The Daily Agenda for Monday, March 26
March 26th, 2012
Soulforce Equality Ride: Bethany, OK. The Soulforce Equality Ride is at about the halfway mark, and today the bus rolls in to the Oklahoma City suburb of Bethany for a visit with Southern Nazarine University. According to Soulforce, they were invited by the conservative university onto campus “to continue a discussion that has already been happening. We will be there for a time of fellowship and to challenge them and ourselves.” The visit takes place from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., but the event is not open to the public. Tomorrow, the bus tour will continue in Oklahoma City with a morning press conference and a visit to the Oklahoma City Bombing Museum. Soulforce will remain the the OKC area through Friday. Details of their stay can be found on the Soulforce web site.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Gay Group Meets at White House: 1977. In a historic first, a group of gay advocates from the National Gay Task Force (later, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force) met with presidential aide Midge Costanza for the first official discussion of gay rights at the White House. Gay rights leaders, including Bruce Voeller, Jean O’Leary, Frank Kameny, Elaine Noble, Rev. Troy Perry, and five others, told reporters that the three hour meeting was “a happy milestone on the road to full equality under the law.” The meeting took place while President Jimmy Carter was away at Camp David for the weekend, but participants were assured that Carter was aware of the meeting and promised to support anti-discrimination legislation for employment in the federal government. “We had a fantastic meeting, said O’Leary, NGTF co-director, “What we got was a commitment on all the issues we brought up” for further discussion not only at the White House, but within individual executive agencies.
The next day, White House Press Secretary Jody Powell appeared in CBS’s Face the Nation and defended the meeting. “For an organized group who feel they have a grievance that they are not being treated fairly, for them to have a right to put that grievance before high officials and say ‘we want redress,’ that to me is what the essence of America is all about.” But Anita Bryant, who was then campaigning against a Miami, Florida gay rights ordinance, denounced the meeting. “Behind the high sounding appeal against discrimination in job and housing — which is not a problem to the ‘closet’ homosexual — they are really asking to be blessed in their abnormal lifestyle by the office of the President if the United States. I protest the action of the White House staff in dignifying these activists for special privilege with a serious discussion of their alleged ‘human rights’,” she said in a written statement.
US Supreme Court Overturns Oklahoma’s Gay Teacher Ban: 1985. In 1978, Oklahoma state Senator Mary Helm introduced a bill allowing public schools to fire or refuse to hire anone who engaged in “public homosexual activity” or “public homosexual conduct.” The first was defined as violating the state’s anti-sodomy law (which also banned heterosexual sodomy, but Helms’s law only dealt with violations by gay people) and the second was defined to include “advocating, soliciting, imposing, encouraging or promoting public or private homosexual activity in a manner that creates a substantial risk that such conduct will come to the attention of schoolchildren or school employees.” That latter provision endangered heterosexual teachers who might presume to defend gay neighbors or relatives. Shortly after the bill was introduced, more than 100 teenage boys joined KKK chapters in local high schools to “declare war on homosexuals” with the full support of Klan leader David Duke (who happened to be a friend of Family Research Council’s current president Tony Perkins.) One student Klansman declared, “We are not just against blacks like the old Klan. We are against gays … because this activity is morally and socially wrong.”
Antia Bryant lobbied the Senate for the bill’s passage, saying that it would curb “the flaunting of homosexuality.” The Helm’s Bill sailed through the House and Senate, passing the upper chamber unanimously. Stan Easter, a gay man licensed to teach in Oklahoma, sued the Oklahoma City Board of Education in Federal Court with the backing of the National Gay Task Force. But Easter backed out over the backlash. Fortunately, Federal Judge Luther Eubanks said NGTF had standing to sue based on sworn affidavits stating that the group’s gay members included Oklahoma teachers who feared that having their names made public would result in their immediate firing. But Eubanks then went on to uphold the law’s constitutionality. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals largely reversed his decision, saying that while a teacher could be fired for violating Oklahoma’s sodomy law, the rest of the law violated teachers’ free speech rights under the First Amendment. The State of Oklahoma appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which deadlocked 4-4 (Justice Lewis Powell, seriously ill with prostate cancer, was absent during oral arguments and didn’t vote). That meant that the lower court’s ruling stood and the gag rule against Oklahoma teachers was lifted.
Tennessee Williams: 1911. If you were to ask who was the most celebrated gay playwright in history, most people, gay or straight, may point to Tennessee Williams. Which is ironic because if the gay themes in his his work is any indication, he appears to have been rather conflicted by his homosexuality. Blanche’s first husband in the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Streetcar Named Desire killed himself. So did Skipper in the Pulitzer Prize winning Cat on the Hot Tin Roof, and his death threatened to out his pro football buddy and severe alcoholic Brick. In Suddenly, Last Summer, Sebastian was torn apart and eaten by the boys whose sexual favors he sought. For the most part, gay characters are dead and don’t appear on the stage in Williams’s plays; Brick remained closeted, with just enough deniability for straight audience members who didn’t want to see it.
As for Williams himself, he was certainly not closeted, socializing in gay circles and taking a string of lovers. His most enduring relationship with Frank Merlo lasted sixteen years; they remained together until Merlo’s death in 1963. That plunged Williams into a severe depressions, for which he turned to Dr. Max Jacobson for help. Jacobson, nicknamed “Dr. Feelgood,” prescribed amphetamines for this depression and Seconal for his insomnia. Unsurprisingly, Williams appeared incoherent in several interviews, and his reputation suffered. He died in a Paris hotel room in 1983, having chocked to death on the cap from an eye drops bottle, surrounded by prescription drugs including barbiturates.
Scotty Joe Weaver: 1986. He should have turned twenty-six today, but he only managed to see his eighteenth birthday. On July 22, 2004, his badly burned body was found at the side of a rural Alabama road. He had been beaten, strangled, cut, burned and robbed of between $65 and $80. While robbery was first thought to be the main motivation, Baldwin County District Attorney David Whetstone quickly determined that Weaver’s sexuality was the reason he was killed. “We have very specific evidence that indicates part of the motive involved his sexual orientation,” he said, noting that the wounds on Scotty Joe’s body indicated “overkill,” a common feature of anti-gay hate crimes.
Robert Porter, 18, Nichole Bryars Kelsay, 18, and Christopher Gaines, 20 were arrested and charged with capital murder. Gaines and Kelsay had been Scotty Joe’s roommates, and Gaines’ lawyer at that time said that Gaines told him that Porter “spoke openly of wanting to kill the guy because he was gay.” Gaines pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty, and was sentenced to life without parole. Porter pleaded guilty and received two consecutive life sentences. Kelsay pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to 20 years. Alabama doesn’t have a hate crime law covering sexual orientation. And despite the District Attorney’s findings, Scotty Joe Weaver’s murder was not included in the FBI’s hate crime statistics for 2004, representing another example of the gaps in the FBI’s hate crime reporting program. The crime was featured in the 2006 documentary, Small Town Gay Bar.
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