The Daily Agenda for New Year’s Day

Jim Burroway

January 1st, 2013

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Same-Sex Marriages Begin: Maryland. Last November, Maryland voters approved Question 6 which ratifies a law passed by the legislature earlier this year to provide marriage equality. On December 6, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) formally signed a proclamation certifying the election results, allowing the law to go into effect today. The state Attorney General authorized (but did not require) individual counties to begin issuing post-dated marriage licenses so that couples could begin marrying today after having already gotten the mandatory 48-hour waiting period out of the way. For those living in counties which didn’t issue post-dated licenses — that’s probably fewer than a third of the counties — they can legally obtain licenses beginning today or whenever those county offices open following the holiday. They will be able to marry by the weekend.

Because today is a holiday, most city and county offices will be closed, but Baltimore’s Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake opened City Hall at 12:30 a.m., so that seven couples could marry. The first couple to marry will be the mayor’s aide and his partner of 35 years.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
English Criminal Law Amendment Act Takes Effect: 1885. English law had long held that homosexuality was an “abominable crime” punishable with death by hanging, but in 1861, the law was modified to provide imprisonment from ten years to life instead. But crime of sodomy was always difficult to prosecute because it required a witness and evidence that the sexual act had been fully consummated, complete with penetration and what we would call a happy ending. Obviously, that made convictions rare.

That changed in 1885, although the change may have been somewhat unintentional. During the middle of the nineteenth century, there was a growing concern over the dangers suffered by England’s daughters over the “gross indecencies” imposed upon them. But again, convictions were rare because the statute required that the sexual assault take place in a “public place.” And so on January 1, 1885, a revision to the criminal code raised the age of consent for girls from thirteen to sixteen, and it made “gross indecencies” punishable regardless of age and place a misdemeanor, punishable with up to two years imprisonment. It didn’t take long for “gross indecency” to be interpreted by the courts to include homosexuality. In fact, it would be under this statute that Oscar Wilde would be convicted and sentenced to the maximum two year term ten years later.

San Francisco Police Raid New Year’s Day Ball: 1965. Early San Fransisco LGBT-rights advocates had long recognized that much of the opposition to homosexuality rested on religious objections, and that if any progress was to be made, it was necessary to foster links between the gay community and the bay area’s religious leaders — at least those leaders who might be inclined to be supportive, whether publicly or privately. Earlier in 1964, Daughters of Bilitis founders Phyllis Lyon (see Nov 10) and Del Martin (see May 5), together with Glide Memorial Methodist Church, formed the Council on Religion and the Homosexual. CRH was notable for two reasons: not only was it the first organization in the U.S. to incorporate the word “Homosexual” in its name, but it was also the first organization to bring straight and gay people together to minister to the gay community.

And that opportunity for those early straight allies to get a first-hand taste of what gay people routinely experienced came on New Year’s Day of 1965, when CHR held a New Years Mardi Gras as a fundraiser at California Hall. When the ministers informed the San Francisco Police Department on December 23 of their planned costume party, the police tried to coerce the hall’s owners into cancelling the rental. Organizers again met with police on December 29, for negotiations which the ministers described “strained.” SFPD officials couldn’t understand why these ministers were arguing on behalf of gay people. Observing the wedding bands on the ministers’ fingers, one officer reportedly said, “We see you’re married. How do your wives accept this?” Their wives, the ministers explained, would be at the ball also, along with other members of their congretations. Police tried to question them on theology and warned them that they were being “used” by local homophile organizations, but the ministers persisted. Finally, the two parties reached a deal where police promised not to arrest anyone in costume, including those in drag.

A couple walks past police officers to attend the New Year’s Mardi Gras ball.

Those promises quickly proved empty. As guests began arriving at 9:00 p.m. on New Year’s Day, they encountered police officers snapping photographs of everyone as they entered the building. The obvious attempt at intimidation deterred many — organizers expected 1500 to show up but only about 500 actually attended. Later that evening, police demanded entry into the building. Three CRH lawyers explained that the party was a private party under California law and that police could not enter without buying tickets or showing a warrent. The lawyers were arrested, along with a ticket-taker, and charged with obstructing an officer. Two other gay men were arrested for “disorderly conduct” after one of them tripped over a chair; police accused him of trying to kiss another man and both were hauled in.

Throughout the night, police repeatedly entered the hall to conduct “fire code inspections.”  The ball was scheduled to end at midnight, but organizers decided to end the ball an hour earlier. Their next job was get get their guests safely out of the building. One minister was threatened with arrest while escorting two guests to their cars.

Police photographer snaps photos of everyone as they enter California Hall.

For many of the straight attendees, this was their first exposure to routine police intimidation tactics against the gay community. Del Martin said, “This is the type of police activity that homosexuals know well, but heretofore the police had never played their hand before Mr. Average Citizen … It was always the testimony of the police officer versus the homosexual, and the homosexual, fearing publicity and knowing the odds were against him, succumbed. But in this instance the police overplay their part.”

The following morning seven of the ministers who had attended the party held a press conference where they described the pre-event negotiations and the resulting “intimidation, broken promises and obvious hostility” of the San Francisco Police. The American Civil Liberties Union agreed to represent those under arrest.

The New Year’s Mardi Gras party, occurring as it did some five years before Stonewall, proved to be a turning point for gay rights in San Francisco. As the Mattachine Society’s Hal Call (see Sep 20) recalled, “That was when we got newspapers, TV, and radio on our side. The police were so brutal. And with some respectable clergymen on our side, that was a turning point.” Phyllis Lyon said that it was “our first step into some kind of connectedness with the rest of the city.” City officials, embarrassed by the obvious police misconduct, responded by designating officer Elliot Blackstone as the first liaison between the department and the LGBT community. (At his retirement dinner in 1975, Blackstone was saluted by LGBT community leaders for his ensuing twenty years of advocacy and support.)

When the three lawyers’ trial began in February, the police department were still trying to figure out the legal basis for their actions. When asked why police were taking pictures of guests arriving at the ball even though no crime had occurred, one official replied that police “wanted pictures of these people because some of them might be connected to national security.” He also said that the contingent of more than a dozen officers and two photographers were needed because “we went just to inspect the premises.” After four days of prosecution testimony and before the defense could begin presenting their case, the judge ordered a directed verdict of “not guilty” after four days of prosecution testimony. One of the lawyers who had been arrested and charged, Herb Donaldson, would go on to become San Francisco’s first openly gay judge.

A documentary, “The Last Dance Raid,” is currently in production with a targeted release sometime in 2013. The documentary will include eyewitness interviews and vintage photos. Donations for the project are being accepted here. Here is the film’s trailer:

[Other sources: Kay Tobin. “After the ball…” The Ladder 9, no. 5 (February 1965): 4-5.

Unsigned. “Cross currents.” The Ladder 9, no. 9 (June 1965): 14-16.

Edward Alwood. Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the News Media (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996): 40.

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): 105-108.

LGBT Religious Archives Network. “Raid at New Year’s Day Ball at California Hall.”]

Los Angeles Gay Bar Raided: 1967. It all was sparked by the temerity of a kiss, when a small group of gay men at Silverlake’s Black Cat bar, upon the countdown to midnight on New Years’ Eve, had the gall to kiss each other “on the mouth for three to five seconds” in the presence of about six undercover policemen who had infiltrated the gay bar. As soon as the pecks on the lips began, police identified themselves and began viciously beating and arresting the kissing offenders. As the melee widened, several people tried to escape to the New Faces bar across the street. Undercover officers followed and raided that bar as well. One of the New Faces workers was beaten so badly by police that they cracked a rib, fractured his skull and ruptured his spleen. Six Black Cat kissers were tried and convicted of “lewd or dissolute conduct” in a public place — legaleese for, in this instance, hugging and kissing.

Just as with the New Year’s Mardi Gras raid in San Francisco two years earlier, the Black Cat raid had the effect of galvanizing the gay community in Los Angeles. Gays turned out for protests and demonstrations in the months that followed, and they began to pass a newsletter around which would eventually morph into The Advocate. By the time a similar police raid took place in a dive bar in Greenwich Village two years later, the ground was well prepared for gays to come out nationally to declare their presence in society. In 2008, the Black Cat bar was declared a historical-cultural landmark by the city of Los Angeles, in a move that was partly inspired by the story of the Black Cat bar posted on BTB in 2006.

Homosexuality decriminalized: The first day of the year often marks the day in which new state laws take effect, which explains why on this day in history, a number of states officially decriminalized homosexuality effective January 1. Among the states that I know of in which laws prohibiting same-sex relations include: Arizona (1980), California (1975), Colorado (1971), Hawaii (1972), Illinois (1962), Iowa (1976), New Mexico (1975), North Dakota (1978). Ohio (1974),  Oregon (1971) and Vermont (1977). If you know of any others, please let me know in the comments below.

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?

jpeckjr

January 1st, 2013

Once again, Jim, you’ve been a great teacher! I did not know much about the story of the New Year’s Dance raid in San Francisco. Less than 50 years from intimidation, raids, and arrests everywhere to marriage equality in some places! I am more aware today of the risks and courage of men and women born long before me, and I have a really, really good sense of history.

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