Other Events This Weekend: MIX Copenhagen Film Festival, Copenhagen, Denmark; World Gay Rodeo Finals, Ft. Worth, TX; Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Seattle, WA.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
“Homosexual Ring” of Service Women Broken Up: 1953. According to a newspaper report, “army investigators have ‘broken up a ring’ of approximately 25 women members of the armed forces who, the investigators charged, engaged in abnormal sex practices. It said the crackdown stemmed from charges made last month by a 19-year-old WAC private who is currently under treatment at a local (Washington, D.C.) army hospital. Half a dozen of the group were said to have confirmed the WAC’s disclosures. Most of the 25 were said to be WACS, but ‘three our four’ were reported as navy WAVES. All were described as enlisted personnel.”
None of the women were identified in the article, but the article went on to say that the women were “rounded up and questioned. Disciplinary action is pending. The group under investigation was said to have used two taverns located in the Georgetown area (of Washington) as ‘hangouts’ where meetings and ‘dates’ were arranged during off-duty hours.” An Army spokesman said that cases like these “are a continuing problem in the army,” and that military regulations required that persons found guilty of homosexuality were to be discharged as undesirables, except in some cases “where psychiatric examinations show that medical treatment or disciplinary action is warranted.”
Miami Formally Outlaws Gay Bars: 1954. Miami’s ongoing hysteria over the shocking discovery that there were gay people in the city (see Aug 3, Aug 11, Aug 12, Aug 13 (twice that day), Aug 14, Aug 26, Aug 31, Sep 1, Sep 2, Sep 7, Sep 15, Sep 19, and Oct 6) reached an important legal milestone when the Miami City Commission passed new ordinance which prohibited liquor establishments from employing gay people or allowing “homosexuals or perverts” to congregate. The ordinance provided up to 60 days in jail, a fine of $500 (that’s about $4,000 in today’s money) and the loss of their liquor licenses. This latest ordinance came about after a previous proposal by Mayor Abe Aronovitz (see Oct 6) was rejected for being “too broad.” The vote on the revised ordinance was unanimous, and because it was adopted as an emergency ordinance it went into effect immediately.
And in another move to protect the morals of Miami’s children, the City Commission also made it illegal to sell horror comic books to children under the age of seventeen.
Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu: 1926. Okay, first of all: how can you not love a name like that? Lord Montagu has been a Conservative member of Britain’s House of Lords since 1947. He knew from a very early age that he was bisexual, but he always tried to keep his affairs with men quiet. That proved impossible when in 1954 he and two others were convicted and imprisoned for twelve months for “conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offenses with male persons.” Britain, like America, was then in the midst of a massive anti-gay witch hunt. The Sunday Times had editorialized that “its eruption… is today a serious and growing criminal problem,” while a Daily Mail headline read, “Homosexuality spreading like a foul growth in our midst.” As many as 1,000 men were arrested every year for violating the country’s anti-gay laws, and Home Secretary Sir David Fyfe urged magistrates to inflict maximum penalties on those who were found guilty.
But with Montagu protesting his innocence even after his conviction, the trial ended up provoking a sharp debate in British popular opinion. Kinglsy Martin exemplified a growing discomfort over Britain’s gross indecency laws when he wrote in New Statesman & Nation, “It is a social evil but its bad effects are greatly aggravated by our savage criminal law … There should be no penalties attached to adult males consorting together who, in private, decide to live a homosexual life… I believe there are Members of Parliament who’d be willing to make this change in the law.”
Parliament instead decided to study the issue by establishing a special commission to look into Britain’s laws against homosexuality and prostitution. Chaired by Lord John Wolfenden, the commission met over the next three years, and in 1957 issued its report recommending that “homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence.” The report also found that “homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because in many cases it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health in other respects.” It would take another ten years before Parliament would act on the report’s recommendations and decriminalize homosexuality.
As for Lord Montagu, the distress over having been arrested and imprisoned never faded. He never talked about it, saying that he abhors the idea of becoming “a professional convict.” He married his first wife in 1958, and the couple had one son and one daughter before divorcing in 1974, when he turned around and married wife number two, who bore him another son in 1975.
But when Britain’s Channel Four was preparing to air a documentary about the trial in 2007, Lord Montagu felt that it was time to speak up. “I am slightly proud that the law has been changed to the benefit of so many people. I would like to think that I would get some credit for that. Maybe I’m being very boastful about it but I think because of the way we behaved and conducted our lives afterwards, because we didn’t sell our stories, we just returned quietly to our lives, I think that had a big effect on public opinion.”
Allan Horsfall: 1927. He was born in the tiny mining village of Laneshaw Bridge in Lancashire where he was raised by his grandparents, whom he described has “God-fearing Conservatives and fervent upholders of law and order.” Like most gay men who grew up in small towns, it was during his time in military service — the RAF, in particular, where Horsfall discovered other gay men. One man, in particular, he met in an ex-Servicemen’s Club in 1947: Harold Pollard, a primary school teacher, would remain his life partner until Harold’s death in 1996. But unlike a lot of gay men who grew up in small towns, Horsefall didn’t flee to the big city. He decided instead to return back to his small town, take up residence in a simple miner’s cottage and become a clerk for the National Coal Board.
Horsfall settled in to a rather non-descript life until 1956. when the Suez Crisis inspired him to enter politics. He joined the Labour Party and won an election as a councillor in Nelson. After the Wolfenden Report was released in 1957 with its recommendation that homosexuality be decriminalized, Horsfall immediately became involved with the London-based Homosexual Law Reform Society. When he decided that the HLRS was too hidebound, closeted and aloof to be effective, Horsfall helped to found the North West Committee for Homosexual Law Reform in 1964. In doing so, he made it clear that he believed gay people shouldn’t remain closeted in order to support law reform. His North West Committee also rejected the national campaign’s opinion that gays were “unfortunates” who deserved pity. Again, against the advice of friends, he used his home address and phone number as the public point of contact. But he found that there was actually very little hostile reaction. If anything, his experience harkened back to the days of Edward Carpenter from the turn of the century (see Aug 29), who lived openly and undisturbed in the mining vilage of Milthorpe while Oscar Wilde was being prosecuted for “gross indecency” in London.
After Britain finally decriminalized homosexuality in 1967 (see July 28), the London-based HLRS, believing that its work was done, floundered for a few years before folding. But Horsfall’s North West Committee kept going and evolved into the Campaign for Homosexual Equality which, in 1971, took part in the first major gay rights demonstration in London. Horsfall’s main focus, by then, was on increasing the social support for gay people by establishing membership clubs in the north of England. Modelled after Working Men’s Clubs, his proposed Esquire Clubs were intended to function as a combination community center and pub for rural and small-town gays and lesbians. The clubs themselves were unsuccessful, but his fight to establish them paid a very different kind of dividend. In Burnley, Horsfall’s CHE organized a public meeting to confront the local Christian Alliance, which had formed to prevent the opening of an Esquire club there. During the packed meeting, Horsfall asked all of the homosexuals to stand up. Over one hundred did so, making it one of the first mass coming-out demonstrations in the U.K. It also marked a coming-of-age for the gay rights movement in Britain. CHE went on to become the UK’s largest LGBT-rights organization, with over 5,000 members in more than 100 local groups across England and Wales.
Horsfall suffered a heart attack in 1970, and by 1974 he began withdrawing from the front lines of the gay-rights movement. As a sign of the respect he commanded, he was named President for Life of CHE. In 1998, he became involved in the case of the Bolton Seven, a group of gay men who were prosecuted because, while homosexuality was legal, group sex between men was not. He also campaigned for an end the ban on gays serviing openly in the military, the equalization of the age of consent, and allowing gays to adopt children. He also became involved with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament during the 1980s.
Horsfall died on August 27, 2012 of heart failure at the age of 84. His web site, Gay Monitor, has been selected for preservation by the British Library’s UK Web Archive.
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