Defense Department Hosts First Ever LGBT Pride Month Observance: Washington, D.C. This time last year, gay and lesbian servicemembers could be drummed out of the service if their superiors knew they were gay. But since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, that is all water under the bridge. Mostly. While trans employees can work openly at the Pentagon, transgender people are still barred from serving. Today, the Defense Department will hold an LGBT Pride event at the Pentagon with DoD’s General Counsel Jeh Johnson as keynote speaker. That will be followed by a panel discussion on ““The Value of Open Service and Diversity.” The event is open to service members, civilian employees, and members of the media and take place from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. EDT in the Pentagon Auditorium, Room BH650.
“Homosexuality shears across the spectrum of American life — the professions, the arts, business and labor. It always has. But today, especially in big cities, homosexuals are discarding their furtive ways and openly admitting, even flaunting, their deviation. Homosexuals have their won drinking places, their special assignation streets, even their own organizations. And for every obvious homosexual, there are probably nine nearly impossible to detect. This social disorder, which society tries to suppress, has forced itself into the public eye because it does present a problem — and parents especially are concerned. The myth and misconception with which homosexuality has so long been clothed must be cleared away, not to condone it but to cope with it.”
Over the next fourteen pages, Life magazine explored what they called the “sordid world” of the gay community. The articles provide interesting vignettes and photos of gay life in the pre-Stonewall era, but reading through them today probably tells us more about society’s revulsion towards gay people than it does about gays themselves. At one point, author Paul Welch accompanies a Los Angeles police officer acting as a decoy to try entrap a gay man into propositioning him. Even if the proposition involves going to a private home for the evening — the same type of invitation being made in straight bars all across Los Angeles that very same night — it would end badly with an arrest and possible lifetime registration as a sex offender. LGBT activist Dale Jennings arrest in the privacy of his own home and the city’s embarrassing failure to secure a conviction in a well-publicized case twelve years earlier (see June 23) had done nothing to stem police harassment.
One education pamphlet compiled for Los Angeles police warned that what gay men really want is “a fruit world.” Welch continued: “Although the anti-homosexual stand taken by the Los Angeles police is unswervingly tough, it reflects the attitude of most U.S. law-enforcement agencies on the subject.” On January 1, 1967, gay Angelenos would reach their breaking point and the Black Cat riots would become the high water mark in police harassment in Los Angeles — more than two years before the Stonewall rebellion in New York.
32 Killed in Arson Fire At New Orleans Gay Bar: 1973. It was a Sunday. The UpStairs Lounge, a second floor gay bar in New Orleans’s French Quarter, had hosted members of the local Metropolitan Community Church who attended a beer bust following church services. The evening was still early, not quite eight o’clock when the bartender heard the door buzzer downstairs ring, a sound that usually meant that a cab was outside the take a patron home. When another bar employee went to check on the cab, he found instead that the staircase was engulfed in flames from a molotov cocktail that had been tossed into the entrance, and those flames were rapidly climbing the wooden staircase into the bar.
The bartender, Buddy Rasmussen, led about twenty or thirty people through an unmarked exit which led to the roof, and they were able to hop onto other buildings and make their escape. But more than thirty others in the lounge ran to the windows instead, only to discover they were barred. By the time one of the patrons managed to squeeze through the bars, his body was already in flames and he died right after landing in the street below. Another patron escaped, but when he realized his boyfriend didn’t make it out, he went back in to find him. Fire crews later discovered their burned bodies holding each other. MCC pastor Rev. Bill Larson clung to the bars at a window where he died, his body melted into the window frame. His charred body remained visible from the street below for several hours afterwards.
Twenty-nine people died that night, and three more died later from their injuries. The fire at UpStairs lounge may very well have been the worst mass murder of gays in American history, but aside from the first day’s coverage, New Orleans could barely muster a yawn. Newspaper photos of Rev. Larson’s body against the window frame came to symbolize the city’s apathy toward the tragedy. Talk radio hosts told jokes (“What will they bury the ashes of queers in? Fruit jars.”), and the press quoted on cab driver saying “I hope the fire burned their dresses off.” Not only did the New Orleans Police Department barely investigate the crime, they could hardly be bothered to identify the victims. Major Henry Morris, chief detective of the New Orleans Police Department said, “We don’t even know these papers belonged to the people we found them on. Some thieves hung out there, and you know this was a queer bar.” Churches refused to allow families to hold funerals on their premises. Other families refused to claim their dead sons’ bodies. Four unidentified bodies ended up being dumped in a mass grave. No one was ever charged.
Here are two news reports of the fire, a lengthy film report from CBS news, and a shorter one from NBC:
Lance Loud: 1951. PBS aired the groundbreaking documentary series An American Family in 1973 which would become the first reality television series in history. Millions of Americans were glued to their television sets watching the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California, go about their daily lives with film cameras in tow. Lance Loud, the family’s eldest twenty-year-old son who was living in New York City, quickly became the star of the program. He came out to America in the second episode when his mother went to visit him at the Chelsea Hotel, and his daring unconformity became an inspiration for young Americans, gay and straight.
Loud had returned to California by the time the series aired, so he decided to move back to New York City to take advantage of his newfound fame. He formed a band called the Mumps, which played New York’s famed CBGB and Mix, and toured with the Talking Heads, Television, Ramones, Cheap Trick and Van Halen. But after five years and a loyal following, they failed to attract a major recording contract. After the band broke up, Loud returned to Los Angeles and became a writer. His articles were published in Interview, Details, Vanity Fair, among others. He also had a regular column, “Out Loud,” in The Advocate.
Loud found the fame he earned from An American Family to be hollow. Americans had watched as his parents’ relationship careened toward divorce, leading Loud to say, “Television ate my family.” Loud himself went through years of substance abuse. When he was diagnosed with AIDS and hepatitis C, Loud agreed to appear in one final cinema verité documentary for PBS. But this time he made the decision to perform as a role model for what not to do with one’s life. Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family aired in 2003, two years after he died of liver failure.
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