Pride Celebrations This Weeked: Collingswood, NJ; Humboldt/Eureka CA; Las Vegas, NV; Limerick, Ireland; Lincoln City, OR; Mankato, MN; New Castle, DE; Reading, UK; Rehoboth Beachm DE; Savannah, GA; Torbay, UK.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
San Francisco Police Raid Tommy’s Place: 1954. Tommy Vasu, one of the owners of Tommy’s Place, was the first known lesbian to have an legal ownership stake own a bar in San Francisco. Wherever she went, she attracted attention: dressed in double-breasted suits, wide tie and a fedora, she loved to gamble and was known as a risk taker. Vasu, with her girlfriend Jeanne Sullivan, Grace Miller and Joyce van de Veer, opened Tommy’s Place at 520 Broadway in 1952. Tommy’s Place attracted a mixed crowd of artists, prostitutes, bohemians and, of course, lesbians. Vasu and Sullivan also operated 12 Adler Place; its entrance was just around the corner and the two clubs, which shared a single liquor license, were connected inside by a split-level mezzanine. Because Vasu had a police record, her name could not appear on a liquor license. She put the license in Sullivan’s name, and she listed Miller and van de Veer as owners of 12 Adler Place so they could serve as bartenders.
In 1954, the McCarthy “Lavender Scare” was in full swing, and whenever elections loomed in San Francisco, the police department would unleash another round of raids to “clean up the city.” In June, The Examiner, owned by William Randolph Hearst, published a series of articles decrying the “marked influx recently of homosexuals” into San Francisco, warning darkly, “The condition (of the city) is marked by the increase of homosexuals in the parks, public gathering places and certain taverns in the city. It is a bad situation. It is a situation that has resulted in extortion and blackmail. Even worse, these deviates multiply by recruiting teen-agers.”
Police Chief Michael Gaffey announced a new campaign to “clean the homosexuals from the streets, the public rooms and the parks where their actions have become intolerably offensive.” That month, police raided five bars in the Tenderloin “suspected of being frequented by sex deviates.” While those cases drew headlines, those raids were quickly forgotten. The big raid was still in the planning phase. In July, Police were three months into an investigation involving a dozen high school girls who “donned mannish clothes and frequented pool halls.” On September 1, they raided the home of Jesse Joseph Winston, who they determined was hosting parties for teenage girls where he allegedly provided them with marijuana and Benzedrine, and supposedly schooled them in “sexual rebellion.” As part of that investigation, police determined that Winston met these supposedly “innocent girls from good families” at Tommy’s Place, where he invited them over to his place after the bars closed. The fact that Winston was African-American and the girls were white only added to the city-wide panic which ensued. Winston was charged with three counts of providing marijuana to a minor and one count of possession of marijuana.
A week later, Police turned their attention to Tommy’s Place and 12 Adler Place, where they arrested Grace Miller and Joyce van de Veer, who were working as bartenders that night. They were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. According to news reports, Tommy’s place was targeted because:
The bar, police said, has long served as a happy hunting ground for a group of adult debauchees, who recruited school girls into their academy of dope addiction and sexual perversion. “At least a dozen” teen-age girls have been ensnared, according to Inspector L.G. Etherington and taken from the bar to other places in the Latin Quarter for a full education in abominable practices.”
One former patron later remembered the raid at Tommy’s Place:
“They (Miller and van de Veer) were framed as part of this harassment of gay bars. Two of her [Tommy's] bartenders were arrested. … One of them is a good friend of mine. She did six months. They were accused of serving minors, and the girls were minors but they had forged IDs. It sort of escalated, and the PTA got involved. Then the police planted some drugs in the ladies’ room, some heroin and the works or something like that, and they pretend to find it. … The Examiner just ran with it. At that time it was a real sensational tabloid.
Indeed it was. The day after the raid, The Examiner’s front page literally screamed with alarm: “School-girls’ vice, dope revealed in S.F. Bar Raid.” and “S.F. Teen-age Girls Tell of ‘Vice Academy’.” The raid on Tommy’s Place, pumped by The Examiner’s sensational headlines, sparked a city-wide panic, which led to more crackdowns on gay bars. News of Tommy’s raid even reached Washington. In October, the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, which had been holding hearings in various cities across the country, arrived in San Francisco, where the Tommy’s Place raid was the main focus.
As for the three who were arrested, Joyce Van de Veer was acquitted. Grace Miller was found guilty of serving alcohol to a minor and served six months in the county jail. Winston was convicted and sentenced to a term of one to twenty years at San Quentin. Eventually, the state of California revoked the liquor license, and Tommy’s Place and 12 Adler Place were forced to close. The building which housed Tommy’s Place is now a straight strip club called “The Garden of Eden.” The entrance to 2 Adler Place (the street has since been re-named William Saroyan Place) is now the home of Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Cafe, a hard-to-find hipster dive bar which has been described both as “chaotically-themed” and “virtually unchanged.”
[Source: Nan Alamilla Boyd's Wide-Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965 (University of California Press, 2003): 92-100.]
Time Magazine’s “I Am A Homosexual”: 1975. Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich’s picture on the cover of Time with the caption announcing “I Am a Homosexual” posed a direct challenge to the pre-”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gays serving in the military. As Time reported, he was the perfect test case: “The tall, red-haired sergeant has an impeccable twelve-year military record, no known psychiatric problems, and a Bronze Star and Purple Heart won on one of his three tours in Viet Nam.” A five-member Air Force review board heard his case the following week. He lost that case, and he was excommunicated from the Mormon Church a month later.
But on this date in 1975, he became the face of the gay community as Time devoted several pages to the rising gay rights movement. By then, twelve states had eliminated their laws making homosexuality a crime, and the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association recognized that homosexuality was not a mental disorder. AT&T and the Civil Service Commission had announced that they were willing to hire openly gay employees, and one major educational journal wrote that gay teachers should come out to their students. Time covered the usual ground for stories of this kind: gay activism, the problems gay people face, the requisite tour of the raunchier gay establishments (New York’s Eagle gets a mention, along with an introduction to the handkerchief code and bathhouses), and yet the article manages to present gay people as real people — something quite rare for 1975. The word “gay” is used in about equal measure as “homosexual,” and the word “militant” appears only three times in the 5,400 word article. It did however end on a down note, warning that homosexuality become more widespread if anti-gay discrimination were to end:
Says Psychoanalyst Herbert Hendin: “‘Anything goes’ is a legitimate attitude for consenting adults toward each other, but for a culture to declare it as a credo is to miss entirely the stake all of us have in the harmony between the sexes and in the family as the irreplaceable necessity of society. This is a society that is increasingly denying its impotence by calling it tolerance, preaching resignation and naming all this progress.”
It’s worth noting that while both APA’s (the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association) had declared that homosexuality was not a mental disorder, the American Psychoanalytic Association was much slower to reach that conclusion. It wasn’t until 1991 when the APsaA formally declared that homosexuality was no longer a barrier to becoming a psychoanalyst. It’s also worth noting that most conversion therapy today is still rooted in older psychoanalytic theories. And, it’s worth noting further that the argument that increased acceptance for gay people today will create more gay people tomorrow is still a staple of anti-gay and ex-gay rhetoric.
On the whole, Time’s coverage of Matlovich’s case was relatively positive — that is, positive-for-1975 positive. Coverage elsewhere wasn’t so tactful. Gay activists targeted San Francisco’s KPIX studios after an anchorman, after reading Matlovich’s story and thinking the microphone was switched off, was heard to say, “I was going to say ‘faggot flier’ but I thought…” — before a technician switched the mike off.
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