The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, March 6

Jim Burroway

March 6th, 2013

Frat Boys Don Drag for Anti-Bullying Awareness: Washington, D.C. Twenty Greek chapters are joining Allied in Pride, George Washington University’s largest LGBT organization, for a drag contest. The goal, in addition to being a fundraiser for The Trevor Project and its work in preventing LGBT youth suicide, is to send the message that it is possible for students to be gay and Greek. “It’s to support, whether they’re out or not, the LGBT members of our community,” Interfraternity Council President Casey Wood said. “And I think it’s a great way to embrace that no matter where you come from or who you are, there’s always a place in Greek life for you.” Pi Kappa Phi president Trey O’Callaghan said, “Our participation in the Allied in Pride event is our way of demonstrating that GW Greek life stands behind the LGBT community.” Contestants from eleven fraternities will strut their straight-boy frat drag stuff at 7:00 p.m. this evening at Lisner Auditorium. I expect to see photos on Tumblr by ten.

Events This Weekend: Belgian Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Brussels, Belgium; Ft. Lauderdale Pride, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; AIDS Walk, Houston, TX; Lake Tahoe Winterfest, Lake Tahoe, NV; SWING Gay Ski Week, Lenzerheide, Switzerland.

“Lewd Behavior Upon a Bed”: 1649. Court records from Puritan colonies indicate that authorities appeared to have been reluctant to prosecute crimes based on homosexuality, if the scarcity of such records is any indication. But court records also show that Plymouth Colony was considerably less reluctant, given that its court records report quite a handful of cases (for example, see Aug 6, Mar 1). The colony’s statute called for the death penalty for “buggery” and “sodomy,” which had the effect of only outlawing male homosexuality. As in England, female homosexuality was unmentioned. But that didn’t prevent the Plymouth Colony from prosecuting one case of lesbian behavior.  The court records for Plymouth Colony recorded a very brief notation for March 6, 1649:

We present the wife of Hugh Norman, and Mary Hammon, both of Yarmouth, for lewd behavior each with the other upon a bed.

According to Jonathan Ned Katz’s Gay/Lesbian Almanac:

Recent research by J.R. Roberts in the Plymouth manuscript records provides background information on Norman and Hammon. At the time of the above charges Mary Hammon was fifteen years old, and recently married. Sara Norman’s age is unknown, but she was apparently somewhat older, as he had been married in 1639. About the time of the court’s first charge, 1649, Hugh Norman, Sara’s husband, deserted his wife and children.

A marginal note in the Plymouth court record of March 6, 1649 reported that Mary Hammond was “cleared with admonition” — perhaps because of her youth. Sara Normon’s case was evidentially held over for later judgment.

…Patriarchal custom was evident in the fact that court records in this case referred to the “wife of Hugh Norman”; although Sara Norman was publicly charged with a serious crime, her whole name was used only once in the documents

On October 2, 1650, the court rendered its judgement and sentence on Sara Norman:

Whereas the wife of Hugh Norman, of Yarmouth, hath stood presented [in] divers Courts for misdemeanor and lewd behavior with Mary Hammon upon a bed, with divers lascivious speeches by her also spoken, but she could not appear by reason of some hindrances unto this Court, the said Court have therefore sentenced her, the said wife of Hugh Norman, for her wild behavior in the aforesaid particulars, to make a public acknowledgment, so far as conveniently may be, of her unchaste behavior, and have also warned her to take heed of such carriages for the future, lest her former carriage come in remembrance against her to make her punishment the greater.

[Source: Jonathan Ned Katz. Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary (New York: Harper & Row, 1983): 92-93.]

Rudolph Schildkraut, who played the father in “God of Vengeance,” 1923.

Theater Owner, Producer, Cast of “God of Vengeance” Arrested: 1923. Yiddish theater was a lively component of New York’s cultural life in the first part of the twentieth century, even if it did mostly fly mostly under the radar of the city’s cognoscenti. Maybe that’s why the 1907 production of Sholem Asch’s Got Fun Nekome, with its story line about a family who lived above a brothel owned by the father and the budding lesbian relationship between his daughter and one of the prostitutes, managed to go off without a hitch. Not that there was no controversy. The Yiddish press was greatly concerned that the play’s “immoral” content would trigger an anti-Semitic backlash if its plot line was noticed by the wider English-speaking city. But no backlash materialized, and the play was a huge success. It went on to be translated into several languages and was well received throughout much of Europe over the next decade.

Sixteen years after its Yiddish premiere, the play returned to New York in an English translation of God of Vengeance. When it made its Broadway debut at the Apollo Theater, it featured the first lesbian love scene on the Great White Way. This time, it was noticed. A month later, detectives showed up backstage during a performance to inform the theater’s manager and producer that they and the entire cast had been indicted for presenting an obscene and immoral play. The complaint wasn’t that the play had a lesbian them — at least, not directly — but that the lesbian theme in a Jewish play libeled the Jewish religion and was anti-Semitic. The Judge agreed, calling the play a “desecration of the sacred scrolls of the Torah,” in reference to the scrolls the father in the play commissioned, in vain, to protect the purity of his daughter. The entire cast was found guilty, but only the Harry Weinberger, the producer, and Rudolph Schildkraut, who played the father, were fined $200 each. Everyone else was let go. The play, which had closed on the night of the indictment, has been revived several times over the years, mostly by Jewish and other repertory companies.

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?

William Burns

March 6th, 2013

GWU is closed today, because of the snow, so it looks like you’re going to be disappointed.


March 6th, 2013

I really appreciate the stories on the Plymouth Colony. The United Church of Christ congregation where I’m pastor is very, very proud of the historical fact that the Congregataionalist Plymouth Colonists are our spiritual ancestors. They imagine the Colonists were as socially and theologically progressive as we are today. I keep telling them that’s not the case. But some persist in imagining Plymouth flew the rainbow flag, just like we do.


March 6th, 2013

The Puritan colonies were regressive, totalitarian theocracies that severely punished even the smallest infractions. It got so bad that the English crown eventually had to put a stop to it. After they executed a bunch of Quakers, the king installed a governor and mandated religious toleration. Rhode Island was founded by people fleeing from Puritan oppression. The first colony created with religious freedom in mind.

Many Americans have this weird idea that people went there for religious freedom. In reality the Puritans were too crazy even for 17th century Europe (which is saying something) and only wanted the freedom to oppress other people.

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