Humphreys was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma, to Ira Denver Humphreys and Stella Bernice Humphreys.5 "Laud" was chosen as his first name when he was baptized again upon entering the Episcopal Church. He graduated from the Seabury-Western Episcopal Theological Seminary in 1955, and served as an Episcopal priest. He was married to a woman from 1960 to 1980. Humphreys eventually came out as a gay man. He earned his Ph.D from Washington University in St. Louis, however, his Ph.D. was later rescinded by the university due to the perceived dishonesty of his research. He served as professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, California from 1972—1986 and died of lung cancer in 1988.
Humphreys was a founder of the Sociologists' Gay Caucus, established in 1974.
His biography was published in 2004, under the title Laud Humphreys: Prophet of Homosexuality and Sociology.
Humphreys is best known for his published Ph.D. dissertation, Tearoom Trade (1970), an ethnographic study of anonymous male-male sexual encounters in public toilets (a practice known as "tea-rooming" in U.S. gay slang and "cottaging" in British English). Humphreys asserted that the men participating in such activity came from diverse social backgrounds, had differing personal motives for seeking homosexual contact in such venues, and variously self-perceived as "straight," "bisexual," or "gay."
Because Humphreys was able to confirm that over 50% of his subjects were outwardly heterosexual men with unsuspecting wives at home, a primary thesis of Tearoom Trade is the incongruence between the private self and the social self for many of the men engaging in this form of homosexual activity. Specifically, they put on a "breastplate of righteousness" (social and political conservatism) in an effort to conceal their deviant behavior and prevent being exposed as deviants. Humphreys tapped into a theme of incongruence between one's words and deeds that has become a primary methodological and theoretical concern in sociology throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
Humphreys' study has been criticized by sociologists on ethical grounds in that he observed acts of homosexuality by masquerading as a voyeur, "did not get his subjects’ consent, tracked down names and addresses through license plate numbers and interviewed the men in their homes in disguise and under false pretenses." However, Tearoom Trade has been cited in social sciences essays.