The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, February 26

Jim Burroway

February 26th, 2013

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Illinois House Committee To Hear Marriage Equality Bill: Springfield, IL. Less than two weeks after the state Senate approved a bill to provide marriage equality for same-sex couples, the House is now taking its first steps toward approving the measure. Today, Senate Bill 10, or the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, will be heard before the House Executive Committee. The committee will meet this afternoon at 3:00 p.m. in Room 114 of the Capitol Building. With seven Democrats and four Republicans on the committee, the bill is expected to pass and be sent to the House floor.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Chemical Castration for Homosexuality: 1955. In the 1950s, endocrinologists were just beginning to understand the many valuable benefits of hormone therapy to treat a large number of conditions. They also found that hormones could also have lasting, damaging effects on the body. Those effects were put to use in attempts to control the sexual behavior of gay men as doctors, often under court order, began prescribing Stilboestrol, a synthetic estrogen, in order to produce a chemical castration. In an article which appeared in the British Medical Journal, Dr. Robert E. Hemphill, the medical superintendent at the Bristol Mental Hospital, described the effects of hormone therapy for a number of different conditions, including the following:

Homosexuality and Excessive Sexuality. — The direction of homosexual or heterosexual drives cannot be altered with sex hormones; but the force of sexual drive in males can be reduced by treatment with female sex hormones. There are a number of papers on the subject, and all the authors are in general agreement about the indications and the rationale. Treatment with female sex hormones reduces the production of gonadotrophic hormones, producing a secondary effect on testicular function and secretion. The reduction of sex drive is comparable to that achieved by surgical castration, although some authors claim that endocrine treatment is more effective (Hamilton, 1943). Stilboestrol is the usual preparation, administered in increasing doses until the nipples become pigmented and the breasts sore; an alternative is ethynol oestradiol, 0.5 or 1 mg. daily. Eventually almost complete testicular atrophy will be produced, but not necessarily a total suppression of the abnormal sex drives. It is interesting that notice has been taken of this treatment at the recent trial of an extreme and persistent homosexual offender, in whom abnormal behaviour had continued in spite of the production of almost complete atrophy of the testes by stilboestrol. The judge took into consideration that the offender had therefore done everything possible that medical treatment could offer, although in his case it had not been completely successful. Persistent homosexual offenders should therefore be encouraged to persevere with this treatment, although in some cases a satisfactory control of sexual behaviour may not necessarily be achieved.

In 1952, famed mathematician Alan Turing (see Jun 23) was arrested for homosexuality and given the choice between prison and chemical castration through hormone therapy. Turing was given  Stilboestrol for a year, whereupon he became impotent and experienced the side effects of breast enlargement and general bloating in his body. He also lost his security clearance. Stilboestrol, also known in the U.S. as Diethylstilbestrol (DES), would later be linked to depression and severe birth defects when given to pregnant women. Turing committed suicide in 1954.

[Source: R.E. Hemphill. “Endocrine treatment in psychiatry.” British Medical Journal 1, no. 4912 (February 26, 1955): 501-504. Full text available online here.]

Barney Frank and “Gay Power”: 1973. Newsweek provided a quick update to the beginnings of what would become a growing political movement in a small article titled “Gay Power”:

The time is probably not at hand when Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley will don black tie and hie himself off to an annual dinner of the Chicago Gay Alliance — just another politician seeking votes among just another group of citizens. Nor has Richard Nixon yet expressed his hopes for a brighter future for America’s homosexuals. But in recent years, in the backwash of political organizational efforts by migrant workers, welfare mothers and other once formless and powerless groups, the nations homosexuals have begun taking a few assertive steps of their own — and finding to their not inconsiderable surprise that the politicians can be made to pay attention.

Newsweek wrote that progress, so far, had been measured “mostly by symbol and gesture” and was limited to major cities and college campuses. San Francisco, Los Angeles were mentioned, but Newsweek was more impressed with the activity taking place in the Northeast, where gay advocates worked to overturn anti-sodomy laws (43 states still had them in 1973), enact equal rights protections, ensure child visitation rights in custody battles, and even fight on behalf of gay taxi drivers in New York City who required medical certifications of sanity before they were allowed to drive cabs. Gays were visible as never before except for one young legislator who, while not yet out, may have dared reporters to ask:

In Boston earlier this month, freshman State Rep. Barney Frank caused a small sensation when he told his colleagues that he had routinely used gays as campaign workers last year, among ordinary citizens as well as among other homosexuals — “and as all of you know, campaigning is a peculiarly personal kind of thing.”

But nobody asked, and Frank didn’t tell. It wouldn’t be until 1974 when Massachusetts (and the nation) would see its first openly gay state legislator (see Nov 5). Frank came out on his own initiative in 1987 (see May 29).

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?

AlexH

February 26th, 2013

It’s terrible what happened to Turing and others like him. To think of the incredibly talented and smart minds that we lost as a result of ignorance is a sad, sad thing.

I’m glad for these BTB Daily Agenda’s “Today In History,” because it tells us how far we’ve come.

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