The Daily Agenda for Friday, February 22

Jim Burroway

February 22nd, 2013

Events This Weekend: Pride Cape Town, South Africa; Telluride Gay Ski Week, Mountain Village, CO; Elevation: Utah Gay Ski Week, Park City, UT; Sydney Mardis Gras, Sydney, NSW.

Modesto Youth Gets Probation On “Morals Charge”: 1950. Vernon Edward Jensen, a clerk at a florist shop, pleaded guilting to what The Modesto (CA) Bee described simply as a “sex peversion charge.” The circumstances behind the arrest aren’t descrbed, except that

Jensen was one of nine recently arrested on perversion charges in a police roundup. Two of the nine were county teachers, Rolla H. Nuckles, 37, of 110 Roselawn Avenue, Modesto High School public speaking instructor, and Charles Lloyd Martin, 23, at 310 South Broadway, Turlock, who taught English and history at the Wakefield School there.

The charge against Nuckles were dismissed two days earlier, after having been held in jail since January 27 at the recommendation of the Deputy District Attorney. But that didn’t shield him from having his name and address printed once again in the paper. There is no mention of what happened to Martin. As for Jensen, a psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Gladen, head of the Modesto State Hospital, said that he wasn’t a “psychiatric abnormal person”:

As quoted by the court, Dr. Gladen pictured Jensen as not a homosexual but as “foolish kid,” now highly penitent and disgusted with his past action, and deserving of another chance.

The court agreed, and sentenced him to three years probation, during which time “he must obey all laws, report to the probation officer at regular intervals, remain in the county and refrain from excessive use if liquor.”

I see these names in the papers and often wonder what happened to them. Whenever people were arrested on a “morals charge” or for “lewd vagrancy,” their names, addresses and places of employment were typically printed in the paper, and that publicity often made whatever official punishment they may have received mild in comparison to losing their job or being shunned by their families and neighbors. It must have been an extraordinarily humiliating experience for each of these three men. But sixty years later, those very details are sometimes the only thing which can truly remind us that these were real people suffering from this kind of official oppression and not just characters in long-forgotten newspaper clippings.

Like I said, I often wonder what happened to some of these people that I run across, so I went sleuthing on There, I found a Vernon Edward Jenson, born February 11, 1929 in Butte, California, who died in 1995 in Alameda. Unfortunately, that’s all I was able to find for him. I wasn’t able to come up with much of anything for Martin.

Rolla H. Nuckles from a 1933 college yearbook

But I may have found some interesting information on Nuckles, the teacher against whom the charges were dismissed. Rolla Hargiss Nuckles was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and attended the University of Kansas where, in 1932 and 1933, he was a member of the Dramatic Club, and in 1933 was president of the local chapter of the National Collegiate Players, “one of the many units in all nation-wide dramatic movements.”) That same year, he appeared on the Dramatic Club’s performance of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” where, according to the college yearbook, “Elizabeth Crafton stole the show and Rolla Nuckles wore lace.” Nuckles appears to have been quite the performer. As a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, he was described as “perhaps the most delectable tap dancer to nauseate the Hill in some years.” In 1938, he’s still there, teaching “radio speaking” for students at the University of Kansas’ radio station KFKU and directing radio dramas as well as theatrical plays. This seems to match pretty well with being a public speaking instructor in Modesto. A 1944 Corpus Christi city directory lists a Rolla H. Nuckles as a radio announcer for radio station KEYS. From there, the record runs dry, with the exception of the arrest in Modesto, until his death in 2000 in San Antonio.

Frank Kameny Becomes First Openly Gay Candidate for Congress: 1971. The U.S. Constitution grants each state voting representation in both houses of Congress, but because the District of Columbia isn’t one, its more than half-a-million residents are taxed without voting representation (even though its population is larger than Wyoming). But in 1971, Congress agreed to allow D.C. to be represented in the House of Representatives by a single by a non-voting delegate. On February 22, pioneering gay rights advocate Franklin E. Kameny (see May 21) filed his nominating papers and proclaimed himself “the first publicly declared homosexual ever to run for Congress.” In announcing his run, Kameny declared, “We intend to remind a government and a country, which seems in may ways to have forgotten it, exactly what Americanism means — that this is a country of personal freedom and individual diversity; that Queen Victoria is dead, and the Puritans are long gone.”

Kameny joined a crowded field of eight (soon narrowed to six after two candidates’ petitions were thrown out), led by front-runner Democrat Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, who had been an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Contrary to expectations, Kameny didn’t run a single-issue campaign. He spoke at forums and television appearances about welfare reform, crime, the Vietnam war, freeway construction, home rule for the District, and other issues in terms similar to other candidates. But, as he told one audience, his campaign added “a special concern for what America stands for in terms of human rights for minorities like homosexuals.” One audience member exclaimed, “Are you serious?” Kameny answered, characteristically, “Yes, I certainly am.”

The overarching theme of the campaign was personal freedom. “I offer you beyond what the other candidates offer,” he told one forum at Howard University, “a special sensitivity to personal freedom, the right to live your life as you choose to live it.”

At one point in the campaign, Kameny told reporters, “My candidacy is a special one and will be conducted in some special ways.” One of those special ways was a campaign event he held at 1:00 a.m. on an early Friday Morning at Pier Nine, one of the city’s largest gay bars at Half and T Streets SW. The goal was to make sure the gay vote became a visible one. “Even if we don’t win,” he said, “if we can get 5,000 to 10,000 votes, things will not be the same again. That many votes would not be overlooked. …We are part of society; we are citizens of Washington, and we love this city. We want to play an active role in the life of Washington.”

On March 23, Fauntroy, as expected, won and became the District’s first non-voting delegate to Congress. (He would also, years later, become an outspoken foe of marriage equality in the District and a supporter of the Federal Marriage Amendment.) Kameny came in fourth with 1,841 votes. The vote count may have been small (only 1.6% of the total), but it did wind up changing the local political dynamic. In the following year, several candidates for the newly elected city school board went out of their way to court gay and lesbian voters.

[Sources: David R. Boldt. “Homosexual files delegate papers.” The Washington Post (February 23, 1971): A17

William L. Claiborne. “Candidate seeks end to homosexual ban.” The Washington Post (March 10, 1971): C1, C3.

Bart Barneas. “Kameny stresses personal freedom.” The Washington Post (March 13, 1971): B1, B2.

“Kameny for Congress.” The Rainbow History Project (Undated): Online.]

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?


February 22nd, 2013

I’ve never understood the American practice of publishing the names and details of everyone who is arrested in the newspapers. That kind of public shaming is downright medieval. Nothing but a modern form of the pillory, except with lasting consequences.


February 22nd, 2013

There are two explanations usually given:

1. An arrest is an act of the government, and everything the government does is a matter of public record.

2. Releasing the names of arrestees protects against a tyrannical government arresting people in secret.

Of course, both are utter and complete nonsense. By the standard of 1, individual tax returns would be a matter of public record as well, which if course isn’t the case. And an actual tyrannical government would simply withhold information on secret arrests while publicly releasing details on people it wants publicly humiliated. Oh, wait….


February 22nd, 2013

There is no requirement that news outlets publish this information. Doing it is mostly punitive.


February 22nd, 2013

There are no secret arrests in the United States, a statement of law and fact that is in no way “utter and complete nonsense.”

The public nature of arrests was merely one of the unique features of the new nation’s laws, but it remains one of the most important to its citizens, and most protective of them. It grew from experience with, and a desire to avoid, English “Star Chambers”–essentially, official kangaroo courts.

How this is nonsensical escapes me.

As for news publication of names, the reporter’s basic approach to any story, then and now, is WWWWHW: Who, what, where, when, how and why. I’m not sure that that is punitive; I’d place that at the feet of the prosecutors.


February 22nd, 2013

Publicizing the names of arrestees protects no one but instead serves solely to impose upon the accused the extra-judicial punishment of public shaming.

Protection against “kangaroo courts” comes from habeas corpus, the right to a fair and speedy trial, the right to due process, the right to face one’s accuser, the right to a lawyer… but certainly not from publicly shaming the accused. And yes, there are secret arrests in the U.S., to wit, those of terror suspects.


February 22nd, 2013

In other countries, newspaper routinely report on crimes or trials, but unless there is a good reason for it they don’t necessarily publish the names. There is absolutely no point in publishing the names of petty criminals. Except of course, shaming and extra-judicial punishment. The public has no need to know them.

There is another American version of the pillory: the perp walk. A punishment heaped even on innocent people.


February 22nd, 2013

It’s not up to a news outlet to “protect” persons charged with crimes, nor to protect their accusers. (A recent change is the decision not to print the names of rape and sexual abuse victims.)

If a news outlet can be persuaded to omit the names of persons arrested in a raid because disclosure will embarrass, how can any reader/viewer/listener ever be sure that the mayor (or the archbishop of San Francisco), when arrested for drunk driving, hasn’t been offered a similar favor? Or that other sorts of embarrassments can be avoided if you know the right people or make the right payment. And so on.

I completely understand the damages suffered by persons arrested–but not yet tried–for crimes; I think it is wholly undeserved. And I blame the authorities for that damage, not the journalists, whose job at present is to report fact, not withhold it.

The loss of journalistic credibility is a tragedy for the whole community, and credibility is all but impossible to regain. I’d rather have an all-or-nothing approach to crime in my town than always to be suspicious that things are going unreported because special arrangements keep them hidden.

That being said, I’d be completely open to definition of a reporting threshold meant to avoid unnecessary and undeserved damage, while naming names when the threshold is passed.


February 24th, 2013

I’d like to suggest that BTB start running historical posts of a different kind. Although I love these stories from the early 20th century and I hope they continue, I think it would be more interesting to do stories on elite homophobia from the recent past, involving people who are still around to talk about it.

We live in an interesting period, in which overt homophobia in the elite classes (of business, media, and the academy) is no longer socially acceptable. But only a short time ago, it was widely practiced. So today, we have a lot of people – very much alive and very much in positions of influence – who have a record of gay bashing that they would prefer just fade away. This is essentially a gay version of the George Wallace problem, i.e., how a prominent overt racist in the 1940s-early 60s manages to expiate his sins after racism falls out of favor with the elite.

I would love to see stories about these people, perhaps with an effort to follow up with them as to what they think about their former conduct. By way of example, we could follow up on the Dartmouth sorority girls who held a party to celebrate the death of Rock Hudson in 1985. What do these present-day doctors and lawyers think about themselves? Or perhaps we could check in with a current professor at Brown University, Richard Eder, who in 1976 wrote a homophobic movie review for The New York Times in which he opined that “too many male homosexual stomachs, arms and faces at too short a range” spoiled the movie and further opined that he had a “physical distaste” for gay people. BTB might call him and ask him whether he still has that distaste and whether and how it attaches to his current gay students at Brown. There are many other examples, ranging from the modest to the egregious, from the 1970s and 80s.

These people should be reminded of their record and, if feasible, they should be asked what they think of it. The latter part would involve nothing more than a phone call. Their present-day opinions should be fairly reported. I think this would be a great new feature for BTB.

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