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The Daily Agenda for Friday, March 1

Jim Burroway

March 1st, 2013

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Events This Weekend: National Student Pride, Brighton, UK; Belgian Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Brussels, Belgium; Cape Town Pride, Cape Town, South Africa; Telluride Gay Ski Week, Mountain Village, CO; Sydney Mardis Gras, Sydney, NSW.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Trial for “Lewd & Sodomitical Pracices: 1642. The Plymouth Colony Court heard a case brought against Edward Michell and Edward Preston for “lewd & sodomitical practices tending to sodomy.” The precise wording was important: sodomy itself was punishable by death, but practices which fell short of sodomy itself (which required proof of penetration and emission), were deemed merely “sodomitical” or sodomy-like. According to surviving records:

Edward Michell, for his lewd & sodomitical practices tending to sodomy with Edward Preston, and other lewd carriages with Lydia Hatch, is censured to be presently whipped at Plymouth, at the public place, and once more at Bamestable, in convenient time, in the presence of Mr. Freeman and the committees of the said town.

Edward Preston, for his lewd practices tending to sodomy with Edward Michell, and pressing John Keene thereunto (if he would have yielded), is also censured [sentenced] to be forthwith whipped at Plymouth, and once more at Bamestable (when Edward Michell is whipped), in the presence of Mr. Freeman & the committees of the same town.

John Keene, because he resisted the temptation, & used means to discover it, is appointed to stand by whilst Michell and Preston are whipped, though in some thing he was faulty.

New Haven Colony Passes Sodomy Law: 1656. When the New Haven Colony, in what is now Connecticut, its legislation was unique in the English-speaking world for mandating the death penalty for women as well as men for acts “against nature,” as well as for masturbation and anal sex among heterosexual couples. The act read as follows:

If any man lyeth with mankinde, as a man lyeth with a woman, both of them have Committed abomination, they both shall surely be put to death. Levit. 20. 13. And if any woman change the naturall use, into that which is against nature, as Rom. 1. 26. she shall be liable to the same Sentence, and punishment, or If any person, or persons, shall Commit any other kinde of unnaturall and shamefull filthines, called in Scripture the going after strange flesh, or other flesh then God alloweth, by canall knowledge of another vessel then God in nature hath appointed to becomp one flesh, whether it be by abusing the contrary part of a grown woman, or Child of either sex, or unripe vessel of a Girle, wherein the naturall use of the woman is left, which God hath ordained for the propagation of posterity, and Sodomiticall filthinesse (tending to the destruction of the race of mankind) is committed by a kind of Rape, nature being forced, though the will were inticed, every such person shall be put to death. Or if any man shall act upon himself, and in the sight of others spill his owne seed, by example, or counsel, or both, corrupting or tempting others to doe the like, which tends to the sin of Sodomy, if it be not one kind of it; or shall defile, or corrupt himself and others, by any kind of sinfull filthinesse, he shall be punished according to the nature of the offence; or if the case considered with the aggravating circumstances, shall according to the mind of God revealed in his word require it, he shall be put to death, as the Court of Magistrates shall determine.

New Haven Colony also applied the death penalty for adultery. This law remained in effect for the next ten years, until 1665 when New Haven Colony joined Connecticut and came under Connecticut law, which specified the death penalty for “man lying with man” only. That and adultery.

Minnesotans Respond To A Father’s Letter: 1955. Two days earlier, popular Minneapolis broadcaster and columnist Cedric Adams published what must have been a shocking letter in The Minneapolis Star from a father who learned that his son was gay (see Feb 27). According to the father, his son had undergone therapy and “has been salvaged” — according to the father. Also, according to the father, Minneapolis was rife with homosexuals and the police were doing nothing to close down their bars. Adams published the letter in order to, at the very least, “point a finger at the condition.”

Indeed it did, and the letter became the subject of three more columns over the following week. On March 1, Adams returned to the subject, publishing a number of letters that he received from outraged citizens in the Twin Cities area. His column for the day went like this:

A father’s letter printed here Sunday having to do with a homosexual problem of his 20-year-old son has produced a wave of reaction, some from the public, some from the University of Minnesota and some from our own Minneapolis police department. While the situation is still fresh, This Corner wants to extend to Thomas R. Jones, superintendent of the Minneapolis police department, an opportunity to discuss some of the charges made by the father of the son involved. I ran that letter on Sunday for two reasons: I think the situation needs some airing and I was convinced that this father, and perhaps many others, need a little straightening out on the whole problem. Superintendent Jones did exactly what I hoped he would do. He took the bull by the horns and in a very straightforward manner did his best to pinpoint the mistakes of the parent involved. I spent two hours with Chief Jones In his office yesterday and came out with this statement trom him:

“THE OBVIOUS INDICTMENT of the police department in your Sunday column is unjustified and without basis of fact. You omitted the names of the bars because of the possibliity of damage suits against your newspaper. The writer of the letter you published had no evidence which would be admissible in a court of law to prove the accusation and inferences made in his letter. Police officers are also bound by that same restriction and cannot name individualls or establishments or make arrests of either unless they are in possessIon of provable facts which would be admissible in court to prove that a crime has been commltted…

“THE ACT OF HOMOSEXUALITY Is defined as sodomy In our state statutes and is a felony. Both parties involved are equally guilty in the eyes of the law and can be sentenced to a term in the state penitentiary. However, one may not accuse another of such activity unless he is in possession of such facts that would prove the commission of the crime. This applies to any law violation and you’d be doing a public service by bringing this, to the attention of your readers. Police officers cannot name individuals or establishments or make arrests until they can prove a crime has been committed. A group of suspected homosexuals frequenting a bar does not constitute a violation of the law. There’s no evidence that a crime has been committed. Now, take the father’s statement that the police have done nothing to curb the situation. That’s a complete misstatement of fact. Only last week a night club was told to discontinue an act because the police department strongly suspicioned that objectionable individuals made up a majority of the show. We do not want that kind of attraction. An identical case was similarly disposed of two years ago…

“THE FATHER WHO WROTE the letter didn’t even suggest that he ever made an attempt to bring his suspicions or complaints to the proper authorities — his police department. He states that his privately hired ‘private eye’ saw police officers in two of the spots he visited while making his investigation. The duty incumbent on every citizen to bring cases of law violations to the attention of the proper authorities is even more binding on partIes holding special police commisions, such as private detectives. They take an oath to enforce the law and to asstst law enforcement bodies in every instance of law ciolatlon that comes to their attention. It’s the duty of our police officers to patrol bars, to look for law violations, but the mere presence of a group of homosexuals in any bar is not evidence of violation of the law…

“I CAN’T HELP WONDER whether the father of the son in question had ever taken the time or trouble to caution or advise his son about some of the sins or pitfalls of the world in which we live. It’s my suspicion that he, like so many others, is trying to excuse his dereliction of family duty by trying to place the responsibility for his son’s yielding to temptation on the police department. This neglect of family duty, in my opinion, is the greatest single cause of juvenile delinquency. Why haven’t this father and you and your column and the newspaper you refer to as a ‘famlly gazette’ taken a more active stand in endeavoring to give our city enough police officers to carry out the many duties and responsibilities expected of them instead of waiting for lightning to strike home before doing something about it. We have a vice squad of five men to patrol a city of more than half a million. Our whole department has fewer officers per thousand population than the average for all clties in the United States over 10,000 population. Minneapolis has the lowest incident of homosexuality of any city of its size in the country. Don’t let your readers get the wrong impression from letters which do not present the facts.”

The next day, Adams published another letter from a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota:

“GENERALLY SPEAKING, FATHERS and mothers are always’ well-advised to take to a school counselor students who experience behavior and emotional problems. The teacher, the counselor, and the parent have much in common and can be of help to each other. If the boy, referred to In the letter of Feb. 27, is a student in any Minnesota college or unIversity, I am certain that even now the appropriate college counselor would be very pleased to discuss the matter with the father and mother and that much good would result if the parents of this or any boy would take advantage of this available assistance. — E. G. Williamson, dean of student affaIrs and professor of psychology, UnIversIty of Minnesota.

These two columns represents a historically interesting turn. Considering the times — 1955, just five years after the initiation of the Lavender Scare — the father’s letter didn’t generate a state of general panic demanding that the authorities do something immediately. Instead, and quite unlike the kind of generalized panic that had siezed Miami the year before (see Aug 3Aug 11Aug 12Aug 13 (twice that day), Aug 14Aug 26Aug 31Sep 1Sep 2Sep 7Sep 15Sep 19Oct 6Oct 20Nov 12 and Dec 16), Adams posted a series of letters calling the father to task. The letter writers didn’t betray any evidence of enlightenment toward gay people — their motivation appears to have been to rush to defend the reputation of Minneapolis and its people (“Minneapolis has the lowest incident of homosexuality of any city of its size in the country”). But in the context of the times, they do show a remarkable restraint in their reactions upon learning that there are homosexuals in the city.

But the real surprising turn would come in another three days when Adams would feature another round of letters, this time from gay people themselves.

[Source: "In This Corner, with Cedric Adams." Minneapolis Star (March 1, 1955). As reprinted in The Mattachine Review, 1, no. 3 (May-June 1955): 24-30.]

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
Bryan Batt: 1963. He played Sal Romano, gay art director at the Sterling Cooper ad agency for AMC’s Mad Men, and he played gay roles n Kiss Me, Guido, Jeffrey, and the stage version of La Cage aux Folles. Jeffrey came out while he was playing a male (straight) lead on the Broadway version of Sunset Blvd. He was worried that coming out would ruin his career, “but now I couldn’t give a rat’s ass. It’s normal to be gay.” When he’s not acting, Batt is in New Orleans with his partner of 24 years where they own a home decorating store.

Don Lemon: 1966. The host of the weekend prime-time CNN Newsroom, Don Lemon joined CNN in 2006, reporting from Chicago as then-Sen. Barack Obama was beginning his long trek to the White House. Since then, his on-the-scene reporting has included the 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse, the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, and the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Massachusetts. He won the Edward R. Murrow award for his coverage of the capture of the Washington, D.C. snipers, and an Emmy for a special report on Chicago-area real estate. In 2009, Ebony named him as one of the Ebony Power 150, and in 2011 he was the keynote speaker fort he National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association national convention. That was after he came out as gay in his 2011 memoir, Transparent.

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?

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