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The Daily Agenda for Monday, January 21

Jim Burroway

January 21st, 2013

It’s a super-double bonus day today: Inauguration Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. President Barack Obama took the official oath of office yesterday in keeping with the Constitution’s Twentieth Amendment. But in keeping with a tradition that was established in 1821 for James Monroe’s second inauguration, every time an inauguration is scheduled to take place on Sunday, the festivities have always been pushed back a day to Monday. Ronald Reagan also began his second term the same way, with a private oath on Sunday and a ceremonial inauguration oath on Monday. When Monroe established the tradition, it was no big deal. It was, after all, a continuation of his first term. But it was a different story in 1849 when the country was celebrating its good riddance of the unpopular James Polk. His successor, Zachary Taylor, refused to take the oath on Sunday, as did his vice-President, Millard Fillmore. This made House Speaker David Rice Atchison the acting president for the day.

But as I said, this day is also Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as well as Inauguration Day. And it’s altogether fitting and proper, to paraphrase the Great Emancipator, that we should observe these two together. When Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, his call for an equal and just society must have sounded hopelessly idealistic. “One day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers,” he dreamed. I don’t think we’ve achieved that dream yet, but fifty years later we are living in a land where those little black boys and girls and those little white boys and girls have a President who embodies the fruits of that dream. Not only that, but we’ve had that President around long enough that his second inauguration now seems like old hat. For all but a stubborn few, it is no big thing.

And this president has extended the dream in ways in which I would have had a hard time imagining just a few short years ago. For the first time in our nation’s history, we have a president who believes that gays and lesbians should have the same right to marry as anyone else, and that belief has transformed his party. Never again will it be acceptable for a Democratic presidential candidate to hold a contrary position when it comes to our families.

And that position has not just transformed the Democratic Party, it also is bringing a recognition among many in the Republican Party that, while this may not be a settled issue, it is now one that many no longer want to go out on a limb against.

It’s much too early to know whether last year’s homophobic GOP platform will be the last of its kind. Social conservatives may be losing their grip on the country, but there’s not much evidence — yet — that their power is slipping among GOP primary voters. But what we can say is that that same-sex marriage is no longer the wedge issue it used to be. Or, perhaps more accurately, we should probably say that the wedge now points the other way, in the same direction of Dr. King’s “long arc of history”: towards justice.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Time Magazine’s “The Homosexual In America”: 1966. Time magazine published an unsigned two-page article which, given that it was a “popular” magazine, provides a mirror of how gay people were viewed in the U.S. at that time:

It used to be “the abominable crime not to be mentioned.” Today it is not only mentioned: it is freely discussed and widely analyzed. Yet the general attitude is, if anything, more uncertain than before. Beset by inner conflicts, the homosexual is unsure of his position in society, ambivalent about his attitudes and identity — but he gains a certain amount of security through the fact that society is equally ambivalent about him.

In the second paragraph, Time provides some examples of that ambivalence that straight society had toward gay people:

The latest Rock Hudson movie explicitly jokes about it, Doubleday Book Shops run smirking ads for The Gay Cookbook, and newsstands make room for “beefcake” magazines of male nudes.

It’s hard to know whether Time indulged in some gay-baiting with Rock Hudson, but that line almost certainly raised a few eyebrows in Hollywood. The article went on:

But increasingly, deviates are out in the open, particularly in fashion and the arts. Women and homosexual men work together designing, marketing, retailing, and wrapping it all up in fashion magazines. The interior decorator and the stockbroker’s wife conspire over curtains. And the symbiosis is not limited to working hours. For many a woman with a busy or absent husband, the presentable homosexual is in demand as an escort — witty, pretty, catty, and no problem to keep at arm’s length. …

On Broadway, it would be difficult to find a production without homosexuals playing important parts, either onstage or off. And in Hollywood, says Broadway Producer David Merrick, “you have to scrape them off the ceiling.”  … [I]n the theater, dance and music world, deviates are so widespread that the sometimes seem to be running a kind of closed shop.

As the article continues, the ugliness grows. Time cited a Los Angeles psychiatrist who declared homosexuals “failed artists, and their special creative gift a myth.” Time held gay people responsible for plays depicting “the degradation of women and the derision of normal sex. … They represent a kind of inverted romance, since homosexual situations as such can never be made romantic for normal audiences.” And Time projected its obsessions with sex onto gay people:

Even in ordinary conversation, most homosexuals will sooner or later attack the ‘things that normal men take seriously.’ It does not mean that homosexuals do not and cannot talk seriously; but there is often a subtle sea change in the conversation: sex (unspoken) pervades the atmosphere.

It was at this point when Time turned to the notorious psychologist of the 1950s, Edmund Bergler, who, though dead for four years, supplied the following from a book he wrote ten years earlier:

The late Dr. Edmund Bergler found certain traits present in all homosexuals, including inner depression and guilt, irrational jealousy and a megalomaniac conviction that homosexual trends are universal. Though Bergler conceded that homosexuals are not responsible for their inner conflicts, he found that the conflicts “sap so much of their inner energy that the shell is a mixture of superciliousness, face aggression and whimpering. Like all psychic masochists, they are subservient when confronted by a stronger person, merciless when in power, unscrupulous about trampling on a weaker person.”

It was all there: gay people were “not like everybody else. They were “anxiously camouflaged,” “catty,” “megalomaniacal,” “supercilious,” “conspiring,” “wimpy,” “camp,” “psychic masochists,” “irrationally jealous,” “beset by inner depression and guilt,” “pathetic,” suffering from “a disabling fear of the opposite sex,” trapped in “a case of arrested development,” “subservient around strangers,” “merciless around those weaker than them,” “antagonistic toward heterosexuals,” “mocking of heterosexuals,” “inferior to heterosexuals” and, yes, conspiring over curtains while also nursing their “constant tendency to prowl or ‘cruise’ in search of new partners” while “refus(ing) to accept the full responsibilities of life.” And Time’s concluding remarks were nearly indistinguishable from what we regularly hear today from the likes of Peter LaBarbera, Bryan Fischer, Scott Lively, or the minions at the Family “Research” Council:

Lack of procreation or of marriage vows is not the issue; even Roman Catholic authorities hold that an illicit heterosexual affair has a degree of “authentication,” while a homosexual relationship involves only ”negation.” Roman Catholic thought generally agrees that homosexuality is of and in itself wrong because, as New York’s Msgr. Thomas McGovern says, it is “inordinate, having no direction toward a proper aim.” Even in purely nonreligious terms, homosexuality represents a misuse of sexual faculty and, in the worlds of one Catholic educator, of “human construction.” It is a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life. As such it deserves fairness, compassion, understanding and, when possible treatment. But it deserves no encouragement, no glamorization, no rationalization, no fake status as minority martyrdom, no sophistry about simple differences in taste — and, above all, no pretense that it is anything but a pernicious sickness.

The gay community’s reaction was biting. An unsigned commentary in the Daughters of Bilitis’ The Ladder (possibly by pioneering activist Barbara Gittings (see Jul 31), who was the magazine’s editor at the time) read, in part:

In its final frenzied paragraph TIME shows its Catholic petticoats, TIME rolls religious, psychiatric, and plain bourgeois prejudice into one big mudball which it slings about, hoping to blacken homosexuality forever… TIME calls homosexuality “a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, 11 Ditto for TIME’s essay on the subject.

The Ladder also quoted from a New York psychologist, Fritz Fluckiger, who had spoken at a DOB meeting: “They are famous for having a large research staff — and indeed, they have found every single cliche you can think of, to put in that essay.”

The following month, Gittings’s partner, Kay Lahusen (see Jan 5), writing as Kay Tobin.  quoted Dr. Isadore Ruben, publisher of Sexology magazine, who said that Time ordinarily prides itself in being up-to-date on whatever it covers. “But if this is so, then I am forced to conclude that if they are not ignorant, the editors of this essay are intellectually dishonest, motivated by prejudice, and guilty of deliberate omission and distortion.” That same issue also published three letters which had been sent to Time’s editor that the magazine declined to publish. Naturally, it was the letter from Frank Kameny (see May 21, founder of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C) which was the most forceful:

Instead of a mature, fair, objective assessment of the issue of homosexuality, divorced from ancient prejudices, pre- (sic) and misconceptions, and intolerances, we have a venomous, petulant polemic, suitable for a second-rate conservative publication.

From its stereotyping of “the homosexual” in the same invalid fashion as that in which others type “the Negro” or “the Jew,” to its choice as a major  ”authority” of a man (Bergler) whose views are discredited and disavowed even by his own professional colleagues, TIME has remained in the millenia-old intellectual and emotional rut on this question.

Instead of making a skeptical examination of the claims of modern psychiatry and finding that they are based upon shabby, slipshod science, including poor sampling techniques, built-in conclusions, and armchair theorizing about the nature of homosexuality, TIME swallows these claims hook, line, and sinker.

…The concluding three sentences are an unwarrantedly vicious attack upon a sincere effort to improve the status of a maligned and persecuted group of people and to gain for them the dignity to which all human beings have the right to aspire. Those sentences are the voice of a closed mind, of a mind which clearly has pre-judged, is not open to change, and is therefore in the most fundamental sense, prejudiced.

[Sources: Unsigned. "The homosexual in America" Time (January 21, 1966): 40-41. Available online with subscription here.

Unsigned. Column: "Cross-currents." The Ladder 10, no. 6 (March 1966): 18.

Kay Tobin. "A rebuke for TIME's pernicious prejudice." The Ladder 10, no. 7 (April 1966): 20-22.

Franklin E. Kameny. From "Letters TIME didn't print." The Ladder 10, no. 7 (April 1966): 22-23.]

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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Donny D.
January 21st, 2013 | LINK

Articles like that are part of the reason I hate Time magazine to this day.

MCB
January 21st, 2013 | LINK

So I looked up Rock Hudson’s filmography, and I think the movie they must be talking about is “Blindfold.” Has anyone seen it?

Timothy Kincaid
January 21st, 2013 | LINK

Your argument that President Obama’s public endorsement of marriage equality has pushed the Republican Party into a greater acceptance on the issue is a rather bold position. Yet I think it has merit. Unless this month is an anomaly, the evidence may well back you up.

Jim Burroway
January 21st, 2013 | LINK

Timothy,

Again you’re wrong. ;-) Just kidding.

But as I think about it more after writing what I did above last night and reading your comment this morning, I actually don’t think I can say that Obama has “pushed” the GOP anywhere on this issue.

But what I do think has happened is that he has abandoned what used to be the coveted “middle ground” that Dems traditionally tried to stake out on a contentious issue like this. Obama’s position used to be, roughly paraphrased, that gay marriage is kinda icky, I don’t want to think about it, but if you keep asking me, I might mumble something about opposing constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

And If the candidate is John Kerry, he’ll add, oh by the way, I gotta be somewhere else when the FMA comes up for a vote in the Senate.

With Dems holding this so-called “middle ground,” there was no way an ambitious Republican pol can hold a position that would be in any way to the left of that position.

But now Obama has staked out what used to be the “radical” position of fully endorsing marriage equality, leaving the so-called “middle ground” vacant. I think what is more likely happening is that it has opened up space for some Republicans to voice a more supportive or apparently-supportive position and still be well to the right of Obama. In other words, I don’t think Obama has “pushed” anyone, but because nature abhors a vacuum, they’ve allowed themselves to be “pulled” more towards where Obama used to be.

But of course it’s not just all about air pressure. I do think also that they are seing the polls and reading the election results and seeing that same-sex marriage is about to become a wedge issue in the opposite direction. Whether it truly is right now or not is still open to debate, but I do see that growing numbers are beginning to act as though it were.

Just my Monday morning musings.

MattNYC
January 21st, 2013 | LINK

Am I the only one tearing up at Richard Blanco’s poetry?

Timothy Kincaid
January 21st, 2013 | LINK

Whether pushed or pulled or just vacuumed up,
whether by intent or as an accident of his own evolution,
whether directly or indirectly by
shifting public opinion,
I think that Obama still gets credit for moving the Republican Party.

Jim Burroway
January 21st, 2013 | LINK

Timothy, With just a little more work, you can probably turn that into a poem. Perhaps not a Richard Blanco calibre poem but at least a nifty limerick! ;-)

Timothy Kincaid
January 21st, 2013 | LINK

What? You don’t recognize haiku?

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