Laud Humphreys' Tearoom Trade: The Best and Worst of Sociology?

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7 Responses

  1. Eric Strayer says:

    The serendipity of your post is incredible in that this week’s reading for my SOC 1 students is an article on Humphrys’ Tea Room study. The focus is on research ethics, and later of course there will be Milgram and Zimbardo’s more famous experiments.

    But I very much appreciate your critique of the positive elements of the study. And the magnitude of the backlash he received perhaps deserves its own study.

    The fact is that I don’t know exactly how I even got to this page without backtracking a bit. But I just had to leave a not.

    Best,

    Eric Strayer

  2. Candace Smith says:

    Hi Eric,

    Thank you for your comment. Humphreys’ study certainly is a good example of questionable research ethics. I agree that the polarization it created would make for a good study.

    Also, I’m glad that you had your students read about Humphreys’ work. He is an interesting character that is still able to grab attention today. I doubt that he had any idea that people would still be talking about his research so many years later. Whether he should have done the study or not, it is clear that he was uniquely successful at capturing an audience.

  3. Eric Strayer says:

    Thanks for the reply. It is a big internet. And now a bigger world (for many of us) for it. Nice to make a real connection once in a while.

    best,

    es

  4. Jay Pearson says:

    Humphreys was invited to speak at The Maxwell School of Syracuse University because the Sociology department was housed in that building. Humphreys revealed to the audience of students and faculty the location of a T-room in that building. He pin-pointed it and described what went on there. Needless to say, this made the use of that location impossible for homosexual men from the community. It was the refuge of profs, grad students, public school teachers, and even alumni—during home coming week! Humphreys destroyed the anonymity of the location which shut it down for many years. It was briefly active much later until the building was rebuilt during which rebuilding that men’s room was destroyed.

  5. John Sims Patterson says:

    I was doing grad work at SU when Humphrey’s came to speak. Revealing a men’s room used in the building in which he was speaking echoed throughout the University and the city. As Jay Pearson says, it was indeed the talk of the town and, as I understand it, wrecked the use of that facility for the many different men who had used it. This seems to me to be an unethical decision by a researcher. Aren’t such researchers supposed to leave their subjects or situations unharmed by the research they do? Therefore, I suspect that he was a deeply self-hating gay man and a mean-spirited one with no empathy at all for his subjects. You would do better to read the books of Boyd McDonald. He harmed no one, and published in detail, the writings of functioning homosexuals of every stripe. Humphreys was a jerk blood sucking men who either didn’t know what he was doing nor how untrustworthy he was.

  6. John Sims Patterson says:

    Yes, Jay Pearson, I was studying at Syracuse University at the time. His reveal of the T-Room in the building where he was lecturing caused quite a stir on campus and in the city. As I see it, he gained access to this area of life and then betrayed the people who helped him to function there. He took away their “hiding place”, and for what reason? To gain notoriety that would enable him to get more speaking invites and earn more money! This was dishonest and unethical. Though he was in a straight marriage he eventually came out as a gay man. I believe he had lived as a self-hating person for so long that he hated on the men from whom he had gained so much. In other word, he was a mess and probably caused a lot of damage and distress to the people he was studying. Those who left Washington University because of this man’s behavior were completely right in doing so. Humphrey was a mess and made a mess. Now, the chance to create an ethical, honest study on same sex behavior has passed. Better information can be gotten from the books of Boyd McDonald.

  7. Luiza says:

    Hello,
    Is there anywhere that I can find a written article on his appearance at Syracuse ?
    Thank you
    LM

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