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The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, April 24

Jim Burroway

April 24th, 2013

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Rhode Island Senate To Vote On Marriage Equality: Providence, RI. The last holdout state in New England to withhold marriage equality to same-sex couples is expected to finally address that deficiency this afternoon. An earlier attempt in 2011 to pass a bill allowing same-sex marriage faltered, resulting in the state’s General Assembly to opt for Plan B: civil unions. But with full marriage available within a half hour’s drive from Providence in any direction, it was hard to get excited. After two months of civil union availability, only nine Ocean State couples bothered with the paperwork.

But it looks like now Rhode Island couples will finally be able to get the real thing at home instead of having to cross state lines to get married. A bill to allow same-sex marriage is scheduled to be brought to a vote during today’s Senate session which begins at 4:00. p.m. If it passes, it will then return to the House of Representatives for its approval of some tweaks made to the Senate version of the legislation. (The House passed its original version last January in a 51-19 vote.) From there it goes to Governor Lincoln D. Chafee, who has promised to sign the bill into law.

Events This Weekend: Hill Country Ride for AIDS, Austin, TX; Purple Party, Dallas, TX; AIDS Walk, Kansas City, MO; Rodeo in the Rock, Little Rock, AR; AIDS Walk, Miami, FL; Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Miami, FL; Philadelphia Black Pride, Philadelphia, PA; Splash South Padre, South Padre Island, TX; Tokyo Pride, Tokyo, Japan.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
University of South Florida President Denies Hiring Homosexuals: 1963. Dr. John Allen, president of the University of South Florida, strongly denied charges that the school “harbored homosexuals” on its faculty. He also denied that the school was “soft on communism,” was anti-religious or that controversial writings by “‘beatnik” authors were typical of the literature found in the school’s reading program.

All of those charges were levied against USF and other Florida state colleges and institutions by the Johns Committee, Florida’s version of the McCarthy Red and Lavender Scares in Washington. Named for its first chairman, state Senator and former Governor Charley Johns, the Johns committee was established in 1956 to investigate so-called communist links to the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1957, the Florida legislature broadened the committee’s mandate to investigate gays in the state’s colleges and universities, and reiterated that mandate again in 1961. Florida’s leaders of higher education proved eager to demonstrate that Florida’s sons and daughters were safe in their institutions, with many throwing their campuses open to heavy-handed investigators calling individual students and teachers out of class for interrogations.

The results of those investigations were made public in a report in 1963, in which Johns claimed credit for “flush(ing) 71 homosexual public school teachers and 30 homosexual deans and professors of universities.” Dr. Allen responded, quite forcefully, that his school was certainly not infested with homosexuals. The committee, he pointed out, established only one clear case of a gay teacher among the entire 500 person-staff, which was only “one-fifth of one per cent,” as he put it. That person resigned immediately. Charges had been levied against two others which could not be supported, and reports indicated that they “later left the university for other reasons.”

New Orleans Police Institutes Massive Gay Roundup: 1981. In a 1982 article published in the Columbia Journalism Review, Randsell Pierson wrote a very informative piece wondering aloud, “Can the Straight Press get the gay story right?” Pierson had interviewed several closeted gay reporters at the New Orleans Times-Picayune who all said that they feared pitching gay-related stories to their editors for fear of being identified as gay. It was that silence, Pierson said, which helped to explain why homosexuality was still illegal in 25 states and the District of Columbia. Lapses in coverage of gay issues was surprising, and among the many examples that Pierson offered up was this one:

Over a period of three days on the weekend of April 24, 1981, New Orleans police rounded up and jailed more than 100 gay men and women in a series of raids in the French Quarter. Those arrested were charged with “obstructing sidewalks” in front of gay bars. The arrests prompted a vigorous political response from the local gay community, which charged that the police were trying to drive gays out of the French Quarter. A protest meeting attended by 700 gays helped to persuade Mayor Ernest Morial and Police Chief Henry Morris to promise to investigate charges of police harassment. All charges against the arrested gays were subsequently dropped.

Two of the city’s three television stations — WDSU (NBC) and WVUE )ABC) — followed the breaking story and sent film crews to the protest meeting held on the Tuesday following the weekend arrests. The Times-Picayine/States-Item waited five days after the first arrests to report on the story. The account, buried in section 5, said nothing about the protest meeting, which would seem to have been the logical peg, and failed to include in its tally the arrests a group of thirty-nine gay men picked up the previous Sunday. Reporter Allan Katz, who wrote the story, says: “They wanted somebody to do something in a hurry. You would think that because the story was four days old before they assigned it to a reporter they didn’t consider it a major story. About the only time in my experience we really try to relate to gay news is when something really controversial comes up.” Apparently, the arrest of more than 100 men and women in a city not under martial law was not considered “really controversial.”

[From Randsell Pierson’s “Uptight on Gay News: Can the Straight Press Get the Gay Story Straight? Is Anyone Even Trying?” Chapter 59 in Larry Gross & James D. Woods (eds.) The Columbia Reader on Lesbians & Gay Men in Media, Society, & Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999): 368-376]

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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