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Sexuality   |   Introduction   |   Sexuality and the YWCA   |  
Sexuality and the YMCA   |   Photo Gallery   |   Sources   |  
Sexuality
and the
YMCA

The YMCA

The YWCA's male oriented partner was the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). Historically, the organization was meant to nurture the "whole" man. It focuses on the physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of being a complete gentleman. In practice, this has meant a program seared toward temperance, hard work, and Christian evangelism.

Urbanization and Homosexual Cultures

With the process of urbanization, YMCA was a transitional point from the country to city that rural migrants found a convenient and comfortable place. Because of its respectable reputation, the YMCA buildings were mostly supervision free, and relatively untouched by the police.

Urban areas like Portland and other cities, provided individualization with anonymity and personal freedom, conditions which scholars have described as conducive to homosocial bonding and the emergence of urban gay cultures. Artistic and literary sources, as well as anonymous public documenting, describe the YMCA as a space of this sexual subculture. Yet significant pressures from the general public, the churches, and public officials yeilded not a public celebration of these subcultures, but policing them.

For example, in 1919, the YMCA in Newport, Rhode Island, was involved in a homosexual "scandal." In this case, there was Navy decoys that entrapped two YMCA ministers. The leaders of the organization denied it, of course, and locals did not believe it either. The court testimony, on the other hand, and sex research studies suggest this scandalous activity to be true, widespread, and dated the involvement of the YMCA's facilities and homosexuality back to the turn of the 20th century. A similar occurance took place in Portland, Oregon.

In 1912 homosexual cruising was brought to public attention by the police and the Portland legal system. The police raided the YMCA, arresting more than twenty men. Eventually there were more than fifty men indicted on charges of indecent and degenerate conduct. Many others fled town in a hurry to avoid arrest, and one even attempted suicide. Confessions were quick in order to avoid further public humiliation of these mostly "respectable" Protestant middle class members of Portland's community. The scandal included some of the most prominent businessmen of the city and the YMCA itself. This was disbelieved by most native Portlanders that I spoke to about it.

The homosexual cruising in the YMCA was hard for the public in general to believe. This organization was meant to protect young men from the immorality present in the city life. The commitment to matrimonial ideal and sexual purity was not relevant to America's urban sexual subculture. The gay community uses the YMCA, and the sexual encounters there, to celebrate and popularized the male-male sex. Erotic writers and pornographers often use the YMCA setting. In 1930, Paul Cadmus painted "YMCA Locker Room". Rae Bourbon sang "Queen of the YMCA". A song that comes on at many dances and parties, with it's own dance, is "YMCA" by the Village People. This is just a handful of examples.


Sources for this page were Men and Women Adrift..., and Paul Cadmus...


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