The Daily Agenda for Thursday, October 6

Jim Burroway

October 6th, 2011

TODAY’S AGENDA:

AIDS Walks This Weekend: Columbus, OH; Indianapolis, IN and Kent/Sussex, DE.

Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Atlanta, GA; Orlando, FL; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Tucson, AZ.

Also This Weekend: Iris Prize Film Festival, Cardiff, UK.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Miami Mayor: “Deviates Are Leaving The City”: 1954. Miami had been undergoing a major anti-gay campaign for several years, targeting bars and private parties catering to gay people. Miami’s mayor told The Miami News that those efforts were clearly paying off:

Miami is the cleanest town in the area so far as homosexuals go, it was claimed by Mayor Abe Aronovitz, who said, “but we are not solving it from a humanitarian standpoint because we are only clearing it up as far as Miami is concerned.”

“There is no solution from a humanitarian standpoint, however, because I have received complaints from both Broward County on the north and Monroe County on the south that the homosexuals are just drifting out of Miami.”

The City Commission later today is expected to pass on second reading an ordinance aimed at controlling homosexuals and also jeopardizing liquor licenses of establishments serving people known to have homosexual tendencies.

It was passed on the first reading two weeks ago.

And that is why there are no homosexuals in Miami.

Matthew Shepard Assaulted: 1998. At around 6:30 PM, Aaron Kreifels was riding his bicycle on Snowy Mountain View Road, just outside of Laramie, Wyoming, when he wiped out near the end of a rough buck-and-rail fence. In the fall, he severely damaged his front tire. Aaron got up to try to figure out how to get back into town when he was startled by what he thought was a scarecrow. He took a closer look and discovered that it wasn’t a scarecrow, but a 5-foot-2, 102 pound University of Wyoming student by the name of Matthew Shepard. Aaron was further surprised to see that the bloody figure was still alive, though barely. Matthew was comatose, breathing “as if his lungs are full of blood,” Aaron would later testify. It had been a very cold day that day with a 30-degree freezing wind the night before, and it was now evening again. Matthew had been there for more than 18 hours, laying on his back, head propped against the fence, his legs outstretched. His hands were tied behind him, and the rope was tied to a fence post just four inches off the ground. His shoes were missing.

Aaron, in a state of panic, ran to the nearby home of Charles Dolan. From there, they called 911, and then the both of them returned to Matthew to wait for the sheriff’s deputy to arrive. Deputy Reggie Fluty later testified that the only spots not covered in blood on Matt’s brutally disfigured face were tracks cleansed by his tears. She told the barely breathing victim, “Baby, I’m so sorry this happened.”

Matthew was rushed to Poudre Valley Hospital’s intensive care unit in critical condition. He suffered fractures from the back of his head to the front of his right ear from being pistol-whipped by a 357-Magnum more than twenty times. He had severe brain stem damage which affected his body’s ability to control heart rate, breathing, temperature, and other involuntary functions. There were lacerations around his head, face and neck. He had welts on his back and arm, and bruised knees and groin. He had also suffered from hypothermia. His injuries were too severe for doctors to operate. They did however insert a drain into Matthew’s skull to relieve the pressure on his brain.

By the end of the day, Matthew Shepard was laying quietly in a soft, warm bed with clean sheets after having spent eighteen hours in the freezing high plains of Wyoming tied to a fence post. He was breathing with the aid of a ventilator.

(You can read the entire series I wrote to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his brutal slaying here.)

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
Bruno Balz: 1902. He wrote some of Germany’s most famous songs for film despite his career being hampered by official persecution for his homosexuality. When Balz was arrested by Nazi authorities for violating Germany’s Paragraph 175 outlawing male homosexuality, he was released after several months’ imprisonment on the condition that his name not be mentioned in public. When he was arrested again in 1941 and tortured in Gestapo headquarters, his songwriting partner, Michael Jary, appealed to authorities to release him, saying that he could write songs to lift German morale as part of the war effort. He wrote two of his greatest hits just days after his release. And while his songs would be criticized later for aiding  the war effort, gays in Germany were buoyed by what they saw as double meanings in some of his songs. One song in particular, his 1938 classic “Kann denn Liebe Sunde sein?” (“Can Love Be a Sin?”), became something of an anthem for Germany’s underground gay community:

Every little Philistine makes my life miserable, for he’s always
talking about morality. And whatever he may think and do, you can
see that he just doesn’t want anyone to be happy…. Whatever
the world thinks of me, I don’t care, I’ll only be true to love.

Can love be a sin?
Can’t anybody know when you kiss,
When you forget everything out of happiness?

Balz’s troubles continued even after the war and the fall of Nazism. After all Paragraph 175 remained the law of the land until 1994 after Germany’s reunification, which meant that the strictures on him remained in effect preventing him from receiving his due credit for his music. Balz died in 1988. There is now a Bruno Balz theater named for him in Berlin.

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

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

Timothy Kincaid

October 6th, 2011

Matthew Shepard Assaulted: 1998

Thirteen years later and still reading this headline made my pulse increase, my jaw clench, and my eyes narrow and start to moisten. Thirteen years later and a visceral response to a name and date.

It’s peculiar how an event that really isn’t all that unique somehow put together all the elements necessary for a sea shift. There were a lot of gay people who had suffered at the fists of bigotry, beatings and deaths that went largely unnoted. But this time a small kid, fragile really, found in a rural city tied to a fence with cross-shaped posts, at just the right moment, changed us completely.

The country held its breath over the next few days, until he was gone, and still has not forgotten. Like lunar landings, the execution of a civil rights leader, the fall of the soviet empire, and the election of a black president, the death of Matthew Sheppard was a cultural milestone, a reference point.

Before Matt, the mental image of a ‘fag bashing’ was some seedy fellow in a park who was lurking around the kiddies and got what was coming to him. But after October 1998, whenever the country heard of anti-gay violence, it was Matt they pictured. They still do.

The anti-gays try hard to play up Matt’s flaws in hopes that by tarnishing his image it will diminish his impact. They fail to recognize that Matt’s flaws are what give his death power. He wasn’t some idol, some picture of perfection. He was cute but not striking, a good kid but not angelic, a student who strived but also got lazy; in short, Matthew Sheppard was anyone’s kid.

And this change in perspective played an essential role in the change in politics in this country. No longer just “them”, after Matthew gay people became “ours”. No event stands alone, of course, and had it not been Matthew Sheppard it would have been another kid. But his death truly did shift the thinking of the nation.

In looking back, the accidental crucifix imagery was an omen of the importance of what had happened that night thirteen years ago in Laramie. In a way, Matthew Sheppard died so that we might be free.

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