Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2006


Published in GREAT PLAINS RESEARCH 16:2 (Fall 2006). Copyright © 2006 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln.


As an undergraduate sociology major, the only thing I learned about Oklahoman Laud Humphreys's classic, Tearoom Trade (1970) was how it violated standards of informed consent in social science research. As Galliher, Brekhus, and Keys recount in their biography, Laud Humphreys: Prophet of Homosexuality and Sociology, sociology graduate student Laud Humphreys needed to supplement his (quite likely, participant) observational research of men who had sex in public bathrooms (i.e., tearooms) in St. Louis in the mid-1960s with a formal questionnaire. Knowing that these men would never agree if they knew they were selected because of their participation in highly stigmatized and criminal behavior, Humphreys recorded their license plates, got their home addresses, and interviewed them as part of a "community health survey." Herein lies the deception and the major source of the controversy. What I didn't fully appreciate when I was a student, however, and what the authors so deftly illuminate is the importance of this work not only for debates around ethical issues of social science research, but more importantly, perhaps, for the study of sexuality, deviance, and urban life.