The Other Side of Playboy Creator Hugh Hefner

When you think of Hugh Hefner, you probably picture him sitting in the Playboy mansion, surrounded by scantily clad women in bunny ears. You may marvel over his crazy lifestyle or look down on him for his attitude toward women.

Regardless of what you think about Hefner, you probably don’t put much thought into his stance toward gay rights or equality — but perhaps you should.

As Alex over at the Women’s Rights blog notes, in a new documentary about Hugh Hefner, Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, director Brigitte Berman shows that there is much more to Hefner than meets the eye.

Hefner has been criticized among many feminists for years, especially those who are against pornography. And it’s certainly hard to defend a man who boldly stated that “women are sex objects.” Yet, Hefner has in some respects helped the feminist cause. He gave millions of dollars to feminist legal battles, including cases involving birth control and abortion.

Hefner also supported racial equality and integration. When he found out two Southern franchises of his Playboy nightclubs were segregated, he bought them back to integrate them.

Hefner said that he agreed to Brigitte’s documentary because “it reveals a side of me that has less to do with my lifestyle and more to my commitment with social change.”

So what exactly has Hefner done to show his support for gay rights? In 1955, during the height of the Cold War and rampant homophobia, Hefner insisted on publishing a gay-themed story. The story, called “The Crooked Man” and written by Charles Beaumont, clearly reversed roles of heterosexuals and homosexuals. In the story, the world was dominated by homosexuals, and heterosexuals had to lie about their identity and meet in seedy underground clubs.

Hefner ran the story despite angry responses from readers. Hefner said he valued the message of the story: “If it’s wrong to persecute heterosexuals in a homosexual society, then the reverse was wrong too.”

While it’s certainly easy to criticize Hugh Hefner, there’s also a more complex narrative about the man that goes beyond the “bunnies.” Meanwhile, check out the trailer for Brigitte’s documentary below.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons