The Daily Agenda for Thursday, March 8

Jim Burroway

March 8th, 2012

Today is Purim, a minor Jewish holiday celebrating the deliverance of the people of Israel from Persia, as recounted in the Book of Esther. It’s a festive holiday involving gift giving, dressing in costumes or masks, charity, a festive meal, and listening to a public reading of the book of Esther, during which the congregation dutifully drowns out the reader with ratchet noisemakers whenever the reader encounters the name of Haman, the evil royal adviser to the Persian King who plotted to kill the Jews. Haman’s name appears in Esther 54 times. Interrupting a reading in the synagogue with toy noisemakers sets the tone for the holiday. According to the Talmud, “It is the duty of a man to mellow himself [with wine] on Purim until he cannot tell the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordeca’.” I think a lot of religions could benefit from an annual observance of levity. Purim officially began last night at sunset.

Community Events This Weekend: Cape Town Pride, Cape Town, SA; AIDS Walk, Houston, TX.

First Post-WWII Gay Organization Formed: 1948. The Veterans Benevolent Association had been meeting in New York City since 1945, serving as a social club for 75-100 regular members. It had been formed by four honorably discharged veterans, and the VBA became an important resource for those who needed assistance with a nasty employer or with legal problems. On March 9, the New York State Department issued a Certificate of Incorporation for the group. Its purpose was described this way:

To unite socially and fraternally, all veterans and their friends, of good and moral character, over the age of twenty years. To foster, create, promote, and maintain the spirit of social, fraternal, and benevolent feeling among the members and all those connected by any means and ties. To enhance the mutual welfare of its members. To promote and advance good fellowship, mutuality, and friendship, and to promote the best idealism and interests of its members. To advance the social and economic interests of its members; to provide suitable places for meeting of members and the establishment of facilities for social, fraternal, benevolent, and economic activities and functions.

Of course missing from that description is any reference to homosexuality.

As time went on, a split developed within the group between those who wanted the VBA to become more politically active and others who wanted the group to remain a social organization. The conflicts grew until the group was finally disbanded in 1954.

New York Police Raid A Gay Bar: 1970. It may come as a surprise to those who are not of a certain age, but raids on gay bars by the New York police department didn’t end with the Stonewall uprising in the summer of 1969. In fact, raids continued, virtually uninterrupted. At about 5:00 a.m. of March 8, 1970, New York police descended on the Snake Pit, an after-hours unlicensed bar in Greenwich Village. Deputy Inspector Seymore Pine showed up with a fleet of police wagons, and without bothering to sort out the owners from the clientele, arrested all 167 customers and took them to the station house, an act which violated police policy. One patron, Diego Vinales, panicked. An immigrant from Argentina who was in the country illegally, he feared what would happen to him in the police station and tried to escape by jumping out a second story window. He landed on a fence below, its 14-inch spikes piercing his leg and pelvis. He was not only critically wounded, but was also charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. As paramedics attended to Vinales, a cop told a fireman, “You don’t have to hurry, he’s dead, and if he’s not, he’s not going to live long,” sparking a false rumor that Vinales had died.

Following on that rumor, the Gay Activist Alliance immediately organized a protest for later that night. A pamphlet publicizing the protest read, “Any way you look at it, Diego Vinales was pushed. We are all being pushed. A march on the Sixth Precinct will take place tonight, March 8, at 9pm, gathering at Sheridan Square. Anyone who calls himself a human being, who has the guts to stand up to this horror, join us. A silent vigil will occur immediately following the demonstration.” Nearly 500 people showed up for the protest. After Rep. Edward Koch accused New York City Police Commissioner Howard Leary of green-lighting the resumption of raids and illegal illegal arrests on the gay community, Leary resigned and Pine was reassigned to Flatbush in Brooklyn. And the gay community, which had already witnessed a burst of organizing activity since the Stonewall uprising nine months earlier, became even more politically and socially active, setting the stage for a very successful Christopher Street commemoration later that Summer for the first anniversary of Stonewall.

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

March 8th, 2012

“I think a lot of religions could benefit from an annual observance of levity.”

Very true. If your god created rules and punishment and fear and awe but had no hand in playfulness and joy and silliness, maybe it’s time to shop for a different deity.

Richard Rush

March 8th, 2012

New York Police Raid A Gay Bar: 1970.”

New York wasn’t the only place. I lived in Cincinnati in 1970 where the only place of any note for gay people to go was not a gay bar, but a gay boat – a three-deck party boat. At about 11:30 on weekend nights the crowded boat would leave the public landing and cruise the Ohio River until about 2:00 AM. Very cool. My coming out experience largely revolved around that boat.

On one particularly frigid Saturday night I drove to the public landing, but to my disappointment, the boat had already left the dock. Thankfully. . .

In the wee hours of the morning the Kentucky authorities in speedboats commandeered the gay boat and forced it to the Kentucky side of the river where camera crews from the local TV stations were waiting to record the humiliation. All the passengers were forced to walk back across the bridge to their cars in Cincinnati where the majority had left their coats on that frigid night. The next night the TV stations ran extended newscasts to cover the story. I still have printed documentation (with photos) of this incident.

Several months later I wasn’t so lucky, but at least it was springtime. While the boat was still at the dock, it was raided by the Cincinnati police, and all of us were taken away in paddy wagons to spend the rest of the night in jail cells after we were formally arrested and fingerprinted. Because there were so many of us, each cell was fairly crowded, so we actually had a lot of fun banter (you know – making lemonade from lemons). Then, a few days later we all had to take off from work to march en masse into court to answer to the charges, which were then dismissed.

Both of those incidents were “legitimized” by trumped up charges of liquor violations. Supposedly, there was a dispute about who has jurisdiction over the waterways – the states or the federal government. Of course, when the party boat hosted events for people presumed straight, there was never a raid.

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