The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, May 9
May 9th, 2012
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Three Hanged for Sodomy: 1726. In July of 1725, Gabriel Lawrence, 43 and “a Papist” — that alone was also a crime in 18th century England — was indicted “for committing, with Thomas Newton, aged 30 years, the heinous and detestable sin of Sodomy, not to be named among Christians.” They were arrested at the famous “molly house” of Margaret Clap, a “place of rendezvous for Sodomites.” Newton described the place: “For the more convenient establishment of her customers, she had provided beds in every room of the house.” Newton testified against Lawrence, taking upon himself the role of innocent “victim” even though he, too, was at the molly house and arrested.
Newton claimed that he didn’t know that Claps’s establishment was a molly house. He must have been pretty dumb, because he apparently spent a lot of time there. He not only testified against Lawrence, but also against two others at the house: William Griffin, 43, and Thomas Wright, 32, who “often fetched me to oblige company that way.” All three defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. On May 9, 1726, Lawrence, Griffin, and Wright were hanged at the infamous gallows known as “the Tyburn Tree.” In exchange for his testimony, Newton was granted immunity from prosecution.
[From Ian McCormick's Secret Sexualities: A Sourcebook of 17th and 18th Century Writings. The historian Rictor Norton has posted trial records for Lawrence, Griffin and Wright at his web site.]
Ignorance Is Bliss: 1871. Dressed as Lady Stella Clinton and Miss Fanny Winifred Park, Ernest Boulton, 22, and Frederick William Park, 23 attended a performance at the Strand Theatre in London and were arrested by police. A search of their homes turned up more than a dozen dresses, petticoats, bodices and bonnets. Their landlady described their dresses as very extreme. They were charged with conspiracy to commit sodomy.
The two defendants appeared in court in drag. The whole thing was baffling to the Attorney General, who, testified on May 9, 1871, that the lack of detailed British knowledge on the topic as one of the country’s virtues. He thought it “fortunate [that] there is little learning or knowledge upon this subject in this country; there are other countries in which I am told learned treatises are written as to the appearance to be expected in such cases. Fortunately Doctors in England know very little about these matters.” Ignorance reigned, and it was to Boulton and Park’s benefit. Sure, they dressed funny, engaged in “disgraceful behaviour,” and wrote piles of letters describing their exploits — an entire day was spent reading them into the record — but none of that counted as evidence of a conspiracy to commit sodomy. And since wearing dresses itself wasn’t against the law, the jury found them not guilty.
Harvey Fierstein’s Debut: 1971. Pork, Andy Warhol’s only play, debuted on a New York off-Broadway stage. One of the cast members was a sixteen-year-old (or eighteen-year-old, his birth year seems to vary) drag queen by the name of Harvey Fierstein.
Dana Goes International: 1998. The music world is shocked when judges at that year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Birmingham, England choose openly MtF Dana International as their champion. Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli conservatives were shocked and demanded that next year’s telecast not be held in the winning country, as tradition holds, due to the “shame” of her being transsexual. Dana countered, “My victory proves God is on my side. I want to send my critics a message of forgiveness and say to them: try to accept me and the kind of life I lead. I am what I am and this does not mean I don’t believe in God, and I am part of the Jewish Nation.”
Alan Bennett: 1934. The English performer and playwright is best known for The Madness of George III and the film adaptation, The Madness of King George. He received an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay. In August 1960, he achieved instant fame as a comedy actor at the Edinburgh Festival by appearing in a satirical review with Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Peter Cook. His first play, Forty Years On, debuted in 1968. His critically acclaimed The History Boys won three Lawrence Olivier Awards in 2005 and Six Tony Awards on Broadway in 2006. His memoir, Untold Stories, appeared in 2005. He thought it would be published posthumously because he was undergoing treatment for cancer when he wrote it. The cancer went into remission, but the book went ahead anyway. In the biographical sketches, Bennett wrote openly for the first time about his homosexuality, although he said that he was “reluctant to be enrolled in the ranks of gay martyrdom, reluctant, if the truth be told, to be enrolled in any ranks whatsoever.”
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?