In the 1960s, Pat Patterson was fast-rising in North America. The Montreal-born wrestler was getting bookings from all around the country, making him one of the hottest commodities in wrestling at that time. He would go on to form the Blond Bombers with partner Ray Stevens in San Fransisco – a team that Bret Hart described as “considered by many to be the best tag team of the 1970s.” Pat also made history as the inaugural Intercontinental Champion in 1979 in the then-WWF. While all of these accolades are impressive, they all pale in comparison to the role of being one of the first openly homosexual wrestlers, even being dubbed “the first openly gay wrestling star” by NBC News, as well as “The First Gay Wrestling Star” by People Magazine after having come out behind the scenes in the late 1970s; as well as coming out publicly in 2014 in the last episode of WWE‘s “Legend’s House.” With being the “First Gay Wrestling Star” comes the persecution of Pat Patterson.
This is all common knowledge and can easily be found. What was not common knowledge, however, was the recently revealed investigation of Pat Patterson from the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to have him deported under grounds that he was a homosexual; a fact recently made public courtesy of David Bixenspan of MEL Magazine in his piece “The Government’s Gay Witch Hunt of Pat Patterson“. Mr. Bixenspan was able to obtain these files under the Freedom of Information Act after Patterson’s death in December 2020 at the age of 79.
McCarthyism and The Lavender Scare
To paint a picture for younger viewers who may not know, the INS was a branch of the government that came to be in 1933 due to the merger of 2 different agencies: the Bureau of Immigration and the Bureau of Naturalization. The true origins of it can be traced all the way to post-Civil War USA – with the Supreme Court ruling immigration a federal responsibility as early as 1876.
In the McCarthy era, the INS (along with several other Bureaus) was used to target many suspected Communists due to the Red Scare from the 1940s through to the 1960s. There was another scare happening at the same time, however, that has been much slower to make its way into the public eye: The Lavender Scare – a mass firing, forced resigning, and even in some cases deportation of “homosexuals and other sex perverts”. The scare is inexorably linked with the Red Scare, as McCarthy explicitly associated homosexuals with communists. While homosexuality in the US may have been something people were aware of, it certainly wasn’t something they were willing to accept. This made the 60s, as many can already assume and probably already know, a very bad time to be a homosexual in the USA.
Hate and bias for lifestyles that went against the traditional Anglo-Saxon way of living were at an all-time high, and it didn’t take long before homosexuality was considered by most to be a mental illness. Most workplaces were outright unaccepting of homosexuals; making it impossible for one to get a job unless they hid who they truly were, even facing the fear of being forced to leave the country if one was an immigrant. There was one thing that a homosexual could do in the 60s, though. If they were athletic enough and willing to go to extremes, they could find a personal escape in the mad world of professional wrestling.
Queerbaiting and Homosexuality in Pro Wrestling
Make no mistake: pro wrestling was just as guilty then of racial and sexual prejudice as it has always been. The 40s-60s, especially, saw many heel wrestlers with overtly effeminate traits to try and rile the crowd up. Masculinity being a very touchy subject in the country at that time, men acting outwardly flamboyant, effeminate, or anything that at the time would be considered as being opposite to what is believed to be masculine, would lead to inevitable connotations of them being gay – bringing heelish ire from the crowd. This is what’s known today as “queerbaiting”; the act of leading an audience to believe a character is homosexual but never going out of your way to explicitly say it. It is considered a very dirty marketing tactic, as it is a way to capitalize on the homosexual community without truly having to represent them.
Some of the biggest stars in wrestling were guilty of such characters, none more so than Gorgeous George: the first truly national wrestling star and one of the most well-known wrestlers of all time. After he popularized the tactic, many followed suit in trying to replicate his success. Pat Patterson was one such wrestler, doing so at the suggestion of then Seattle-based promoter Harry Elliot when he worked for Pacific Northwest Wrestling; a Portland Oregon based promotion run by Don Owen, courtesy of his memoir “Accepted”. He had moved to Portland in July of 1962 with partner Louie Dondero after having worked in Boston for Big Time Wrestling for about half a year. Elliot came to Patterson one day – newspaper records suggest October of 1962 according to David Bixenspan – saying that “he had a great idea. He knew I had a ‘friend'” said Patterson in his memoir, “so he came up with the character “Pretty Boy” Pat Patterson. I would wear lipstick, use a long cigarette holder and wear sunglasses and a beret. Louie made me a flamboyant ring jacket, and he would also play the role of my chauffeur/manager.”
While the character would end up making Patterson incredibly popular and sought after in the states, it also brought special ire to him from the INS at the end of 1964, when began a year-long investigation that nearly up-heaved the life of the young wrestler.
The Investigation and Persecution of Pat Patterson
While it isn’t known for sure what stirred the investigation in the first place, a summary of witness interviews from April 14th, 1965 brings up the investigation of the local gay community by the Portland Police Department’s morals squad. The document reads:
“The reports relate to an investigation conducted by Portland Police Department morals officers at homosexual parties in Portland, these reports mention a wrestler named ‘PRETTY BOY JACKSON.’ Also included in the reports were the names of persons who were considered victims, witnesses or defendants. Two of the defendants named in the reports: [redacted] and [redacted] are presently serving sentences at Oregon State Penitentiary for conviction on charges of sodomy. Several other persons, known homosexuals, were also mentioned in the police reports.”
The document later goes on to mention an investigation done by the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigation on a different wrestler who was also a veteran in the air force whose name was redacted. The investigation was done “to determine whether he was actually a homosexual and therefore subject to discharge from the air force.” This investigation, as Bixenspan also says, is more than likely what brought about the investigation on Patterson, as his name was brought up 5 days before the Portland INS Office requested his file from the central office in Washington D.C. The document also contains many interviews with “various Portland wrestlers are homosexuals.”
Most of the details from said interviews aren’t terribly interesting: one witness who “had held gay parties at his home” said that while Patterson and Dondero attended several of the parties, “he had never actually seen the SUBJECT engaging in homosexual activities with other persons at the parties” and that Patterson had regularly picked up “street hustlers” and “young boys.” (As Bixenspan himself says in the article for MEL, the term “boy” in the 60s carried many different emasculating connotations for homosexuals and people of color, so it’s important to take the description of the hustlers as “young boys” with a heavy grain of salt.) Another witness was quoted as saying Patterson “was known at the parties as MISS PATTERSON” and that he “acted gay, the same as the rest of the people at the parties.” The morals squad listed yet another witness as a “victim” due to being “the passive person on whom acts of sodomy were committed by homosexuals” but this witness denied knowing Patterson altogether. There are several other interviews, but most of them follow the same trend.
Not even a month later, on May 10, 1965, Patterson himself was brought in to answer questions for the INS in San Francisco, where he had moved to work for promoter Roy Shire, owner of west coast promotion “Big Time Wrestling” (no association with the Big Time Wrestling he had worked for in Boston.) The interrogation, much like the interviews with the witnesses, was largely uneventful. Due to a distinct lack of evidence of any “homosexual activity,” it seemed for a while that Patterson might escape from the situation, and the case went dormant for more than a year.
It wasn’t until November 18, 1966, that it would rear its ugly head again to make Patterson’s life living hell. The INS had initiated deportation proceedings on the pretext of Patterson giving the agency a fraudulent work itinerary. According to the INS memo summarizing the hearing, Patterson freely admitted to having no desire to return to Canada, citing his annual income as a rising wrestling star in the U.S. He had made over $20,000 in 1965 (about $165,000 now adjusting for inflation, as said by Bixenspan) and was set to make over $25,000 in 1966. ($206,000 adjusting for inflation, again courtesy of Bixenspan). This was money he couldn’t make in his native country of Canada. Patterson also argued that Shire handled all of the worker itinerary issues, even when outsourcing him to other promotions and territories around the country. This direction of the investigation was most likely ended when it was because the INS realized that, due to Patterson’s status as an H1 Visa Worker, he was exempt from needing to submit a set schedule.
This was not the end of the investigation though, as it turned back to a witch hunt shortly after this. The memo reads:
“Because of conversations that I have had with members of the Portland office, I asked [Patterson] on the record why he had dyed his hair blond and why he used some of the rather effeminate mannerisms which he affected. His response was that when he was starting out as a wrestler the promoters told him that he was colorless; that besides being a good wrestler he had to be different and that in his case they suggested the blond hair, cigarette holder and other effeminate mannerisms, saying that while the people would not like it, it would draw them to the bouts. He was asked point-blank if he was a homosexual and denied it. He was also asked if he molested little boys and denied that. He volunteered the information that because he was a ‘good’ wrestler – other people were jealous and were trying to get him into trouble. As I had no evidence with which to confront him, I let the matter drop there.”
After this, the investigation came to a grinding halt, with the hearing being tabled to be continued at a later date, so Roy Shire could provide more accurate information on Patterson’s employment position. As Bixenspan puts it, things get very murky from here. Somewhere in the interim, the INS kept digging on Patterson, starting 3 days after the hearing when they asked the Air Force for the information on the file of the previously mentioned veteran/pro wrestler who had allegedly had homosexual relations with Patterson. On December 15, 1965, They received a memo summarizing the witness statements in the file and how they related to Patterson. After half a page worth of redaction, the longest redaction in the whole file, it says that the unnamed airman and wrestler admitted in an interview to “homosexual behavior”, with Patterson named in said interview as a partner whilst stressing heavily that he (the airman) had only had these relations with civilians, and never with other servicemen.
The next day, he said in a sworn statement that he would not name anybody, but the day after that he admitted again to having sex with Patterson, describing him as “the recipient.” He also says that he only associated with civilian wrestlers who go to a hotel, but the name of the hotel had been redacted. On December 9th, Patterson was once again interrogated, this time with the new details from the Air Force’s final report in mind.
“PAT PATERSON [sic] was contacted in Seattle on December 9, 1964, and denied ever having any homosexual [sic] relations with [redacted]; that when [redacted] was interviewed later he too denied his previous admission of homosexual relations with Pat Paterson [sic] and explained the reason for such false admission was only because of ‘PATS’ [sic] reputation of being a homo, and his desire to be relieved from the [several words redacted].”
5 days after the INS received the report, a deportation notice was sent to Patterson saying that he must notify them of his plans by January 5th, 1967, and leave the country by January 10th. As Bixenspan writes in his article, “Stamps on the notice saying that someone or something was “RECEIVED” at the Montreal airport on January 9th and then again on January 16th in Portland suggest that Patterson may have had to leave the U.S. for a week before returning. But it’s far from clear, especially because, according to results in the next day’s Arizona Republic, Patterson definitely wrestled in Phoenix on January 14th. (WrestlingData.com lists him as being advertised for a show in Modesto, California the day before, but with no result confirming that he was there.)” On December 21st of 1966, Patterson was requested a psychological examination from the INS. At his second hearing, he was granted voluntary departure by January 10th. The letter stating so was sent via airmail and reads:
“He makes quite a lucrative living in the United States and has advised that he will have his manager get papers ready so that he can return to the United States for permanent residence. The subject is a well-known homosexual. Although, as you can well imagine, we can not get a homosexual to admit having relations with him, nevertheless the file contains plenty of information to the effect that he is homosexual. Therefore, would it be possible for you, through the Embassy in Ottawa, to circulate the American Consuls in Canada so that when the subject applies for a visa they would demand a psychiatric examination for him. He is originally from [the] Quebec area but I do not know where he would apply for a visa. In the event the American Consuls want the contents of our file I will be only too glad to forward the file to you so that you could furnish them the appropriate information.”
To once again quote Bixenspan, “Basically, it looks as if the INS was attempting to trick Patterson into leaving the country with the expectation that he would be able to easily secure a green card, only to use a psychological exam to declare him unfit to enter the U.S. as a homosexual.”
After this, there isn’t much of anything else on the attempt to deport Patterson, as his INS file ends here. He would go to Australia to work for promoter Jim Barnett on a 3-month tour of the continent. This is hardly incriminating in any way though, as Australia was simply the most lucrative location for pro wrestlers. The only time the file picks back up is in 1971 when Patterson applied for a Green Card, and there is nothing indicating any trips to Canada. The file remains mostly barren until his successful application for full citizenship in 2002.
It is important to note that, while this all paints Patterson in a very sympathetic light, he had his own allegations brought against him as well. In 1992 the WWF was subject to several scandals other than just the steroid issues. One such issue was a mass amount of sexual assault/harassment allegations. Patterson was one of the accused, with the accusations being that he had been seen groping underage boys. Two such accusations came from Murray Hodgson and “Superstar” Billy Graham – who admitted to his accusations being “harsh untruths“. Both of these accusations ended up being false. Other such claims, however, such as the one Bixenspan uses with former underage ring attendant Tom Cole are more believed to be true by most. This in no way means he deserved what happened to him, but it is nonetheless an important piece of information for the reader.
It is, as Bixenspan says, very hard to know how much this all affected Patterson’s life moving forward, as he never publicly or privately discussed it with anyone. Friend of Patterson, Gerald Brisco, did mention that a few times Pat would say he was “being watched” and had to be careful, but he never elaborated on it. He would ultimately take the story to his grave in December of 2020 when he passed away at the age of 79, but not before finally coming out of the closet on WWE’s Legend’s House series in 2014 in the series finale. This story is not only an important piece of pro wrestling history that was never known before, but an important piece of American history as well. It is a window into a different, less accepting time in our history. A peer into the era of McCarthyism, homophobia, and xenophobia.
His tag team run with Ray Stevens, being the first Intercontinental Champion, and everything else in the late 60s and 70s would never have been had the INS gotten their way. One of the biggest stars of pro wrestling in the 60s and 70s almost never was. All credit for information once again goes to David Bixenspan of MEL Magazine. None of this information would be public if it weren’t for his efforts, and it is once again highly recommended you read his article “The Government’s Gay Witch Hunt of Pat Patterson” as well.
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