The Daily Agenda for Sunday, August 12

Jim Burroway

August 12th, 2012

Pride Celebrations Today: Antwerp, Belgium; Fargo ND/Moorhead MN; Indianapolis, IN (Black Pride)Moscow, ID; Reykjavik, Iceland; Toledo, OH; Wakefield, UK;  and Windsor, ON.

Other Events Today: Northalsted Market Days Street Fair, Chicago, IL; Provincetown Carnival, Provincetown, MA; Rendezvous LGBT Camping, Medicine Bow National Forest, WY; Toronto Leather Pride, Toronto, ON.

Captain Nichols Hanged for “Buggery”: 1833. Yes, that was the actual British legal term for homosexual activity, and it was a capital offense until 1861, when the laws were finally relaxed to allow for life imprisonment. But that change came almost thirty years too late for Captain Henry Nichols. In 1833, the London Courier printed the following account:

Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls, who was one of the unnatural gang to which the late Captain Beauclerk belonged, (and which latter gentleman put an end to his existence), was convicted on the clearest evidence at Croydon, on Saturday last, of the capital offence of Sodomy; the prisoner was perfectly calm and unmoved throughout the trial, and even when sentence of death was passed upon him. In performing the duty of passing sentence of death upon the prisoner, Mr. Justice Park told him that it would be inconsistent with that duty if he held out the slightest hope that the law would not be allowed to take its severest course. At 9 o’clock in the morning the sentence was carried into effect. The culprit, who was fifty years of age, was a fine looking man, and had served in the Peninsular war. He was connected with a highly respectable family; but, since his apprehension not a single member of it visited him.

You can also read a different account from a popular broadsheet by clicking the above image.

[via, which goes to show that there really is a blog for everything!]

Miami News Reports On Trial of Gay Informant: 1954. That summer, greater Miami was swept up by an unprecedented wave of anti-gay hysteria, triggered, in part, by the murder of a male Eastern Airlines flight attendant earlier in August (see Aug 3, Aug 11). Meanwhile, bars and beaches were being raided and gay men were  being convicted under Florida’s sodomy law. The Miami News on August 12 reported on one such case involving a gay man and a reputed police informant who was apparently himself gay. Because The News’s report leaves open far more questions than it answers, I will just repeat it in full.

Informant Escapes Jail Term in Pervert ‘Turnabout’ Trial.

By Larry Birger
Miami Daily News Staff Writer

A self-styled police informer escaped trial on sex charges today when a convicted homosexual refused to press a complaint which he had filed at the suggestion of City Judge Cecil C. Curry.

Odom’s photo from the Miami News

The case against truck driver Leonard M. Odom, 24, of 3523 SW 14th Ter., was dispatched so quickly that the name of the complainant’s attorney escaped reporters.

The convicted homosexual, Walter G. Quester, changed his mind and dropped charges against Odom of committing lewd and lascivious acts.

Judge Curry asked the unidentified attorney for Quester: “Why did you drop the charges?”

“I don’t know,” the lawyer replied. “I wasn’t here yesterday.”

The attorney was referring to the unusual court session at which the judge had turned on the chief witness against the defendant at Quester’s hearing on charges of lewd and lascivious acts.

On the basis of Odom’s testimony, concerning a “date” he claimed he’d had with Quester to get information for the police, Quester was convicted and sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Then Curry told Odom, “It looks to me as if you’re just as guilty as the defendant.” He suggested to Quester that he file counter-charges against Odom, which was done.

Before today’s hearing Odom’s lawyer, Morey A. Rayman, said he would move that Curry disqualify himself as presiding judge on grounds he had prejudged the defendant.

This report raises all sorts of questions. Was Odom really working as a police informant? Or did he decide to try to claim that’s what he was doing in order to try to get out of being charged himself? What — or who — led Quester to drop the charges against Odom?  And with Odom’s name, address, and photo published in the paper, what happened to him after the trial was over?

It really is quite possible that there were two victims in the sordid mess, each one trying to make the best of a very bad, no-win situation. These are the kinds of stories that appear briefly in newspapers across the country and then, just as quickly, disappear. These are also the kinds of stories I would love to be able to track down. In searching, there was a Walter G. Quester who died in 1987 in Broward County, Florida, and a Leonard M. Odom who died in Madison, Florida in 1997. Were these the guys mentioned in this article?

Radclyffe Hall: 1880. Influenced by the writings of Havelock Ellis, Radclyffe Hall described herself as a “congenital invert,” typically dressing in masculine clothing and living her lesbian on her sleeve. Her nickname “John” was bestowed on her by her first partner, the German singer Mabel Batten. When Batten died in 1916, Hall had already fallen in love with Batten’s cousin, the sculptor Una Troubridge, and the two of them would remain together for the rest of Hall’s life. Hall’s first novel, the long and dreary The Unlit Lamp, didn’t sell well. But her next books — a comedy titled The Forge, a more serious volume titled Unlit Lamp, and another comic novel A Saturday Life, established Hall as a novelist of serious talent.

But it would be her 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness, the only one of her eight novels with an overt lesbian theme, which she would become most famous for. (Other short stories also carried lesbian themes as well.) While the novel was not sexually explicit, it nevertheless became the subject of a sensational obscenity trial in Britain, which resulted in all copies of the novel being ordered destroyed. It’s publication in the U.S. came about only after a long court battle. After the fireworks were over, the New York Court of Special Sessions cleared the book for publication in 1929, and it has been continuously available ever since then.

Radclyffe Hall (right) with Una Troubridge

Hall and Troubridge were important figures in lesbian circles in London, Paris and elsewhere in Europe, where Hall would be easily recognized by her tailored jackets, ties, socks and close-cropped hair. Her appearance wasn’t particularly shocking in the 1920s, where androgynous appearance among women was considered tres chic. But as the decades wore on, it became her most consistent visual identity in keeping with her self-identification as a member of “the third sex.” Britain’s sensational press was only too happy to play up that image. During the height of the furor over the British obscenity trials, newspapers routinely published photos of her which depicted her in the most masculine way possible, often cropping the photo above her waist on the many occasions when she wore a skirt with a man’s jacket.

The Well of Loneliness would be the only source of information about lesbianism for many women right on through the 1960s. Hall herself said that she had received more than 10,000 letters about her novel, many of them thanking her from grateful lesbians. When she died in 1943 of colon cancer, The Well of Loneliness had been translated into fourteen languages and was selling more then 100,000 copies per year. Nineteen-fifties editions of The Ladder, the newsletter for the Daughters of Bilitis, often wrote of The Well of Loneliness in reverential tones, and many anonymous letters to the editor from across America citing the book as a lifeline for many women coming to terms with their own sexuality.

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?


August 12th, 2012

The Well of Loneliness is probably the most annoying gay/lesbian fiction I ever read. And it didn’t help that Havelock Ellis raved about it in a Forward that Hall included in the book.

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