In A Nutshell
During the 1950s and 1960s, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) felt homosexuals were a national security danger and used a machine dubbed a “fruit machine” to discover a person’s sexual orientation. It would measure the dilation of the subject’s pupils and their heart rate while they were shown pornographic images. Those determined to be homosexual were fired or demoted.
The Whole Bushel
While Cold War paranoia was running rampant across the world, the RCMP feared homosexuality could be used as blackmail against public service workers. In order to remedy this problem, they decided to find out who was actually homosexual. They didn’t have the resources (or the desire) to investigate every single worker, so the people they ended up investigating were rumored to be gay, usually fingered by co-workers or neighbors.
At first, the methods used by the RCMP were restricted to one-on-one interviews with the suspects because there was no scientific way to determine a person’s sexual orientation. In 1962, Professor F. Robert Wake reported on what he called a “fruit machine,” said to be able to detect homosexuality in a person. The machine, which resembled a dentist’s office chair, would detect pupil response and breath and heart rates while pornographic (and non-pornographic) images of men and women were shown on a black box at the front of the machine. The interviewee would be judged on his or her arousal and was fired if they were determined to be homosexual.
At first, those signed up for the test were falsely led to believe they were agreeing to a simple stress test. After the first few people were fired, word spread quickly, leading most to decline the invitation. Due to the dwindling number of volunteers and how difficult the machine was to operate, the fruit machine was retired in 1967. Altogether, over 9,000 people, straight and homosexual, were harassed by the RCMP and many were fired or demoted. The most famous person to be fired was John Wendell Holmes, an accomplished professor and diplomat, who later admitted to being homosexual.