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The Daily Agenda for Saturday, October 27

Jim Burroway

October 27th, 2012

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Taipei, Taiwan.

AIDS Walks This Weekend: Washington, DC.

Other Events This Weekend: MIX Copenhagen Film Festival, Copenhagen, Denmark; Halloween Street Party, Dallas, TX; Florence Queer Film Festival, Florence, Italy; Halloween in New Orleans, New Orleans, LA; Side By Side LGBT International Film Festival, St. Petersburg, Russia.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Gay Activists Stage Protest At Harper’s Magazine: 1970. The cover of Harper’s September 1970 issue was just the beginning: a closeup side view of a male chest, dressed in an unusually feminine fabric but with the shoulder pulled back to reveal a highly developed and flexed arm. Across the triceps, the magazine featured the title of only one article, Joseph Epstein’s “Homo/Hetero: The Struggle for Sexual Identity,” an incredibly homophobic tour-de-force in which the author details every encounter he has ever had with a gay man, every encounter he has ever imagined having with a gay man, and every encounter that people he knew who had contact with gay men. And  every one of them are predatory, sex-obsessed, and a flagrant affront to a civilized society, exemplifying the ethos to “smoke it, swallow it, eat it, wallow in it, screw it, kick it, stomp it to death, and never mind what ‘it’ is.” After exhausting eleven pages to air his disgust, he concludes in his final paragraph:

They are different from the rest of us. Homosexuals are different, moreover, in a way that cuts deeper than other kinds of human differences — religious, class, racial — in a way that is, somehow, more fundamental. Cursed without clear cause, afflicted without apparent cure, they are an affront to our rationality, living evidence of our despair of ever finding a sensible, an explainable, design to the world. One can tolerate homosexuality, a small enough price to be asked to pay for someone else’s pain, but accepting it, really accepting it, is another thing altogether. I find I can accept it least of all when I look at my children. There is much my four sons can do in their lives that might cause me anguish, that might outrage me, that might make me ashamed of them and of myself as their father. But nothing they could ever do would make me sadder than if any of them were to become homosexual. For then I should know them condemned to a state of permanent niggerdom among men, their lives, whatever adjustment they might make to their condition, to be lived out as part of the pain of the earth.

The screed caused an uproar throughout New York’s gay community, which had been organizing over the previous year to confront a number of daily insults to the community since the Stonewall rebellion the year before. The Gay Activist Alliance formed in December 1969 by dissident members of the Gay Liberation Front who disagreed with the GLF’s disorganized decision-making process and its distractions with other non-gay political causes. Members of GAA sent a letter to Harper’s Editor in Chief Willie Morris to demand that the magazine publish a another article, comparable in length, to provide a counterweight to Epstein’s diatribe. Morris claimed to be open to the idea, but he kept rejecting each draft that was submitted.

After several weeks with no resolution in sight, the GAA had enough. Forty GAA activists — including Vito Russo, Morty Manford, Jim Owles, Arnie Kantrowitz, David Ehrenstein and GAA’s president Arthur Evan–  met at 9:00 a.m. on October 27, and quietly made their way into Harper’s eighteenth floor offices, with a film crew from WOR, which the GAA had notified ahead of time, following them in. As GAA’s Peter Fisher explained, “We were very aware that if we could make something visually amusing or find some way to get the press in on it — preferably TV — that was what we had to do. One of the main thrusts was to show ourselves as individual human beings — the man or the woman next door or a coworker.” Toward that end, the group commandeered a table in the reception area and set up coffee and donuts, while others went into the office areas and scattered leaflets on the desks. As employees arrived, GAA members offered them refreshments and a greeting — and all the while, cameras were rolling.

But all decorum evaporated when, as the cameras kept rolling, Evans confronted Midge Dector, the editor of the Epstein article, and unleashed a tirade: “You know that the article would contribute to the suffering of homosexuals! You knew that! And if you didn’t know that, you’re inexcusably naive and should not be an editor. If you you knew that those contribute to the oppression of homosexuals, then damn you for publishing it, and we have a right to come in here and hold you politically and morally responsible for doing that. You’re a bigot, and you are to be held responsible for that moral and political act!”

Dector denied that the article reinforced anti-gay prejudice. A decade later, she would write a similarly virulent anti-gay screed, “The Boys on the Beach,” for Commentary, Norman Podhoretz’s magazine, who also just happened to be her husband. The only regret that she expressed about her encounter over Epstein’s “elegant and thoughtful essay” was that the protesters lacked the “dash and high taste” she had come to expect from summers she spent earlier that decade in the Pines. Harper’s, too, remained unrepentant. Even though it is one if my favorite magazines, to this day it has never addressed or expressed regret over Epstein’s article.

But the outcry over “Hetero/Homo” did have an important galvanizing effect. Merle Miller, an author and a former Harper’s managing editor, was having lunch with two New York Times editors when the topic turned to the Harper’s article. During the heated discussion, Miller said, “Look, goddamn it, I’m homosexual, and most of my best friends are Jewish homosexuals, and some of my friends are black homosexuals, and I’m sick and tired of reading and hearing such goddamn demeaning, degrading bullshit about me and my friends.” A few days later, one of those editors asked Miller if he would write an article for The New York Times Magazine, which operated almost as a separate publication from The Times (and was therefore under different editors from The Times’ notoriously homophobic editors). His groundbreaking essay, “What It Means To Be A Homosexual,” became the first article written by a self-acknowledged gay person to be published in a major mainstream publication.

[Sources: Edward Alwood. Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the News Media (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996): 103-109.

Midge Decter. “Boys On the Beach.” Chapter 93 in Larry Gross and James D. Woods (eds.) The Columbia Reader on Lesbians & Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999): 601-611.

Joseph Epstein. “Homo/Hetero: The Struggle for Sexual Identity.” Harper’s Magazine (September 1970): 37ff.

Merle Miller. On Being Different: What It Means to Be a Homosexual (New York: Penguin Classics, 2012 reissue with foreword by Dan Savage and afterword by Charles Kaiser.) ]

Dorothy Hajdys with a photo of her son, Allen Schindler

Murder of Radioman Petty Officer 3rd Class Allen R. Schindler, Jr.: 1992. By the time his fellow sailors got done with him, the only identifiable feature left intact was a tattoo on his arm. While on shore leave in Sasebo, Japan, two drunken shipmates followed Schindler into a public restroom in a park. Airman Charles Vins watched — and occasionally joined in — as Airman Apprentice Terry Helvey kneed Schindler in the arm, punched him repeatedly on the floor, and stomped on him with the heel of his boot. The pathologist described Schindler’s body as the worst case he had ever seen, and compared the damage to that of a “high-speed auto accident or a low-speed aircraft accident.” He also said that it was worse than another case he had seen, that of a man who had been trampled to death by a horse. The pathologist’s report chronicled a litany of lacerations, contusions and abrasions of the forehead, eyes, noes, lips, chin, neck, Adam’s apple, trachea, lungs, liver (which was “like a smushed tomato”) and, tellingly, penis. All but two ribs were broken, and both his lungs and brain had hemorrhaged.

The Navy stonewalled the investigation. The murder occurred just as the pre-DADT debate was getting started over allowing gays to serve in the military. The Navy refused to confirm how Schindler died or whether a weapon was involved. At one point, a Navy senior officer leaked the story that Schindler’s murder was the result of a romance with Helvey gone bad. Meanwhile, Schindler’s mother, Dorothy Hajdys, was kept in the dark by Navy officials about what happened to her son or about the investigation. They even tried Vins without her knowledge and sentenced him to four months in the brig. All the information Dorothy received about her son’s case came from the press. “If one more reporter calls me with information before you do,” she told the Navy commander in charge of the case, “you haven’t even heard me scream!” Two months after the murder, Navy officials finally admitted that Schindler had been killed in a gay bashing.

The Navy denied that they had received any complaints of harassment. But as the investigation continued, it was slowly revealed that Schindler’s ship, the amphibious assault ship Belleau Wood, was a living nightmare for him. His locker had been glued shot and he was the brunt of frequent comments, like, “There’s a faggot on this ship and he should die.” Schindler requested a separation from the Navy, but his superiors insisted he remain aboard ship until the process was finished. During Helvey’s trial , it was revealed that Helvey told one investigator that he had no remorse for the killing. “I don’t regret it. I’d do it again. … He deserved it.” Helvey avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to “inflicting great bodily harm,” and was sentenced to life in prison. The ship’s captain who had tried to keep the crime quiet was demoted and transferred to Florida. And Dorothy, virtually overnight, became an outspoken advocate for hate crime protections and for gays being allowed to serve in the military.

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?

Comments

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Smith
October 27th, 2012 | LINK

Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy and appreciate these historical posts. They are very interesting and educational.

They also raise an interesting question in my mind: there were many overt, rabid displays of homophobia by very influential people as late as the 1980s. Today, homophobes who hold prominent positions in the media, in business or in government couch their positions very differently. But back then, editors in chief, prominent writers, academics, community leaders, etc. said the most disgusting things about gay people. And they are still around, probably saying as little as possible and hoping everyone will simply forget.

I’d love to see BTB do follow-up with some of these people. I’d love to hear what they have to say for themselves today, especially those liberal homophobes, who now have to contend with a world that has changed. It would be a way to record for history the final chapter in many of these controversies. If you ever decide that you want to pursue something like this, I can suggest a few candidates.

I love Leviticus
October 31st, 2012 | LINK

Joseph Epstein knew what he was talking about. “smoke it, swallow it, eat it, wallow in it, screw it, kick it, stomp it to death, and never mind what ‘it’ is” definitely is the attitude of a large section of the “gay community.”

Epstein of course is absolutely right that it is a bad thing for children to become homosexual. There is no reason why he should have apologized for saying that, or why Harper’s should have apologized for publishing his piece.

The gay activist thugs who tried to interfere with freedom of speech, and to force Harper’s to publish pro-gay propaganda, are the ones who should be apologizing.

Priya Lynn
November 1st, 2012 | LINK

Leviticus gayness harms no one so it is moral and not a bad thing for children to be.

You confuse the right of freedom of speech with the non-existant right to be free from criticism. Harper should apologize for slandering innocent people and Harper’s should have apologized for printing a piece devoid of truth intended solely to promote animosity.

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