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The Daily Agenda for Sunday, March 17

Jim Burroway

March 17th, 2013

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Events This Weekend: European Gay Ski Week, Alpe d’Huez, France; Texas Bear Roundup, Dallas, TX; BFI London Lesbian and Gay film Festival, London, UK; Camp Laurel Foundation Marathon, Los Angeles, CA; Elevation: Mammoth Gay Ski Week, Mammoth Mountain, CA; Texas Tradition Gay Rodeo, Pasadena, TX.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Florida Legislature Issues Report On Homosexuality: 1964. In 1956, the Florida Legislature established the Legislative Investigations Committee, known popularly as the Johns Committee for its chairman,  state senator and former governor Charley Johns. The committee’s broad mandate was, more or less, a continuation of the already-discredited McCarthy hearings from earlier in the decade. In addition to the Red- and homo-baiting its investigative targets, the Johns committee added a third element by trying to paint the NAACP and other anti-segregationist activists as among those “which could constitute violence, or a violation of the laws of the state, or would be inimical to the well being and orderly pursuit of their personal and business activities by the majority of the citizens of this state.” In 1961, the legislature again tasked the committee to investigate “extent of [homosexuals’] infiltration into agencies supported by state funds.” The concern here was with the state’s college campuses. The legislature’s renewed directive came despite the fact that the Johns committee had been searching for homos under the dorm room beds since at least 1958 (see for example Mar 22, Apr 24).

That effort culminated it a report, released in 1964, nicknamed the “purple pamphlet” for its provocative front cover. The report called for “increased research efforts to expose the underlying causes of homosexuality and its possible cures” and defined homosexuality as a problem “of control, and that established procedures and stern penalties will serve both as encouragement to law enforcement officials and as a deterrent to the homosexual hungry for youth.” It included a dictionary of slang terms and included photos that it said were taken from collections of gay people who had undergone various anti-gay investigations over the previous years. The report lamented that “little has been done to reveal the role of the male muscle and physique magazines, the pinup books of homosexuality,” and it called for mandatory psychiatric evaluations of anyone convicted of homosexuality, the creation of outpatient treatment centers, a registry that potential employers could check, and making a second conviction a felony.

The report provoked an immediate outcry, but not for the reasons the committee expected. The State Attorney for Dade County warned the committee not to send any more copies of the report to his area or he would file obscenity charges, declaring that the purple pamphlet was “becoming the object of curiosity in every school in the state and could engender perversion.” Another politician from Daytona Beach criticized the committee for “becoming engaged in the publication of such vile material.” The Miami Herald ran an editorial saying, “It is shocking to see that it bears the Great Seal of Florida and the governor’s office as the return address. We feel that the immediate resignation of every state official who had a hand in it, and the full investigation of possible violations of obscenity laws, are called for.” Rep. Richard Mitchell, then the committee’s chairman, responded with a special news conference and said that the report would not be distributed “indiscriminately.”

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
Bayard Rustin: 1912. Many African-Americans are offended whenever some assert that “gays are the new Black.” That controversy isn’t a new one; just try to imagine the blowback when, in a 1986 speech, the venerable civil rights leader and aid to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared “The new niggers are gays”:

Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new “niggers” are gays. No person who hopes to get politically elected, even in the deep South, not even Governor Wallace, would dare to stand in the schoolhouse door to keep blacks out. Nobody would dare openly and publicly to argue that blacks should not have the right to use public accommodation. Nobody would dare say any number of things about blacks that they are perfectly prepared to say about gay people. It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change.

Indeed, if you wan to know whether today people believe in democracy, if you want to know whether they are true democrats, if you want to know whether they are human rights activists, the question to ask is, “What about gay people?” Because that is now the litmus paper by which this democracy is to be judged. The barometer for social change is measured by selecting the group which is most mistreated. … The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.

Rustin insisted on the connection between civil rights for gay people and civil rights for African-Americans. He had a special authority to assert that connection: openly gay his whole life, he was the main organizer of King’s 1963 March on Washington. By then, he had already devoted nearly two decades to Mahatma Ghandi’s teachings on non-violent resistance and three decades to his pacifist Quaker faith, which led to his imprisonment for refusing to fight in World War II. He is credited with teaching King about the principles of nonviolent protest when he met King during the Montgomery bus boycott, techniques Rustin honed during the first Freedom Rides in 1947 (and for which Rustin spent 22 days on a chain gang for violating North Carolina’s Jim Crow laws). Rustin later helped found the Congress for Racial Equality and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Rustin’s open sexuality was not without its complications. It was often used against him by enemies of segregation and, later, by more militant members of the Black Power movement. He was forced to resign from King’s organization during the bus boycott, but King turned to Rustin to organize the 1963 March on Washington. In the end, King and other civil rights leaders refused to abandon him and expressed their confidence in Ruston’s abilities.

After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Rustin became more active directly in the Democratic Party. He also became more involved in the labor movement and the gay rights movement. And through it all, he insisted that all fights for equal rights were connected by a common thread, running from Auschwitz to Montgomery to Stonewall:

There are four burdens, which gays, along with every other despised group, whether it’s blacks follow slavery and reconstruction, or Jews fearful of Germany, must address. The first is recognize one must overcome fear. The second is overcoming self-hate. The third is overcoming self-denial. The fourth is more political. It is to recognize that the job of the gay community is not to deal with extremists who would castigate us or put us on an island and drop an H-bomb on us. The fact of the matter is that there is a small percentage of people in America who understand the true nature of the homosexual community. There is another small percentage who will never understand us. Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Nor was our aim in the civil rights movement to get prejudiced white people to love us. Our aim was to try to create the kind of America, legislatively, morally, and psychologically, such that even though some whites continued to hate us, they could not openly manifest that hate. That’s our job today: to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay sentiment.

Rudolf Nureyev: 1938. The world-famous dancer was born on the move, on a Trans-Siberian train while his mother was traveling to Vladivostok, where his father was stationed with the Red Army. Despite auditioning and earning a spot with the prestigious Bolshoi, he decided instead to hitch his rising star to the Kirov in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), where he danced fifteen roles in three years. His early reputation as a rebel meant that the Soviet Union kept Nureyev at home whenever the Kirov traveled abroad. But in 1961, Jirov’s leading male dancer was injured, and Nureyev was chosen to replace him for a European tour.

His performance in Paris created a sensation among audiences and critics. Kirov’s management couldn’t have been happier, except for one thing: they noticed that he had broken the rules about mingling with foreigners. The Kirov and KGB wanted to send him back to the Soviet Union immediately. In one subterfuge, he was told that instead of traveling on to London, he was needed for a special performance at the Kremlin. When that didn’t work, they told him his mother was dying. Convinced (correctly, it turned out) that he was being lied to, he defected at the Le Bourget Airport in Paris.

Already a well-known among ballet aficionados, his dramatic defection made him a household name among those who knew nothing of ballet except for the local Christmas Nutcracker productions in the elementary school gyms. But Nureyev brought a style and verve to ballet that transformed the art. Before Nureyev, male dancers were little more than accessories to the star ballerinas, flinging them around and holding them aloft as on-stage props. Nureyev changed that by putting the male performance — his performance — first.

Ironically, Nureyev found employment difficult in the years immediately following his defection, as top companies were loath to jeopardize their relationships the the Bolshoi and Kirov. Nureyev picked up a low paying position with a middling Paris company. While on tour in Denmark, he met Erik Bruhn, a dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet, who would become his off-and-on lover until Bruhn’s death in 1986. Nureyev’s career eventually included two decades at the Royal Ballet in London, and a stint as director of the Paris Opera Ballet in the 1980s, where he also acted as chief of choreography and dancer until 1989. Nureyev also became famous in the gay community — some would say notorious – for his less artistic appearances in various bathhouses and other cruising venues. By the late 1970’s his health was declining due to what may have been various opportunistic infections brought on by AIDS. He was diagnosed in 1984, but continued dancing, although his capacity was becoming obviously diminished. His last public appearance was on October 8, 1992 for the premiere of a new production of La Bayadère which he choreographed. He entered the hospital for the last time in November, and died two months later at the age of 54.

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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