The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, May 29
May 29th, 2012
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Daughters of Bilitis Hold First National Convention: 1960. When Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1953, the tiny group only had eight members. Seven years later, and the Daughters were large enough to hold its first biennial convention at the Hotel Whitcomb in San Francisco. The DOB sent press releases to local radio and print media. The March issue of the DOB’s official newsletter The Ladder reprinted part of a column by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Herb Caen, who wrote, “Russ Wilden, if nobody else, will be interested to learn that the Daughters of Bilitis will hold their nat’l convention here May 27-30. They’re the female counterparts of the Mattachine Society — and one of the convention highlights will be an address by Atty. Morris Lowenthal titled ‘The Gay Bar in the Courts.’ Oh brother. I mean sister. Come to think of it, I don’t know what I mean.”
The convention drew two hundred women and the San Francisco police, who checked to make sure the ladies were wearing ladies’ clothing. As the Daughters had long emphasized outward conformity in the hopes that it would put larger society at ease, the Daughters were already prepared for the “inspection.” Del Martin brought the police inside inside to verify everyone — the women, anyway — was wearing dresses, stocking and heels. After the convention ended, Helen Sandoz ended her Ladder report with a note of thanks to everyone who attended, including those who were undercover: “Thank you, DOB, ABC (California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control); Vice Squad, professional folk… thank you all for letting us see you and letting you see us.”
“Polyester” Premieres: 1981. The John Waters film Polyester made its debut on the silver screen. Divine once again stared, this time as Francine Fishpaw, a suburban housewife whose world is thrown into chaos when her pornographer husband declares he’s been unfaithful, her daughter becomes pregnant, and her son’s accused of breaking local women’s feet as part of his fetish. Nineteen-fifties heartthrob Tab Hunter appeared near the end as lounge-suit-wearing Todd Tomorrow who swept Francine off her sweep and proposed marriage — only to plot with Francine’s mother to embezzle her divorce settlement and drive her insane. The film was notable for a unique technological breakthrough: it was presented in “Odorama,” in which theatergoers were handed scratch-and-sniff cards so they could smell along with the action. It remains a scandal that Polyester earned no major cinematic awards.
“If you ask the direct question: ‘Are you gay?’ the answer is yes. So what? I’ve said all along that if I was asked by a reporter and I didn’t respond it would look like I had something to hide and I don’t think I have anything to hide.”
Rep. Franks said that the disintegration of Gary Hart’s presidential campaign earlier that month over reports of his extra-marital relationship with a young model, and the recent revelation that Rep. Stewart B. McKinney of Connecticut had died of AIDS, had prompted his decision to come out. On May 31, the Globe reported that most of his constituents were unperturbed by his announcement, and many unsurprised.
Nancy Cárdenas: 1934. The poet, playwright, journalist, theater director and social activist was born in Parras, Coahuila in Mexico. She became a noted radio announcer at the age of 20 before turning to the stage. Her interest in literature became apparent in the 1950s when she participated in a public reading program, Poetry Out Loud followed in the 1960’s with the publication of her one-act play El Cántaro Seco (The Empty Pitcher).
In the 1970s, she became an acclaimed theater and film director. Her 1970 film, El Efecto de los Rayos Gamma Sobre las Caléndulas (The Effect of Gamma Rays on Marigolds), was a critical hit, earning the Theatre Critics Association Award. It was also very controversial for being gay themed. She drew death threats and the film was protested by the brother of then-President Luis Echeverría, which was no small thing: President Echeverría had been the hardline Interior Secretary during the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre, when the Mexican government opened fire on protesting students ten days before the 1968 Summer Olympics. But such was Cárdenas’s influence that not only was the film shown in the Mexican capital, but in a theater on Insurgentes no less — Insurgentes being one of the principal boulevards in Mexico city. It was a huge success.
It was during a 1974 interview on the public affairs television program 24 Horas when she came out as a lesbian. That act made her the first publicly declared lesbian in Mexico. That year she founded El Frente de Liberación Homosexual (FLH, the Gay Liberation Front). In 1975, she co-wrote with Carlons Monsivais the Manifiesto en Defensa de los Homosexuales en México. On October 2, 1978 as part of a commemoration of the Tlatelolco Massacre, she headed the first Gay Pride march in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. She continued her advocacy throughout the 1980s through her plays, poetry and public statements. She died in 1994 of breast cancer.
Gene Robinson: 1947. When he was elected Bishop of the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of New Hampshire, he became the first openly gay, non-celibate priest to be elevated to the episcopate. His election was so controversial, he wore a bullet-proof vest during his consecration. In a BeliefNet interview the day after he gave a prayer at the opening of President Barack Obama’s inaugural celebrations, he talked about his journey toward coming to terms with his sexuality:
I’ve been the reparative therapy route. I did that. My own experience is it doesn’t work. I think what it does it that it teaches gay and lesbian people to become so self loathing that they are willing to not act in a natural way, and deprive themselves of the kind of love and support that makes life worthwhile, that makes sense of our own lives and being. I can’t be supportive of that. It only underscores the way the church has gotten this wrong. God doesn’t ever get it wrong but the church often does.
Rupert Everett: 1959. It was his 1981 role as a gay schoolboy in the stage version of Another Country that proved to be his break, opening the way for his screen appearance in the 1984 film version with Colin Firth. In 1989, Everett moved to Paris and came out as gay, which he said may have damaged his career. Wags would say that the 1987 flop Hearts of Fire may have been a factor. But his appearance in the 1997 film My Best Friend’s Wedding and 2000’s The Next Best Thing showed that his career wasn’t entirely over — although it did appear that he would forever be typecast as the heroine’s gay best friend. In 2009, he told the British newspaper The Observer:
The fact is that you could not be, and still cannot be, a 25-year-old homosexual trying to make it in the British film business or the American film business or even the Italian film business. It just doesn’t work and you’re going to hit a brick wall at some point. You’re going to manage to make it roll for a certain amount of time, but at the first sign of failure they’ll cut you right off… Honestly, I would not advise any actor necessarily, if he was really thinking of his career, to come out.
Melissa Etheridge: 1961. Her debut album was completed in just four days after her record label rejected her first effort as too polished. That stripped down album, titled simply Melissa Etheridge, not only defined her sound, but it yielded a hit single, “Bring Me Some Water” and a Grammy nomination. In 1992, she won her first Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance on the strength of her third album, Never Enough. Her breakthrough album, 1993’s Yes I Am, was certified Platinum and garnered her a second Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for her single “Come to My Window”. Her 2006 song “I Need to Wake Up” was recorded for Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth and won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
She came out publicly in 1993 and has been a committed gay rights advocate ever since. She is also a committed advocate on behalf of the environment and breast cancer research, having herself undergone chemotherapy for breast cancer in 2004 and 2005. On an interview with Dateline NBC, she discussed her recovery and her use of medical marijuana while undergoing chemo. Last year, she announced her separation from her wife, Tammy Lynn Michaels, after seven years together. They have two children, fraternal twins, who were born in 2006. Etheridge also has two children from her previous long-term relationship with Julie Cypher.
David Burtka: 1975. He began as an actor, appearing in a guest role on The West Wing and How I Met Your Mother. It was that appearance which fed rumors that Burtka was romantically involved with one of the series’ stars, leading Neil Patric Harris to publicly acknowledge in 2006 that he was gay. Last October, Burtka and Harris, who have been together since 2004, became fathers to fraternal twins, a boy and a girl. Birtka is no longer acting, and is now running a Los Angeles catering company and working as a full time chef.
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