The Daily Agenda for Sunday, November 4
November 4th, 2012
Today Pride Celebration: Palm Springs, CA.
Also Today: Fall Diversity, Eureka Springs, AR.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
California’s Prop 64 To Quarantine People With AIDS Defeated: 1986. Lyndon LaRouche’s name is all but forgotten today, but in the early 1980s the paranoid perennial Presidential candidate was regarded more as a joke than as a serious political thinker, even though he took himself very seriously. LaRouche typically ran as a self-styled Democrat (much to the consternation of real Democrats) while putting forth elaborate conspiracy theories and bizarre economic platforms. During his 1984 campaign, he managed to purchase 14 television spots in which he called Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale a Soviet KGB agent, and charged that Henry Kissinger and the Queen of England were in charge of worldwide drug cartels. He lost, of course, but didn’t go away.
In 1986, at the height of the hysterical anti-gay backlash that had sprung up in the midst of the growing AIDS epidemic, LaRouche founded his Prevent AIDS Now Initiative Committee (PANIC), which gathered enough signatures to place Proposition 64 onto the ballot. Prop 64, also known as the LaRouche Initiative,would have placed AIDS onto California’s list of communicable diseases under the state’s public health law, and that would have effectively forced anyone who was HIV-positive out of their jobs and schools and into a quarantine.
The LaRouchites said that such measures were required because AIDS was “worse than the Black Death” that devastated 14th-century Europe and Asia, and was “more deadly to mankind than a full-scale thermonuclear war.” They also claimed that AIDS had been created by the Soviets — or maybe the International Monetary Fund or maybe the World Bank — to kill “excess eaters” in Africa, and asserted that it could be spread like the common cold through casual contact or through mosquito bites. “A person with AIDS running around is like a person with a machine gun shooting up a neighborhood,” LaRouche told a San Francisco radio program. Health officials denounced LaRouche’s harebrained theories, but LaRouche held his ground. His Biological Holocaust Task Force charged that “AIDS is the first known epidemic which could potentially wipe out the entire human race” and that his detractors were “guilty of one of the most evil cover-ups in medical history.”
Despite support from Congressman William E. Dannemeyer, Prop 64 lost in a landslide, 71% to 29%. LaRouche brought it back again in 1988 as Prop 69, when it lost by an even wider margin. He also made that AIDS quarantine the centerpiece of his 1988 presidential campaign, but Prop 64 would prove to be his high water mark, such as it was. In October 1986, federal and state agents raided his heavily guarded compound in Loudon County, Virginia and offices in Massachusetts. A federal grand jury indicted LaRouche and several of his associates with credit card fraud and obstruction of justice. In 1988, he was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, 11 counts of actual mail fraud and a count of conspiring to defraud the IRS, all part of a wider effort to obtain credit card loans in his name and those of his supporters that he had no intention of repaying. LaRouche, true to form, blamed the raid on Raisa Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s First Lady.
LaRouche served six years in prison, running again for President from prison in 1992. At one time, he shared his cell with televangelist Jim Bakker, who recalled, “to say LaRouche was a little paranoid would be like saying that the Titanic had a little leak.” He still hasn’t gone away. More recently, he posted an image of President Barack Obama as Hitler that began appearing at Tea Party and Town Hall meetings in 2009, and he helped to popularize the fiction that Obama’s health care reform included so-called “death panels.”
Barbara Grier: 1933. The Cincinnati native came from a colorful family: Her father was a womanizing former small town doctor who became a medical salesman, and her mother was a before-her-time feminist and actress. Her great-grandfather, James Jesse Strang, had five wives and headed a breakaway Mormon sect known as the Strangites which had a somewhat feminist bent. One of Strang’s wives, Grier’s great-grandmother, dressed in men’s clothing and travelled with him as a man on evangelical tours.
Grier herself didn’t fall very far from the family tree. She announced to her mother at the age of twelve that she was a homosexual. As Grier recalled later, her mother corrected her. “Mother said that since I was a woman, I wasn’t a homosexual. I was a lesbian. She also said that since I was twelve I was a little young to make this decision and we should wait six months to tell the newspapers.” That task out of the way, Grier then began collecting lesbian fiction, beginning with her mother’s copy of Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. “Mother gave my wider world validation, Grier said. “It’s a pretty easy jump to see why I began collecting a lesbian fiction a few years later — Mother opened me up to many, many things.”
Shortly after Grier graduated from High School, she met Helen Bennett in the public library and they became partners for the next twenty years in Kansas City. While there, Grier met Jeannette Howard Foster (see Nov 3), who was herself in the process of compiling her groundbreaking bibliography of lesbian literature, Sex Variant Women in Literature. Foster mentored Grier in the art of bibliography, and Grier set about compiling her own extensive bibliographies, including several volumes of The Lesbian in Literature. It was during this time that Grier discovered the Daughters of Bilitis’ magazine The Ladder. “From the first issue I saw, the March 1956 issue, I said this is what I am going to spend the rest of my life doing.” Grier’s memory must have been a little off: The Ladder’s first issue wasn’t until October 1956. But the March 1957 issue inaugurated an important new column called “Lesbiana,” which was a running bibliography of lesbian fiction, non-fiction, drama and poetry, along with a brief overview of each work. Grier wrote a letter to The Ladder, which was published in August of that year offering her own additions for “Lesbiana”:
“I have now reoeived and thoroughly read (and reread) five issues of THE LADDER, and I feel I must write and congratulate you on your magnificent work for us all. I enjoyed your attempt to list and annotate literature in your feature ‘Lesbiana’ most of all, as I know the years of frustration and work involved in collecting a library of gay literature. I now have some 300 works of fiction, poetry and drama, with perhaps 200 devoted to women. Your , column should help many others along the same lines. … I am enclosing with this letter a few additions you might wish for ‘Lesbiana’. …
G.D., Kansas City, Kansas
That anonymous introduction marked the start of fifteen years of Grier (as “Gene Damon”) reviewing lesbian-themed writings in The Ladder, beginning with the following month’s issue which featured her reviews of two works of pulp fiction. She continued contributing book reviews under multiple pseudonyms, including Lennox Strong and Vern Niven (her fifth cousin was British actor David Niven). During the nearly-disastrous 1968 Daughters of Bilitis convention (see Sep 26), Grier was named editor of The Ladder, and she immediately began remaking the magazine to reflect her own priorities. Without consulting with the national board, she dropped the subtitle “A Lesbian Review” and began focusing more on the growing women’s liberation movement. She expanded every section to add more fiction, poetry, and artwork, but cut back publication to six times a year instead of monthly.
But her boldest move occurred two years later when Rita Laporte, DoB’s President, walked into the Daughters of Bilitis office in San Francisco and walked out with the magazine’s production tools, correspondence, archives and, most importantly, its mailing list — all without the board and other officer’s knowledge. Laporte turned those materials over to Grier, and in the following issue (August/September 1970), The Ladder proclaimed itself an independent publication for “all women, that majority of human beings that has known oppression longer than anyone.”
While Laporte did the deed, Grier was suspected of instigating the move. According to Marcia Gallo’s Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement:
“It was Barbara’s idea,” (DoB co-founder) Phyllis Lyon insists. She believes to this day that Barbara Grier convinced Rita Laport to help her steal The Ladder. “Rita went to the place where the addressograph plates were made for mailing The Ladder to subscribers.” The small business was one that she and (her partner Del) Martin, along with three other friends, were partners in. One of them, Pat Durham, was there that day Laporte came in asking for the mailing materials. She knew Laport was the president of DOB so gave her the plates when asked. However, “she wondered, and later that same day called us,” Lyon explained. Laporte took the address plates as well as files from DOB’s office and transported all of it to her new home in Sparks, Nevada, near Reno. Although Grier still was editing the magazine from Kansas City, they began producing The Ladder from Nevada in early summer 1970 — away from San Francisco and DOB’s organizational center.
Grier defended the theft as an act of lesbian feminist salvation, explaining that they did it to save The Ladder from the DOB’s institutional weakness. “DOB was falling apart — we wanted The Ladder to survive. But Grier’s actions hastened The Ladder’s doom, now that it was cut off from DOB funding. It lasted another two years before folding in 1972. It barely outlasted the DOB as a national organization. Denied the powerful organizing tool and voice that The Ladder provided, the DOB board vote to disband the national organization and free the local chapters to operate autonomously.
Shortly after The Ladder’s demise, Grier launched Naiad Press, which for the next twenty-five year focused on publishing books “about lesbians who love lesbians, where the girl is not just going through a phase.” Naiad published more than 500 original titles, making it the world’s largest lesbian publisher. It brought back several out-of-print works, including Gertrude Stein’s prose poem “Lifting Belly” and countless classic lesbian pulp fiction titles from the 1950s and 1960s, which sparked an enormous revival of interest in the genre. Among Naiad’s notable works was Jane Rule’s Outlander, Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, Ann Bannon’s Beebo Brinker series and the 1985 anthology Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, which earned the condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church. When Grier serialized several o of the stories in Penthouse Forum, she earned additional condemnations from many of the nuns in the book as well as feminists who denounced the men’s porn magazine as exploitative of women. They also condemned her for cashing in on Naiad’s largest selling book. Grier defended the serialization, saying that it reached a larger audience of non-lesbian women who might never have encountered the stories elsewhere.
In 1985, Grier was given the President’s Award for Lifetime Service from the Gay Academic Union for her work in cataloguing and preserving lesbian literature. In 1991, she and her longtime partner Donna McBride were given the Lambda Literary Award for Publisher’s Service for their work with Naiad Press, and in 2002 they were honored with the Lambda Literary Pioneer Award. Grier’s own collection of lesbian literature is believed to be the world’s largest. Almost fifteen thousand books and several hundred feet of papers is now housed in the James C. Hormel Collection of the San Francisco Library. Grier died of cancer in Tallahassee in 2011 at the age of 78.
[Sources. Unsigned “Lesbiana.” The Ladder 1, no. 6 (March 1957): 12.
“G.D.” Letter to the editor. The Ladder 1, no. 11 (August 1957): 24-25.
Victoria A. Brownworth. “Barbara Grier (1933- ): Climbing the Ladder.” In Vern L. Bullough’s (ed.) Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context (London: Routledge, 2002): 253-264.
Marcia M. Gallo. Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement(Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2007).]
Robbert Mapplethorpe: 1946. Nearly banned in Cincinnati, shunned by the Corcoran, denounced by politicians, Mapplethorpe has become a kind of a shorthand for those who see contemporary art as sending civilization to hell in a hand basket and seek to control it. His studio work consisted mainly of rather common subjects: still lifes, orchids, lilies, and celebrities. Lots of celebrities, including Richard Gere, Laurie Anderson, Peter Gabriel, Andy Warhol, and Patti Smith, who Mapplethorpe dated while still trying to figure out how to come to terms with his own sexuality.
It wasn’t until he began putting together the works for his 1989 solo tour The Perfect Moment, that he decided to include, for the first time, some recent photos that he had taken. They included several provocative, sexually explicit images of homoeroticism and BDSM. The American Family Association slammed the National Endowment for the Arts, which had funded the exhibit, which they called “nothing more than the sensational presentation of potentially obscene material.” Congressional leaders threatened to cut funding for the NEA. When that failed, Sen. Jesse Helm introduced an amendment prohibiting the NEA from funding “obscenity,” which cast a chilling effect on the arts for more than a decade.
The Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. had initially agreed to host the travelling exhibit, But on June 12, 1989, it announced its cancellation. That reversal, in turn, generated further public protests from defenders of art and free expression. In one protest, artists and LGBT advocates projected slides of Mapplethorpe’s photos on the museum’s facade. Pop artist Lowell Blair Nesbitt revoked his $1.5 million bequest to the Corcoran and several artists began canceling their own exhibits. The Corcoran’s director, Christina Orr-Cahall, issued a formal statement of apology in September, and resigned the following December.
When The Perfect Moment arrived at the Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati in April of 1990, it drew large crowds and considerable controversy. Hamilton county’s prosecutor tried to shut the show down, but the judge ordered the city and county not to interfere with the exhibit. After the show was over, the center and its director, Dennis Barrie, were charged with “pandering obscenity,” in what may well be the first time an art museum has faced criminal charges over the contents of an exhibit. The museum and Barrie were both acquitted.
Mapplethorpe didn’t live to see the controversy over his photos. He died on March 9, 1989 of complications from AIDS at the age of 42.
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