The Rejected was television’s first documentary to discuss the topic of homosexuality. It first aired on September 11, 1961 (three years before I was born) and, until very recently, no copies were known to exist.
Though unique in its dedication to confronting the stereotypes of the day, The Rejected remains a reflection of its time. A parade of lily-white authority figures — sociologists, social scientists, and Men in Horn-Rimmed Glasses — explain homosexuality in sonorous and sober tones. Those who suffer “the condition” are believed to be “in our midst in great numbers.” (By contrast, lesbians are neither counted nor named.)
There is no small amount of hand-wringing over whether homosexuality (“like alcoholism”) can be cured or controlled, allowing homosexuals to assume “a full and equal role as human beings in our society.” Surprisingly, there are also calls to action for more open discussion, more tolerance, and greater acceptance. (That said: even the compassion can be laced with derision. When discussing the plight of “lonely, older homosexual men,” the on-screen expert refers briefly to them as “the old pansies.”)
Three members of The Mattachine Society appear to speak up for gay men, but their appearance is nowhere near as riveting as the captive, silhouetted gay who, in a dramatic recreation of a counseling session, tells the doctor, he “just wants to be normal … like the other boys.”
When first produced, The Rejected won acclaim for balanced reporting on homosexuality but today, it is a peculiar and uncomfortable film to watch. The experts hem and haw, reading their lines from notes. They clear their throats often. With few exceptions ( Dr. Margaret Mead, for example) they all look as though they’d rather be on Fear Factor eating insects than talking about this subject.
Even so, The Rejected stands as a reminder of how quickly things have changed in American society. Just fifty years ago, the subject of homosexuality was so taboo, no stations would agree to air The Rejected, and no advertisers would agree to sponsor it. Today, we’ve got Modern Family and a Supreme Court on the verge (one hopes) of declaring equal marriage rights for all Americans.