaring in 2002, “I was a feminist before there was such a thing as feminism.”

In more recent years, the man who wasn’t a big proponent of going down the aisle shared his support for marriage equality.

“Without question, love in its various permutations is what we need more of in this world,” he told The Daily Beast. “The idea that the concept of marriage will be sullied by same-sex marriage is ridiculous. Heterosexuals haven’t been doing that well at it on their own.”

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In an editorial in the September 2012 issue of Playboy, Hefner wrote, “The fight for gay marriage is, in reality, a fight for all of our rights. Without it, we will turn back the sexual revolution and return to an earlier, puritanical time. Today, in every instance of sexual rights falling under attack, you’ll find legislation forced into place by people who practice discrimination disguised as religious freedom.”

He added that their goal is “to dehumanize everyone’s sexuality and reduce us to using sex for the sole purpose of perpetuating our species. To that end, they will criminalize your entire sex life.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.