The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, May 15
May 15th, 2013
Pride Events This Weekend: Brussels, Belgium; Chisinau, Moldova; Düsseldorf, Germany; Hannover, Germany; Kraków, Poland; Long Beach, CA; New Hope, PA; Oklahoma City, OK; Springfield, IL.
Other Events This Weekend: Harvey Milk Day, various locations and dates.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
“Writhing Bedfellows”: 1826. Few intimate letters between men survive from the early nineteenth century, which makes this one so remarkable. Back when the nation was young, Jefferson Withers, 22, wrote to his dear friend, James Hammond, 18, a letter which is both frank and playful — even “campy”:
I got your Letter this morning about 8 o’clock, from the hands of the Bearer . . . I was sick as the Devil, when the Gentleman entered the Room, and have been so during most of the day. About 1 o’clock I swallowed a huge mass of Epsom Salts — and it will not be hard to imagine that I have been at dirty work since. I feel partially relieved — enough to write a hasty dull letter.
I feel some inclination to learn whether you yet sleep in your Shirt-tail, and whether you yet have the extravagant delight of poking and punching a writhing Bedfellow with your long fleshen pole — the exquisite touches of which I have often had the honor of feeling? Let me say unto thee that unless thou changest former habits in this particular, thou wilt be represented by every future Chum as a nuisance. And, I pronounce it, with good reason too. Sir, you roughen the downy Slumbers of your Bedfellow — by such hostile — furious lunges as you are in the habit of making at him — when he is least prepared for defence against the crushing force of a Battering Ram. Without reformation my imagination depicts some awful results for which you will be held accountable — and therefore it is, that I earnestly recommend it. Indeed it is encouraging an assault and battery propensity, which needs correction — & uncorrected threatens devastation, horror & bloodshed, etc. …
[The letter goes on for two more pages on unrelated matters, then signs off--]
With great respect I am the old
Withers would later become a judge in South Carolina and delegate to the conferences that established a provisional government for the Confederacy. He also served as a Congressman for the Confederacy from South Carolina. Hammond became a Congressman, Senator and Governor of South Carolina, and one of the South’s more important advocate for slavery as a Christian institution, as a blessing and a moral good. the greatest of all the great blessings which a kind Providence has bestowed upon our glorious region.” Slavery was also, according to Hammond, “is not only not a sin but especially commanded by God through Moses and approved by Christ through His Apostles.” Hammond’s personal diaries revealed he made sexual advances on his three teenage nieces, and he detailed his sexual relationship with a slave who bore him several children, and his sexual exploitation of her twelve year old daughter who bore several more children. Neither Withers nor Hammond, from the standpoint of American history, come across as admirable people, yet Hammond has become a modern-day hero for David Barton and others who promote the “Christian Nation” view of American history.
But all of that came later. Meanwhile back in 1826, Hammond replied to Wither’s letter on June 3, although that letter is now lost. But Withers followed with another letter the following September (see Sep 24.)
[Source: Martin Duberman. "'Writhing Bedfellows': 1826." Journal of Homosexuality 6, no. 1 (1981): 85-101. Available online here.]
Homosexual Drives As Menstrual Cycles: 1950. This was a time when Congress was preoccupied with two color-coded scares: The Red Menace of imaginary communists hiding in every cupboard and The Pink Menace of homosexuals working in federal offices. Congressman Aurthur L. Miller (R-Nebr) was particularly incensed over the latter. He was also a doctor and a surgeon, which made this speech during a committee hearing particularly strange:
Some of these people are dangerous. They will go to any limit. These homosexuals have strong emotions. They are not to be trusted and when blackmail threatens they are a dangerous group. … It is found that the cycle of these individuals’ homosexual desires follow the cycle closely patterned to the menstrual period of women. There may be three or four days in each month that this homosexual’s instincts break down and drive the individual into abnormal fields of sexual practice.
Episcopal Church Allows Ordination of Gay Deacons: 1996. An Episcopal Church court threw out a heresy charge and ruled that an Bishop Walter C. Righter, did not violate the church’s core doctrine when he ordained openly gay Barry Stopfel as a deacon, the rank below that of a priest, in the Dioceses of Newark in 1990.
FIVE YEARS AGO: California State Supreme Court Strikes Down Ban on Same-Sex Marriages: 2008. In a 4-3 decision, the California State Supreme Court ruled:
“[T]he language of section 300 limiting the designation of marriage to a union “between a man and a woman” is unconstitutional and must be stricken from the statute, and that the remaining statutory language must be understood as making the designation of marriage available both to opposite-sex and same-sex couples. In addition, because the limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples imposed by section 308.5 can have no constitutionally permissible effect in light of the constitutional conclusions set forth in this opinion, that provision cannot stand.”
The decision took effect on June 16, 2008, when gay rights pioneers Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin’s 55-year relationship was solemnized by the first official same-sex wedding in San Francisco. But two weeks earlier, California’s Secretary of State reported that marriage equality opponents had turned in enough signatures to place a proposed amendment banning same-sex marriages on the November ballot. Prop 8 passed, but was later declared unconstitutional in Federal Court. That decision is now working its way through the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel has upheld the lower court’s ruling but narrowed its reasoning. The case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments last March. A final ruling is expected by the end of June.
Jasper Johns: 1930. He probably best known for his 1955 painting Flag, which is, just as its name implies, simply a painting of an American Flag. His focus on the mundane as subjects have led some to consider him a pop artist with an abstract impressionist streak, but it’s probably more accurate to see him as a ne0-Dadaist. Flag exemplifies that movement by taking an object or a popular image imbued with intense meaning and removing it from its context and thereby reducing it to a simple abstract design. Map (1961) does the same thing. It’s an ordinary map of the United States portrayed in an abstract impressionist style which reduces the iconic image to a series of color splotches and shapes. Flags, maps, stenciled words and numbers — all of these mundane yet symbolic images were subjects for Johns’s paintings.
Johns was born in South Carolina and studied for three semesters at the University of South Carolina before moving to New York to study briefly at the Parson’s School of Design in 1949. After a stint in the military during the Korean War, Johns returned to New York where he met Robert Rauschenberg and they became lovers for eight years. It was through his connection with Rauschenberg that Johns was discovered by the art world. When prominent gallery owner visited Rauschenberg’s studio in 1958 and saw Johns’s work, he offered Johns a show on the spot. At that debut show, the Museum of Modern Art anointed Johns as a major figure in the art world by purchasing three of his paintings. By the 1980s, John’s paintings fetched higher prices than any other living artist in history. In 2011, Johns was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, making him the first painter to receive the award since 1977.
Andy Towle: 1967. His last name is pronounced “toll,” not “towel,” making his blog, Towleroad, a homophone for the New Jersey Turnpike. That’s right, I said homophone. Anyway, before becoming a full-time blogger, Towle was editor-in-chief for Genre magazine. Today, Towleroad (a site with homosexual tendencies) has become one of the highest trafficked LGTB blogs with its focus on popular culture and the arts with a heavy dose of politics thrown in.
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?