The Daily Agenda for Monday, July 25

Jim Burroway

July 25th, 2011

First NAACP Town Hall on LGBT Issues: Los Angeles. The NAACP’s 102nd Annual National Convention today will host its first-ever town hall meeting on LGBT issues. The forum, which will be moderated by CNN Anchor Don Lemon, will examine the significant contributions of black gay leaders within the Civil Rights movement, the role of black straight allies in addressing homophobia  overcoming LGBT discrimination within the black community. The panelists will include longtime Civil Rights leader Ambassador Julian Bond, Spelman College Professor Beverly Guy-Sheftall, comedian Wanda Sykes, actor Daryl Stephen and writer, scholar and activist Kenyon Farrow. The Town Hall will take place this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

UN Economic and Social Council To Consider LGBT Group’s Accreditation: Geneva, Switzerland. In a general council meeting today, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) will vote on whether to accredit the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (IGLA), which in turn determines whether the organization can attend UN meetings, submit written statements, make oral interventions, host panels — even get in the door of UN buildings. Much of NGOs working on these issues address important human rights questions and it is critical that they have a voice at the UN. It is particularly important that ILGA, as a global federation of LGBTI organizations, no longer be denied a voice at the UN. Because much of ECOSOC’s work touches on human rights, having a voice on behalf of sexual minorities is particularly important. The vote is expected to be close.

Dr. Barry Dies, Revealed As Transman: 1865. Before Britain’s Inspector General of Military Hospitals, Dr. James Barry, died, he left strict instructions that no one was to change him out of the clothes in which he died. But the charwoman sent to prepare his corpse had no room for such nonsense. And so when she pulled his nightshirt up to wash his boody, she screamed, “The devil! It’s a woman!”

Dr Barry, while alive, was known as a fierce and demanding doctor, and in the process became one of the most highly respected and feared surgeons in Victorian England, feared for his combative temper and fierce determination. He famously got in a bitter argument with Florence Nightingale, who called him a “brute” and “the most hardened creature I ever met throughout the Army.” As Inspector General, he fought for better food, hygiene, sanitation and proper medical care for soldiers and for prisoners. His reforms undoubtedly saved thousands of lives. He became the top-ranking doctor in the British Army, where despite his argumentative personality, was also reputed to have an very good bedside manner. Many who knew him also remarked on his high, soft voice and his diminutive stature — he stood barely five feet tall on special stacked-soled shoes. His black manservant, who joined Barry’s employment in South Africa and would remain with him for the next fifty years, was entrusted with the task of laying out six small towels every morning that Barry used to conceal his curves and broaden his shoulders.

Despite the charwoman’s discovery upon his death, his secret remained tightly held and he was buried under the only name he had gone by since his early twenties.  It wouldn’t be until the 1950s when his British Army records were unsealed that it was revealed that Barry had been born in Ireland as Margaret Buckley to a forward thinking family who were staunch supporters of women’s rights. Margaret became James Barry shortly after beginning training to become a doctor. But since women were not admitted to universities at the time, the only way Barry could continue his education and career was to do so as a man. And in every respect, he remained a man in what was very much a man’s world until the day he died.

Barry’s life and career is the subject of Rachel Holmes’s 2007 book, The Secret Life of Dr James Barry: Victorian England’s Most Eminent Surgeon.

Rock Hudson’s AIDS Diagnosis Confirmed: 1985. The rumors had been swirling for some time, coming to a head when Rock Hudson was admitted into Paris’s Pasteur Institute for what was clearly a very serious illness. He had appeared a few days earlier on Doris Day’s television talk show appearing gaunt, and his speech was nearly incoherent. His admission to Pasteur only increased speculation that Hudson was suffering from AIDS, since the world-famous Institute was a leading research and treatment center for the disease. But the official line remained that Hudson was battling liver cancer until this date in 1985, when his publicist revealed that Hudson had been diagnosed with AIDS the year before. Of Hudson’s stay at the Paris hospital, the spokesperson said, “He’s lucid. He’s talking, He’s joking… He’s feeling much better and in quite good spirits.” But his publicist remained circumspect about Hudson’s sexuality, saying only, “He doesn’t have any idea now how he contracted AIDS. … Nobody around him has AIDS.”

That would change a few weeks later when, apparently with Hudson’s blessing, close friends Angie Dickinson, Robert Stack and Mamie Van Doren acknowledged Hudson’s sexuality in a supportive article  in People magazine. Messages of support flowed in from Morgan Fairchild, Joan Rivers, and, of course Elizabeth Taylor. Hudson’s death less than three months later provoked another wave of sympathy and galvanized much of Hollywood, with Elizabeth Taylor’s prodding, to undertake the task of reducing the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.

J. Warren Kerrigan: 1879. While little known today, Kerrigan had been a very popular silent film star, appearing in films for Essanay, Biograph, and later Universal. His typical character was a leading role as a modern, well-dressed man-about town. He nearly killed his career over a glib remark about his refusal to enlist in World War I. He managed to salvage his reputation in 1923 with the lead role in The Covered Wagon. That success opened the doors to five more hit films in the next year, and with that his financial security was assured. He retired from filmmaking and lived with his devoted partner of forty years until Kerrigan died in 1947 at the age of 67.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. PLEASE, don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).


July 25th, 2011

Question: Do we know that Dr. James Barry was a transman? He might have been, of course, but I his story as presented above does not really allow this conclusion. Is it not possible that this is the story of a woman who chose to dress and act like a man to get around the conventions of her time?

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