The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, September 18

Jim Burroway

September 18th, 2012

SLDN, OutServe Mark Anniversary of End of DADT: New York, NY. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), OutServe, and the Interbank Roundtable Committee (IRC) will present “Celebrating Our Heroes: A Tribute to America’s Service Members & Veterans,” today aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City. The event, which will mark this Thursday’s one year anniversary of the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” will honor former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who played a significant role in leading the repeal efforts. Barbara Walters, co-host of ABC’s The View, will emcee the event featuring remarks by Admiral Mullen and three Broadway ensemble performances. “Celebrating Our Heroes” is the first in a series of events across the country hosted by SLDN and OutServe to celebrate DADT’s demise. The public event will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Lawrence v. Texas Discussion: Ypsilanti, MI. Dale Carpenter, author of Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas, a behind-the-scenes retelling of the critical events that led up to the nationwide abolition of sodomy laws in 2003, will discuss the pivotal human rights case that halted decades of legal discrimination against gay Americans. Carpenter’s lecture, in honor of Constitution Day commemorating the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787, will offer insights into the decision’s history and its ramifications. The presentation, “The Story of Lawrence v. Texas: How a Bedroom Arrest Decriminalized Gay Americans,” will take place this afternoon at 3:30 p.m., in Eastern Michigan University’s Student Center auditorium.

Donald Webster Cory/Edward Sagarin: 1913. Writing under the pseudonym Donald Webster Cory, Sagarin in 1951 published his groundbreaking book, The Homosexual In America: A Subjective Approach, which would become one of the most influential books in the early history of the gay rights movement. In that seminal book, he wrote of the struggles that gay people faced and argued forcefully for the elimination of anti-sodomy laws which were then on the books in every state of the nation. The book was the first major publication to provide an exhaustive overview of gay life which was largely underground and out of sight of ordinary Americans. He discussed gay bars, drag queens, relationships, marriages as convenience and as cover, and even provided a lexicon of gay slang.

But what really pushed the boundaries of publishing was his unequivocal call for the full integration of gay people in public life. He argued that this integration would be mutually beneficial specifically because of the harassment gay people experienced from society. “I am convinced,” he wrote, “and will presently attempt to demonstrate, that there is a permanent place in the scheme of things for the homosexual — a place that transcends the reaction to hostility and that will continue to contribute to social betterment after social acceptance.” He was also an early proponent of what we today would call multiculturalism, saying that the diversity of minorities — ethnic, religious, racial and sexual minorities — strengthens and enriches a democratic society. “[H]omosexuality — fortunately but unwittingly — must inevitably place a progressive role in the scheme of things,” he argued. “It will broaden the base for freedom of thought and communication, will be a banner-bearer in the struggle for liberalization of our sexual conventions, and will be a pillar of strength in the defense of our threatened democracy.”

An early advertisement for Donald Webster Cory’s “The Homosexual In America.” (Click to enlarge.)

Sagarin would continue writing as Donald Webster Cory for the pioneering homophile magazine ONE, and he established the Cory Book Service, a sort of a book-of-the-month club specializing in what was them very difficult to find gay-themed books.

Having firmly established himself as a forceful proponent of what would later be called gay liberation, it is startling to see how conservative Sagarin would end up becoming as time went on. Early hints of that conservatism can be found in The Homosexual In America, where he accepted without question the consensus in the psychological world that homosexuality came about as a result of a disturbed home life. But as the decade wore on and a few psychologists began to question the assumption that gay people were emotionally disturbed, Sagarin rejected those arguments. He wasn’t alone in the gay community for doing this; ONE, as radical and strident as it was, nevertheless often published a number of articles which accepted the prevailing assumptions. (ONE also published articles challenging that view.) But by 1963, when he co-authored The Homosexual and His Society with John LeRoy, that assumption was beginning to look dated. He still argued forcefully for the full acceptance of gay people in society — including among psychologist, saying that the first duty of psychologists was not to “cure” gay people but to “eliminate the personal distress and anxieties that arise as a result of social hostility.” But he also argued against those in the homophile movement who rejected the idea that gay people were emotionally disturbed, and went so far as to argue that there was no such thing as a “well-adjusted homosexual.”

A turning point for Sagarin would come in 1965 when, as Donald Cory Webster,  he ran for president of the Mattachine Society of New York. In March of that year, the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., under the leadership of Frank Kameny, adopted the formal position that “homosexuality is not a sickness, disturbance or other pathology in any sense but is merely a preference, orientation or propensity on a par with, and not different in kind from, heterosexuality.” Sagarin’s opponent, Dick Leitsch, wanted the New York chapter to adopt a similar resolution, noting that the illness question was “the greatest obstacle in the path of the homosexual community’s fight for full citizenship in our Republic.” The vote for the chapter’s leadership position became a referendum on whether gay people were ill or not. Sagarin lost.

From that point on, Sagarin retreated from the homophile movement and he left his Donald Webster Cory pseudonym behind. As Edward Sagarin, he graduated from New York University’s sociology program in 1966; his dissertation was titled “Structure and Ideology in an Association of Deviants” — that association being the Mattachine Society. In 1969, Sagarin wrote Odd Man In: Societies of Deviants in America. While American readers had no clue about the connection between Sagarin and Cory, many in the homophile movement knew exactly who he was. But because of an unwritten “code of honor” that came about during the Lavender Scare of the 1950s, outing him was out of the question, although a book reviewer for the Daughters of Bilitis’ The Ladder clearly chaffed at the restriction. “Could it be that he is one of the homosexuals who has surrendered … to the ‘sick sick sick school?”, the reviewer hinted. “Right, but I assure you that if you knew who this man really is, then you’d wonder, really wonder, for he is as responsible for the founding of the homophile movement as any other single man.”

That “code of honor” finally broke down in 1974 when Sagarin attended the American Sociological Society convention. He spoke on a panel titled, “Theoretical Perspectives on Homosexuality” where he criticized the direction of the gay rights movement. In response, Laud Humphreys, who founded the Sociologists’ Gay Caucus later that same year, outed Sagarin during a Q&A session by calling him “Mr. Cory” several times as feigned “slips” of the tongue. Sagarin reportedly left the panel quietly in tears, and from that point on he withdrew from discussing homosexuality altogether. He died of a heart attack on June 10, 1986.

Many have described Sagarin as a modern-day Jekyle and Hyde figure. As Donald Webster Cory, he remains a pioneer in the early gay rights movement. The year in which The Homosexual In America appeared, American was in the grip of both the Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare and the Lavender Scare, and Cory’s treatise rang out as both a radical declaration for equality and a prescient observation of gay society. The Homosexual In America remains today one of the most important books in the gay rights canon. But as Edward Sagarin, he would become an intractable foe of the very movement he helped to inspire.

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?

F Young

September 18th, 2012

Thanks for this well-written, thought-provoking article.

G.I. Joe

September 18th, 2012

That was a really nice article, as you often offer us.

This kind of broke my heart:

” Sagarin reportedly left the panel quietly in tears, and from that point on he withdrew from discussing homosexuality altogether.”

Then I thought about it and realized that there is (and shouldn’t be) no mercy for traitors. I can respect my foes, but I can’t respect blood traitors.

Sagarin became a traitor to the gay movement and a hindrance to the cause. He could have disagreed in silence, but no: He decided to speak up and use his closetedness to oppose the gay rights movement. He got what was coming at him.


August 23rd, 2013

Don’t be such a pompous, Stalinist ass, Joe – you never even met the man, and you’re ready to hang him as a “blood traitor,” whatever the hell that means.

You better be careful slinging such a hard-ass attitude around. What goes around, comes around.


August 25th, 2013

I agree with GI Joe, especially:

“Sagarin became a traitor to the gay movement and a hindrance to the cause. He could have disagreed in silence, but no: He decided to speak up and use his closetedness to oppose the gay rights movement. He got what was coming at him.”

Sagarin’s story is very sad, he *was* of an older, different generation than the younger activists, and I completely understand how he would not get what their arguments were about. But instead of just disagreeing, he went after them and publicly attacked them, using arguments that hurt the gay movement – using his closeted name to appear like an objective straight observer no less.

So I do agree that he was a “traitor”.

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