It appears that the 1960s was when the term began being used to
describe cover for a homosexual male.
"Let?s look at the gay slang term ?beard,? which, according to the
Dictionary of Gay Slang, originated in the mid-?60s and is used to
describe ?a straight woman married to or involved with a gay man. The
gay man may be in the public eye, and may have a beard to hide the
fact that he is gay.?
From The Return of the Hirsute Homo
By Michael Svoboda
Mid 1960s date also confirmed here
OTHER LINKS THAT MAY BE OF INTEREST
"According to gay slang and The A-List, a merkin is defined as "a man
who dates or marries a gay or bisexual woman so that the woman can
pretend to be heterosexual". Conversely, a beard is "a woman who dates
or marries a gay or bisexual man so that the man can pretend to be
"FOD = Friend of Dorothy or Gay Male
Bi___________ = Bi Sexual
L____________ = Lesbian
Merkin is a Man who is married to a bi women or lesbian women.
Beard is a women married to a bi or homosexual male."
Forum post at the A-List
What's a merkin, really?
"A merkin (first use, according to the OED, 1617) is reported to be a
pubic wig, worn by prostitutes after shaving their genitalia to
eliminate lice or to disguise the marks of syphilis."
"Beard, "A person of the opposite sex, either heterosexual or
homosexual, who knowingly dates or marries a closeted lesbian or gay
man to provide that person with a heterosexual `disguise', usually for
family or career purposes."
"beard Noun. A woman who is seen to be romantically linked with a gay
man, so protecting his true sexuality from public scrutiny - often
associated with celebrities. [Orig U.S.]"
One of the general definitions of beard is "One who serves to divert
suspicion or attention from another," and that has been used for many
years - beards are grown to cover.
Thanks for asking this very intriguing question! :)
beard slang etymology
beard gay slang
beard gay slang origin
beard merkin gay
merkin beard homosexual origin
beard gay mid 60s OR 1960s