The Daily Agenda for Thursday, January 17
January 17th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
ACLU Says Anti-Gay Laws Constitutional: 1957. In response to pleas from gay activists from the Mattachine Society, Daughters of Bilitis and ONE Magazine, the National Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union issued the following statement:
The American Civil Liberties Union is occasionally called upon to defend the civil liberties of homosexuals. It is not within the province of the Union to evaluate the social validity of laws aimed at the suppression or elimination of homosexuals. We recognize that overt acts of homosexuality constitute a common law felony and that there is no constitutional prohibition against such state and local laws on this subject as are deemed by such states or communities to be socially necessary or beneficial. Any challenge of laws that prohibit and punish public acts of homosexuality or overt acts of solicitation for the purpose of committing a homosexual act is beyond the province of the Union.
In examining some of the cases that have come to our attention, however, we are aware that homosexuals, like members of other socially heretical or deviant groups, are more vulnerable than others to official persecution, denial of due process in prosecution, and entrapment. As in the whole field of due process, these are matters of proper concern for the Union and we will support the defense of such cases that come to our attention.
Some local laws require registration when they enter the community of persons who have been convicted of a homosexual act. Such registration laws, like others requiring registration of persons convicted of other offenses are, in our opinion unconstitutional. We will support efforts for their repeal or proper legal challenge of them.
The ACLU has previously decided that homosexuality is a valid consideration in evaluating the security risk factor in sensitive positions. ‘We affirm, as does Executive Order 10450 and all security regulations made thereunder, that homosexuality is a factor properly to be considered only when there is evidence of other acts which come within valid security criteria.
Executive Order 10450, signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 (see Apr 27), went far beyond “security risk factors in sensitive positions.” It actually barred all federal employment for gay people. That ban remained in place until 1975 (see Jul 3).
In 1957, homosexuality was illegal in all forty-eight states in the Union, as well as the District of Columbia and all American territories. Illinois wouldn’t drop its anti-sodomy charge until 1961 (see Jul 28), and it would remain the only state to do so for the next decade. For many gay activists, overturning sodomy laws was still a distant dream. There were more pressing matters: police harassment, entrapment, raids, and other forms of official persecution. And for the first time, the ACLU committed to defending gay people in those areas.
That’s why a statement like this, which today would seem to be a setback for gay people, was actually welcomed by many gay activists at the time. The Daughters of Bilitis issue a statement “commend(ing) the ACLU for its fine work in the defense of civil rights for all citizens” and urged its members to support the ACLU “whenever and wherever possible.” The Mattachine Society agreed: “We believe that the serious interest of ACLU in matters of civil rights and due process of law merit the praise of Mattachine members and friends, and urge readers to support the organization’s effort with memberships and donations whenever possible.”
But ONE magazine, which was in the midst of its own legal battle with the Post Office (see Jan 13), wasn’t having it. “One question,” it asked. “Would it be within the province of the Union to evaluate the social validity of laws aimed at the suppression or elimination of Negroes, Jews, or Jehovah’s Witnesses? Of course it would. Then why not homosexuals?”
[Sources: Unsigned. “The ACLU Takes a Stand on Homosexuality.” The Ladder 1, no. 6 (March 1957): 8-9
Unsigned. “ACLU Position on Homosexuality. Mattachine Review 3, no 3 (March 1957): 7.
Dal McIntire “Tangents.” ONE 5, no 4 (April 1957): 11-13.]
New York Times Magazine Publishes “What It Means To Be A Homosexual”: 1971. The Harper’s October 1970 cover screed by Joseph Epstein — the one where he called gay people “an affront to our rationality” and were “condemned to a state of permanent niggerdom among men” — generated an outpouring of anger in the gay community, which resulted in a protest inside the offices of Harper’s (see Oct 27). Gay activists demanded another article to give the gay community equal exposure, but the Harper’s refused the request. Its editors also refused to apologize. The outrageous insults in the piece become something of a second, lesser Stonewall in the way it brought out even more gays and lesbians who decided it was time to become more involved publicly.
Among them was Merle Miller, a former editor at Harper’s who was also a novelist and biographer. His anger was apparent to two New York Times editors when they met for lunch one day. They discussed the Harper’s article, and as discussion that became increasingly heated — the other editors didn’t think there was anything wrong with it — Miller finally said, “Look, goddamn it, I’m homosexual … and I’m sick and tired of reading and hearing such goddamn demeaning, degrading bullshit about me and my friends.”
Now, it’s important to remember that throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, The New York Times had earned the enmity of gay people everywhere for its reticence in covering issues important to the gay community. In fact, under the editorship of A.M. Rosenthal, the very word gay was banned, unless it was a direct quote from someone else. He refused to make Walter Clemons a daily book critic once he found out Clemons was gay. Reporters and editors soon got the message: propose too many stories about gay people, and you too might come under suspicion.
But in 1971, The New York Times Magazine operated separately from the daily paper, and until the operations were merged in 1976, Rosenthal had no say what went into it. And so a few days later, those two editors proposed that Miller write a piece for the magazine. He accepted, and his essay, “What It Means To Be A Homosexual,” would become a landmark. Miller described the pain of growing up gay in Iowa, how, as a young reporter, he learned to behave as a stereotypical tough-guy blood-and-guts reporter, denouncing “queers” regularly, to hide who he was. At one time he sought a psychiatrist to try to become straight, to no avail:
It took me almost fifty years to come out of the closet, to stop pretending to be something I was not, most of the time fooling nobody. …I dislike being despised, unless I have done something despicable, realizing that the simple fact of being homosexual is all by itself despicable to many people, maybe, as Mr. Epstein says, to everyone who is straight. Assuming anybody is ever totally one thing sexually.
Miller’s essay was unlike anything that had ever been published before. Untold thousands of closeted gays read, for the first time, about Miller’s experience in coming to terms with his sexuality and his experience of coming out. Letters poured into the Times mail room — almost 2000 in the first six weeks alone, and almost all of them from gay people, expressing their gratitude for Miller’s honesty.
Later that year, “What It Means To Be A Homosexual” was published again in book form as On Being Different. Penguin Classics re-issued it again last year (available in paperback and on Kindle) with a foreword by Dan Savage and afterword by Charles Kaiser.
Texas AIDS Quarantine Proposal Withdrawn: 1986. Texas Health Commissioner Robert Bernstein announced that he was withdrawing the proposal to impose a quarantine on “incorrigible” people with AIDS (see Dec 14). The announcement came three days after twenty witnesses testified in a public hearing against the proposal, saying it would do little to stem the spread of the disease. The specter of a possible misuse of a quarantine, AIDS and other health advocates said, would prevent a lot of people with HIV/AIDS from getting tested or seeking services. Gov. Mark White also weighed in, saying that the proposed quarantine was “not an appropriate solution.”
In a news conference in Austin announcing the about-face, Bernstien said that because of the “furor and the emotion” the proposal generated, the relationship between public health officials and the gay community “would suffer out of all proportion to the value gained.” But he hadn’t yet given up on coming up with some method for isolating people with AIDS. “We’re not dropping it,” he said. “We are just going to go about it in a less tumultuous way.” Gay leaders in Texas hailed the turnaround and promised to help a newly expanded task force identify effective ways for dealing with the disease.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?