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The Daily Agenda for Monday, March 4

Jim Burroway

March 4th, 2013

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Minnesota’s Gay Community Responds To Father’s Letter: 1955. The previous Sunday, popular Minneapolis broadcaster and columnist Cedric Adams published a 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,” but that Minneapolis was still rife with homosexuals with police were doing nothing about it. Adams published the letter in order to, at the very least, “point a finger at the condition.” Two days later, he followed up with a selection of letters from the superintendent of the Minneapolis Police Department defending the department’s policies on policing gay bars (see Mar 1). Adams also published a few letters from readers which, while not exactly enlightened on the phenomenon of sexual orientation, were at least restrained — restrained for 1955 — for not calling for a massive crackdown of some sort which had been common in many other cities across the U.S.

That alone was remarkable — for 1955 — and the fact that it is remarkable for 1955 tells us how far we’ve come in the six decades since then. But what is truly remarkable is that Adams decided to give the last word on the subject to gay people themselves. This was his column for Friday, March 4:

THE HOMOSEXUAL PROBLEM, as touched off by the letter here from a Minneapolis father; sparked by an answer from Thomas Jones, superintendent of police in Minneapolis, and supplemented by an official suggestion from the University of Minnesota, has brought one of the greatest mail responses This Corner has had in several months. In order to be completely fair about the charges and the countercharges, perhaps we should give the homosexuals their chance. The following excerpts from letters are submitted without comment. The opinions expressed are those of the authors of the letters. Please bear that in mind.

“I AM SHOCKED that you, of all people, should stoop so low as to use a letter for a vicious and cowardly attack. Did the father in question ask his son who forced him to go to those bars? The boy was an incipient homosexual seeking his own kind. That son received his homosexual bent from one or both of two factor heredity or environment. The father should know he was responsible on both counts. Why did you pick on one minority for a scathing attack? Why not work toward a happy integration of all men into a society we can be proud of rather than striking at minorities on senseless grounds and forcing them underground?”

“I’VE BEEN A FAN of yours for 20 years, but all of that is shattered now. You have thrown ethics to the wind in attempting to editorialize on a subject about which obviously you know nothing. How can you call any situation alarming, shocking, a social danger, worthy of investigation? Homosexuality is as old as h!story itself. Many great men and women have been homosexuals and yet lived very useful and worthwhile lives by contributing some of the best works in art, literature and music. No man ought to pass judgment on another man’s way of living. If a man or a woman is born physically abnormal, why not try to help them? If they prefer to be with people of their own sex, why not leave them alone? I am really sincere when I say that I think both you and the Minneapolis father made a vicious attack on an innocent minority of our society. And you class them with thieves, dope addicts and other social misfits. You would have done better to study the situation before you attacked. Careless words, thoughtlessly spoken, can leave scars that never heal. It is so easy to hurt instead of help.”

“HOW STUPID, RIDICULOUS and narrow-minded can you get? It’s regrettable that so many so-called noraml people know so little about homosexuals and their problems. I’ve been around for quite some time. And I have yet to find anyone who has been ‘taught’ to be a homosexual. One may be enlightened on the activities of a homosexual, but unless one has a natural inclination it’s doubtful he will become one. Either he w1ll be repulsed by the whole idea or he will experiment with it and if he finds it’s where he belongs, he’ll stay with it. No one taught me to be a homosexual. When I approached the age of 17, I realized what I was, accepted the fact and have been content with it ever since. My parents know that I am a homosexual They’re completely understanding…

“FEW OF THE THOUSANDS of us In the city are mentally ill. Most of us know what we are and are content to be so. All we ask is to be understood and left alone. I have two suggestions for you and others similarly concerned. Read the book, ‘The Homosexual in America,’ by Donald Webster Corey (see Sep 18)or a magazine called, ‘One,’ published in Los Angeles (See Oct 15, Jan 13). Before the citizens in this area lose their minds worrying about their children becoming homosexuals, let them read the above material and do a little serious thinking. I don’t mean to imply that homosexuality is not a problem, but I do say the problem will not be solved by closing the places we frequent or by sending us off to mental institutions or a workhouse or a prison.”

“MAN TENDS TO IGNORE this problem in ignorance. The basic chemistry of the human mind and body are born in delicate balance, particularly in the formative years of youth. Disillusionment, emotional insecurity, domination or indifference of a parent tend to upset this balance. There is no sure cure for homosexuality. The taboos of society tend to restrain the victims to secret. Thus is delayed much needed help and perhaps sealing forever the door to a happy life. May I give this advice to parents: Get to your children early in life with the facts and pitfalls of life. Enlighten yourselves — that you may look down in mercy. The homosexual will probably remain until long after our generation is forgotten. If found among your loved ones, give help, aid, treatment. Do not cast them out. Their sorrow is already greater than any you can inflict.” (Parenthetical information added.)

This is a fascinating glimpse into how gay people in the upper Midwest saw themselves: a mix of proud self-acceptance with a heavy dose of internalized homophobia from society’s then-unchallenged message that homosexuality was, at minimum, a defect. It would also take another ten years — as you will see below — before gay activists begin to take a bold step to address that problem.

[Source: “In This Corner, with Cedric Adams.” Minneapolis Star (March 4, 1955). As reprinted in ONE magazine, 3, no. 4 (April 1955): 18-23.]

Mattachine Society of Washington DC Declares Homosexuality Not A Mental Illness: 1965. We often think of Stonewall and 1969 as marking the of the more assertive gay rights movement, shoving aside the prior generation’s timidity and accommodation. But as I’ve written before, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you really wanted to point to a pivotal year which truly marked the beginning of the beginning of a self-confident and assertive stance on gay rights, that year would be 1965, not 1969. That year, began with a San Francisco police raid on a New Years’ Day party (see Jan 1). The community’s reaction resulted in the appointment of the first ever police liaison to the gay community and forever changed that city’s politics. Then later that month, The Washington Post, published a five part series which was the first relatively judgment-free, balanced, mostly accurate and sympathetic portrayal of gay people in a major newspaper (see Jan 31).

On March 4, 1965 marked another momentous occasion when Frank Kameny shepherded this resolution through the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.:

“The Mattachine Society of Washington takes the position that in the absence of valid evidence to the contrary, homosexuality is not a sickness, disturbance, or other pathology in any sense, but is merely a preference, orientation, or propensity on par with, and not different in kind from, heterosexuality.”

This might seem obvious today, but in the 1960s this was still considered a radical step. The mental health community regarded homosexuality as a mental illness, and many in the gay community still acquiesced to that diagnosis. Or, if not that, they often still accommodated themselves to the idea that homosexuality was some kind of a defect or shortcoming or — as one letter writer in Minnesota wrote above in 1955 — something to be pitied. Kameny rejected all of those ideas out of hand, along with the mental health profession’s authority to even make such a pronouncement in the first place. Both stances were extremely controversial among gay activists. As Kameny later said:

The decade-old gay movement of that time was really huge — there were actually five or six gay organizations in the entire country; that was it. Without being critical, that was a different cultural climate from the present; they were bland, defensive, and overly acquiescent to the so-called authorities and experts of the day.

That was not my personality. I insisted that we were the experts on ourselves as gay people, and on our homosexuality. So we set out trying, as best we could, to tackle what we saw as the problems besetting the gay community.

One of those problems was the psychiatric profession’s pronouncement that homosexuality was a mental illness. Kameny, along with Barbara Gittings (see Jul 31) and John Fryer (see Nov 7), began the arduous task of getting the American Psychiatric Association to removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, a task which took nine years to complete. But first, Kameny had to convince his fellow gays and lesbians that being gay was not a defect. In many ways, that task as taken quite a bit longer. The resolution was the first step in both of those tasks. As he later recalled:

The opening clause—“in the absence of valid evidence to the contrary”—functionally shifted the burden of proof from us to them. If those who believed that homosexuality was pathological had their evidence, let them present it. Until they presented it, it wasn’t pathological. They never did…”

[Sources: Franklin E. Kameny. “Does research into homosexuality matter?” The Ladder 9, no. 8 (May 1965): 14-20.

Franklin E. Kameny. “How it all started.” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health 13, no. 2 (April 2009): 76-81. Remarks delivered at the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., May 2008.]

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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Dale
March 4th, 2013 | LINK

The first 3 letters are really extraordinary. If I didn’t know, I would have guessed that they were written in 1985 or 1995, not 1955. Do you know if the authors signed these letters or whether they were submitted anonymously? Remarkable.

Ben In Oakland
March 4th, 2013 | LINK

I love those letters. not much has changed.

Reed
March 5th, 2013 | LINK

Your 1965/1969 point was well-taken. It seems that California led and, once the dust had settled, New York built on the work and the lessons learned from the California experience . . . meanwhile, the Prop 8 marriages are still in limbo and the Empire Staters are doing brisk business to Niagara Falls.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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