US government tried to deport WWE legend Pat Patterson over ‘homosexual activity’

An image of Pat Patterson from when he was a professional wrestler and a later interview after he retired

The US government tried multiple times to get WWE star Pat Patterson deported throughout the 1960s over suspicion he was gay.

Pat Patterson was a legendary Canadian-American professional wrestler and producer widely known for his decades working in the WWE. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1996 and even became the oldest person to hold a WWE title after winning the 24/7 Championship in 2019 at the age of 78.

Patterson came out publicly as gay in an emotional episode of WWE Legends’ House in 2014 and has been credited as the first gay star in the WWE. Sadly, Patterson died in December 2020, aged 79.

However, new documents unearthed in a report by David Bixenspan for Mel Magazine revealed the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) – a now-defunct branch of the Department of Justice – tried to deport Patterson because he was gay.

The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed the INS spent years investigating Patterson starting at the end of 1964. The goal was to find evidence of “homosexual activity” that could be used to have the wrestler deported back to Canada, where he was born.

Bixenspan noted this overlapped with the time in US history known as the “Lavender Scare” – the systemic hunt for LGBT+ people in the US government and their mass dismissal in the mid-20th century.

A memo in Patterson’s INS file dated 14 April 1965 read the investigation was based on information “received from the Office of Special Investigation” that “the subject is a homosexual”.

“Object to locate and interview any persons who may be able to offer information of the SUBJECT’S possible homosexual activities,” the note continued.

The INS documents included witness interviews from 14 April 1965 included references to Patterson’s wrestling name at the time and an investigation by the “Portland Police Department morals officers at homosexual parties in Portland”.

One witness claimed that Pat Patterson and his longtime romantic partner Louie Dondero would attend “‘gay’ parties at his home”. However, it was added that Patterson had never actually been seen “engaging in homosexual activities with other persons at the parties” and that the wrestler’s actions were “the same as any other gay person”.

In May that year, Patterson was haunted in front of the INS in San Francisco, but nothing came from the interview.

The investigation picked up again in November 1966 when the INS initiated deportation proceedings alleging Patterson gave the government agency a fraudulent work itinerary.

A memo about the proceedings described how the investigator questioned Patterson about his dyed blonde hair and “rather effeminate mannerisms”. But the wrestler responded that the “promoters told him that he was colourless” and that he “had to be different” – which included his new hair, “cigarette holder and other effeminate mannerisms.”

He outright denied he was gay when asked about his sexual orientation and claimed people accusing him were “jealous and were trying to get him into trouble”.

The INS also questioned Patterson about a relationship with an unnamed Air Force serviceman, which he denied. But the organisation gave Patterson a deportation notice with the stipulation that he notify them of his plans by 5 January 1967.

The INS also requested a psychological evaluation of the wrestler in December 1966. Bixenspan wrote it looked “as if the INS was attempting to trick Patterson into leaving the country” with the expectation he would be able to secure a green card but then would use a “psychological exam to declare him unfit to enter the US as a homosexual”.

But ultimately, the INS’s efforts were for nought, and Pat Patterson received his US citizenship in 2002. The WWE star also later revealed that he and Dondero were together for 40 years until Dondero died of a heart attack in 1998.