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The Daily Agenda for Monday, April 15

Jim Burroway

April 15th, 2013

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Founded: 1979. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence founded a “convent” in San Francisco when three men, dressed in full traditional habits, went out in the Castro on Easter Sunday of 1979. Ken Bunch (Sister Vicious PHB), Fred Brungard (Sister Missionary Position) and Baruch Golden, were met with shock and amusement. Over the next several months, the attracted new members: Sister Hysterectoria (Edmund Garron) and Reverend Mother (Bill Graham). They quickly settled on a name for their group and composed a mission statement: “to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.”

Originally a form of camp street theater, the controversial nuns’ mission became deadly serious a few year later as the AIDS crisis gripped San Francisco. The Sisters became among the earliest bay-area AIDS charities at a time when few other established churches and organizations deigned to pitch in. The Sisters helped organize the first AIDS Candlelight Vigil, and have raised more than $1 million in San Francisco alone to benefit such groups as the Breast Cancer Network, Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic and the Gay Games. The Sisters continue to bring meals to those who can no longer care for themselves, and they fund alternative proms for LGBT youth.

The Sisters have branched out with twenty-four orders and seven missions across North America and sixteen orders internationally. And through it all, they continue to be the favorite targets of many religious-right organizations, many of whom still show scant evidence of performing the charitable work that the Sisters do. Ironic, isn’t it?

TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS:
Leonardo Da Vinci: 1452.
Born in Vinci “at the third hour of the night,” Leonardo was apprenticed to the artist Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence at the age of fourteen. Early descriptions indicate that he was tall (at least 5’8″), athletic and extremely handsome. One contemporary described him as “an artist of outstanding physical beauty who displayed infinite grace in everything he did.” At the age of twenty-four, Da Vinci was among four people accused of sodomy, a very serious accusation because it carried the death penalty. Those charges were dismissed on the condition that there were no further accusations. When accusations were made again that same year, charges were dismissed again, perhaps because one of those charged may have been linked with the powerful Medici family.

Undoubtedly, those accusations made Da Vinci very cautious, even in Florence where, despite those charges,  homosexuality was somewhat more tolerated than elsewhere (so much so that in Germany, the word Florenzer became slang for homosexual.) While there is no further contemporary mention of Da Vinci’s sexuality, it was generally known that the life-long bachelor was particularly fond of and generous with his handsome male pupils, some of whom may have inspired some of Da Vinci’s erotic sketches. Later historians mostly assumed that he was gay, an assumption that gained greater currency in the nineteenth century when German, French and British authors began examining the new understanding of what was to be called inversion, uranism, and, finally, homosexuality. Whenever nineteenth century authors sought examples of inverts in history, Da Vinci’s name nearly always earned a prominent mention.

Bessie Smith: 1894. “The Empress of the Blues” was born in Chattanooga, the daughter of a laborer and part-time Baptist preacher. He died before she could remember him, and by the time she was nine, she had lost her mother and a brother. Her older brother had joined a Black Vaudeville troupe owned by Moses Stokes, which featured Ma Rainey as blues singer. In 1912, Bessie joined that same troupe, but as a dancer rather than a singer. While it’s believed that Rainey didn’t teach Smith to sing, (Smith had been singing on the streets of Chattanooga from a very young age), Rainey is credited with teaching Smith about stage presence. By 1913, Smith began singing professionally, and her career exploded in 1923 when she began recording for Columbia Records. By then, she was the highest-paid African-American entertainer in her day.

In 1923, she entered a very stormy marriage with Jack Gee, but he was unable to accommodate her show-biz life or her open bisexuality. They separated but never officially divorced. Meanwhile, she recorded hit after hit for Columbia, including “Downhearted Blues,” “St. Louis Blues”, “Empty Bed Blues,” and the tune she is perhaps best known for today, “Gimme a Pigfoot (And a Bottle of Beer).” By the end of the 1920′s, the arrival of the “talkies” meant the end of vaudeville, while the onset of the Great Depression brought about a collapse of the recording industry. Smith continued touring in clubs, but the going was tough. By 1933, she was recording for Okeh records, where she was paid a non-royalty fee of $37.50 for each side. Those were her last recordings. She was critically injured in a car accident in 1937, her right arm nearly severed in the accident. She died the following morning at the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Her funeral in Philadelphia drew 10,000 mourners. Her grave however remained unmarked; her estranged husband kept pocketing the money raised for a tombstone. She finally got her marker in 1970, courtesy of Janis Joplin.

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George Platt Lynes: 1907. He first wanted to start a literary career after meeting Gertrude Stein and her circle in Paris. In 1927, he opened a bookstore in Englewood, New Jersey and took up photography so he could take pictures of his friends, and that is where his creative energies went. By 1932 Lynes opened his photography studio in New York and began exhibiting in the city’s art galleries. He earned commissions from the New York City Ballet, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodmans. After World War II, he moved to Hollywood, where he became chief photographer for Vogue and photographed such luminaries as Katharine Hepburn, Gloria Swanson, Igor Stravinsky, and Thomas Mann. His work was an artistic success, but a financial failure. He moved back to New York, but was never able to re-establish the success he once had.

The passion he had for his photography can be best seen in the photos that he took which harkened back to his reason for taking up photography in the first place: intimate (usually nude) photos of friends, lovers, performers and models. The artist Paul Cadmus, who posed for Lynes, recalled how he “used flattery to make everyone feel so comfortable.” Those male nudes were never published, at least not in his lifetime. In the late 1940s, he transferred many of his negatives to Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s Institute for Sexual Research in Bloomington, Indiana, and destroyed much of the rest of his work just before dying of lung cancer in 1955. In 2011, Rizolli published George Platt Lynes: The Male Nudes, marking the first time many of his beloved nudes appeared in print.

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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Mark F.
April 15th, 2013 | LINK

Yes, the “Sisters” do charitible work, but the average person sees them as a freakshow, not as “camp street theater.” Their freshness label expired about 20 years ago.

Priya Lynn
April 15th, 2013 | LINK

I on the other hand love the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgance and find them just as fresh today as they were 20 years ago.

Richard Rush
April 15th, 2013 | LINK

If we are going to talk about freakshows, I’d have to say that the real freakshow is the Roman Catholic Church. Their freshness label expired nearly 2,000 years ago.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence actually manage to have human decency without the bigotry. And when was the last time one of the Sisters was convicted of raping a child?

Mark F.
April 15th, 2013 | LINK

Priya, I’ve got an old can of peas for you that has been sitting in my cabinet about 30 years.

Yes, I know the “Sisters” are not bad people, but they are still perceived as a freakshow by the average person in a way the Catholic Church is not, rightly or wrongly.

Their whole act is just old and tired at this point. They remind me of a 95 year old woman still trying to do the same baton twirl she was doing when she was 17.

Mark F.
April 15th, 2013 | LINK

I’m an atheist, but I don’t find the Sisters’ blatant public mocking of people of sincere faith to be very diplomatic or helpful. A lot of Catholics are actually are supportive of gay equality–however, things like the “Hunky Jesus” contest in Dolores Park, while they might be amusing to me, are not the sort of things to win sincerely religious people to our side.

Priya Lynn
April 15th, 2013 | LINK

Hear Hear, Richard.

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