An American Family debuted on Thursday, Jan. 11, 1973 on PBS stations. This pioneering reality series followed the lives of the upper middle class Loud family of Santa Barbara, California. And while it was a groundbreaking show for various reasons (it was not The Brady Bunch!), for the purposes of ZeitGAYst it was most noteworthy for the Loud's 21-year-old son Lance (below), who came out in one of the episodes.
In a post I wrote about a young gay man who was the subject of a 1986 cover story in Newsweek ("Growing Up Gay") , I mentioned how courageous it was for him to agree to do it - and that was thirteen years after Lance Loud's public declaration. The social environment in 1973 was very different, e.g. the gay liberation movement was relatively new and homosexuality was still considered a mental illness (it would be declassified as one at the end of 1973). Lance was very brave; his coming out was a huge step forward for the nascent gay movement because it brought into the living rooms of America a real family with an openly gay family member.
After the series concluded (at the end of March) Lance's celebrity continued. Like countless other reality participants who would follow him, Lance was the first to become famous simply for being on TV. He rubbed elbows with Andy Warhol, appeared on talk shows, and wrote occasional columns for the Advocate and Interview.
I was 15 at the time and remember my mother and older sister watching the series, but I myself never sat down to watch. Although my family from Pittsburgh couldn't have been more different from the Southern Californian Louds, there was a connection because both families had the same age profile (it wasn't yet known that me being gay was another connection).
Lance was the first of the Louds to die. Lance, who burned the proverbial candle at both ends, died from complications that arose from hepatitis C and AIDS in 2001 at the age of 50. (His dad, Bill, died in 2018, and his mom, Pat, passed away in 2021). Finally, in 2011 year HBO aired the TV movie Cinema Verite which told the story about the Louds and their pioneering TV series.