The Daily Agenda for Saturday, July 2
July 2nd, 2011
TODAY IN HISTORY:
State Department Fires 381 Homosexuals: 1953. In the early 1950s, the entire country was in the grips of the Red Scare as Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy was conducting his witch hunts. One of his main platforms would be the Senate’s Subcommittee on the Investigation of Loyalty of State Department Employees. While McCarthy’s main targets were imaginary Communists in the State Department, gay employees were also seen as “subversives” in need of rooting out. Among the more high-profile targets was Samuel Reber, a twenty-seven year career diplomat who announced his retirement in May of 1953 after McCarthy charged that he was a “security risk” — which was a barely-concealed code for homosexual. By then, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had already responded to McCarthy’s witch hunt by signing an executive order mandated the firing of all federal employees who were found guilty of “sexual perversion.” He also announced a re-organization of the State Department. Rep. Charles B Brownson, an Indiana Republican with his own lesser-known witch hunt underway in the House Government Operations Committee, asked the State Department for a progress report in rooting out homosexuals. On July 2, 1953, the State Department’s chief security officer R.W. Scott McLeod revealed that 351 homosexuals and 150 other “security risks” had been fired between 1950 and 1953.
Dee Palmer: 1937. Jethro Tull fans would know her as composer and keyboardist David Palmer. She had provided orchestral arrangements for several significant Jethro Tull albums, including Aqualung and Thick as a Brick before joining the band as a full time musician in 1976. At the time, she presented herself as an eccentric Englishman, complete with a Sherlock Holmes pipe and a beard. She remained with the band until it broke up in 1980 over Ian Andersion’s decision to release a solo album under the Jethro Tull name.
She was also married. He had told Maggie about her transgender feelings on their second date, and Maggie was accepting. “All of my time with Maggie was blissfully happy,” she later recalled. But after her wife died in 1998, Dee was left alone to confront her sense that something was wrong. “Once she died I sat in the kitchen looking down the garden for a year, then gradually from the outermost part of my body and soul where I had consigned what I was to learn was gender dysphoria started to reassert itself as something that I had to deal with again.”
She finally decided it was time to act on the feelings that she had been having since the age of three. She changed her name to Dee in 2000 and underwent gender reassignment in 2004. The whole process for her was very difficult. “It isn’t for wimps by the way … And it isn’t for people who want to wear a frock and prance around masquerading as a female. It’s nothing to do with that, it’s a light year away from that.” Now that she has transitioned, she feels liberated, and lives with a sense that there was nothing left to hold her back. “it is like jumping from a parachute. At first it’s very easy, but then suddenly the ground is coming up at you and you can’t stop until you’ve reached the end; it’s very much that kind of experience – your writing and performance will take on new dimensions.” Today, Dee is a solo artist and a classical composer who wants nothing more than to be judged on her musical abilities alone.
Johnny Weir: 1984. The famous American figure skater is a three-time U.S. National Champion (2004–2006) and a the 2008 Worlds Championship bronze medalist, although for a number of reasons, his Olympic appearances in 2006 and 2010 were disappointing. When he appeared at the 2010 U.S. Championships wearing fox fur as part of his costume, he began to receive death threats from animal rights activists. He defended his decision to wear fur as “a personal choice,” but decided to remove the fur from his costume. By the time the 2010 Winter Olympics came around in Vancouver, he had to change his housing arrangement due to security concerns.
Weir was always a bit different — including the fact that he spins clockwise instead of counter-clockwise like most other figure skaters. He was long suspected of being gay — as are probably most male figure skaters. The fact that he designed some of his own skating costumes in a very androgynous style didn’t do much to quell the rumors. But for most of his career, he preferred to leave the questions unanswered. “It’s not part of my sport and it’s private,” he’d say. But when he published his memoir Welcome to My World earlier this year, he finally came out as gay. He said his decision to come out was prompted by a string of suicides in 2010. “With people killing themselves and being scared into the closet, I hope that even just one person can gain strength from my story.”
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