“The right to have sex without state intrusion must inevitably be confirmed and codified by the Court.”
In 2018, the statement isn’t groundbreaking. But the writer, Webster Schott, is 90 years old and he wrote those words in November 1967 for The New York Times. The legendary Stonewall Riots wouldn’t happen until almost two years later in June 1969.
“They were people who were looked down upon because of their sexual preference and the truth is most people have almost no control over their sexual preference,” Schott told SFGN. “You’re born that way. It’s genetic.”
And it wasn’t just one piece. In Schott’s nearly 50 years as a freelance journalist, his byline can be found in Life, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Sun-Times, and more. By day, he was a business executive at greeting card companies like Hallmark Cards, American Greetings and Gibson Greeting Cards. When he got home, he would take out his typewriter and work on his articles.
“I loved my wife and I love my children, but I did stay up and write at odd hours and in odd places, taking my typewriter to vacations in North Carolina and to Cape Hatteras and to Massachusetts and to New Mexico and California and all of that,” Schott said. “Wherever I went at that time, my typewriter went along.”
His first published piece was when he was 14. He studied journalism at the University of Missouri, where he became the first member of his family to get a college degree in 1948. It was a far cry from his upbringing during the Great Depression–one year, his father only made $400.
For The New York Times, Schott was first assigned to review fiction written by gay people, including Mexican-American writer John Rechy. Schott was already interested in writing about gay people from his experience working in the psychology lab in college and seeing how they were treated in society.
In a 1986 tribute to the late gay writer Christopher Isherwood, Schott wrote “What he showed us was that being homosexual also means feeling everything. It was something we needed to know.”
In his writing, Schott criticized the U.S. for its laws regarding sexual expression being fit for “Mayflower Pilgrims,” highlighted the gay press, noted a source who said homosexual relationships have more longevity than heterosexual ones, and investigated what experts believe is the cause of homosexuality–including one who says it’s not a mental illness.
“I guess my fundamental sympathies in life are with people who are either ignored, badly treated, or plotted against. I’m kind of organically sympathetic to people who are different,” he said. “We’re generally moving over a long period of time toward greater understanding of the importance of individual freedom and individual self expression.”
However, not everyone thought the way that Schott did, which motivated him to cover the equality and civil rights movements. Almost always, he said, he wrote for progressive papers, including The Nation and the New Republic.
“Society as a whole moved in what I consider to be a right direction,” he said. “Our present situation, of course, is a pause in that inevitable movement, I think, toward greater freedom. But it’s an alarming pause, from my point of view. I’m 90 years old and I really look forward to living long enough to see Donald Trump thrown out of office.”
When asked if he thought his reporting was groundbreaking for the time, he quickly replied, no. Instead, Schott gives the credit to the editors and those who gave him the assignments for recognizing that the stories he wrote were worth telling.
“I was extremely fortunate, very lucky, to be able to write what I wrote and I think I wrote about the right things at the right time,” he said. “I think I was part of much larger forces at work in the world headed for more social justice.”