The Daily Agenda for Sunday, May 19
May 19th, 2013
Other Events This Weekend: Harvey Milk Day, various locations and dates.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Oscar Wilde Released from Prison: 1897. This date in history ended a two-year ordeal for Oscar Wilde, which began in 1895 when he was denounced as a homosexual by the Marquess of Queensbury. Wilde, who was involved with the marquess’ son, Alfred Douglass, sued the Marquess for libel but lost the case when evidence supported the marquess’ allegations (see Apr 5). Because homosexual behavior among men was still considered a crime in England, that evidence led to Wilde’s arrest. His first trial resulted in a hung jury, but a second jury in 1895 sentenced him to two years of hard labor (see May 25). Wilde was imprisoned in Pentonville and then Wandsworth prisons in London. The regime consisted of “hard labour, hard fare and a hard bed.” Ill with dysentery and weakened from hunger, Wilde collapsed during Chapel, bursting his right ear drum. He spent two months in the infirmary, and his health never fully recovered.
He was later transferred to Reading prison, where he wrote a 50,000 word letter to Douglass. He wasn’t allowed to send the letter, but he was permitted to take it with him when he was released. The letter, since named De Profundis was published in 1962’s Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. It reads, it part:
When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realising what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else – the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.
DC Police Estimate 3750 “Sex Perverts” in Federal Government: 1950. The following United Press article appeared in newspapers nationwide:
3750 Perverts Listed on Payroll
Senate Republican Leader Kenneth S. Wherry said today that Washington police estimate there are 3750 sex perverts in the Government here.
In a report to a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Wherry said police authorities testified that 300 to 400 State Department employees are “suspected or allegedly homosexual.”
The Nebraskan also said that Washington police reported they have uncovered “what purported to be a plan of Communists to sabotage and damage” Washington in case of war with Russia; that a Red Fifth Column is using sex degenerates for subversive purposes; and that “there are 1000 bad security risks” in Washington.
The report gave no details on the purported plot to sabotage Washington.
The New York Times had a more in-depth account, which revealed that Washington Police Lieutenant Roy Blick testified that his estimate of 300 to 400 gays employees in the State Department was based on “a quick guess”:
This, he said at one point, was a “quick guess,” in the sense that it was based upon his experience that arrested persons not connected with the State Department would sometimes say: “Why don’t you go get so-and-so and so-and-so? They all belong to the same clique.”
“By doing that,” Lieutenant Blick added, “their names were put on the list and they were catalogued as such, as the suspect of being such.”
Springfield, OR, Voters Approve Anti-Gay Ordinance: 1992. About three years earlier, Vietnam vet, ex-hippie and born-again Christian by the name of Lon Mabon had formed the Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA) with support from the Oregon branch of Pat Roberston’s Christian Coalition. By 1991, budding firebrand Scott Lively joined the group, where he had quickly earned his reputation for being a loose canon. In October 1991, the photographer Catherine Stauffer attended a church meeting where the OCA was previewing a videotape it had cobbled together in preparation for a campaign in support of a series of local anti-gay ballot measures across the state. Lively ejected Stauffer from the meeting forcefully, by throwing her against the wall and dragging her across the floor. She sued Lively and OCA. The jury determined that Lively was guilty of using unreasonable force and awarded Stauffer $20,000.
OCA’s ballot measures were far reaching. They would prohibit “promoting, encouraging or facilitating homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism” — restrictions which would (aside from equating homosexuality with pedophilia) determine such basic community issues as which books could be accepted into the local library and which groups could access city facilities, including streets and parks. They would also institute a double standard: for example, OCA would be allowed to hold meetings in city buildings, while Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) would not.
Those ballot measures found their first success in Springfield, a more conservative working-class suburb of Eugene, which is home to the University of Oregon. On 1992, voters there approved a proposed city charter amendment, Ballot Measure 20-80, by a 54-46 margin. City Councilman Ralf Walters, was elated. “What this means is that Springfielders have shown their commitment to traditional family values. They want to maintain Springfield as a terrific place to raise a family, and they don’t want their leaders and public institutions to promote as an alternative lifestyle.”
But Mayor Bill Morrisette, an outspoken opponent of the measure, was more cautious. “I think there’s more to the city of Springfield than this particular question of sexual orientation. It certainly would be a mistake for the OCA to think if they win this that they’ve got a lock on the city.” Planning Commission member Tom Atkinson, who helped lead the opposition, said the vote “does stamp Springfield with Hate City USA. I just don’t believe that it’s true about Springfield. The low turnout really makes me believe the real will of the people of Springfield was not expressed tonight.”
Even though similar vote in Corvallis failed by a wide margin, OCA’s Scott Lively saw the Springfield vote as a prophetic omen for future ballot measures in the state. “The votes in Springfield — and Corvallis, too, even though it failed there — vindicate our position that traditional family values are shared by a large number of people in this state. The attempt by the opposition to equate the simple ‘no special rights’ message with hatred and bigotry was a lie, and the people of Springfield proved it.”
OCA’s victory in Springfield gave Mabon and Lively all the encouragement they needed to place a similar proposal to amend the state constitution with similar language. But Springfield would prove to be their high water mark. Following a nasty state-wide campaign led by Lively and the OCA, Measure 9 was defeated by voters just nine months later (see Nov 2). Meanwhile, Springfield’s new law was challenged in court, and in 1995 the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that a state law passed in 1993 pre-empted local governments on gay rights issues.
[Sources: Jim Burroway. “Lively’s Lies: A Profile of Scott Lively.” Political Research Associates (March 1, 2011). Available online here.
Ann Portal. “Voters approve anti-gay measure.” Eugene Register-Guard (May 20, 1992): 1A. Available online here.
Randi Bjornstad. “OCA issue hinged on ‘special rights’.” Eugene Register-Guard (May 21, 1992): 1A. Available online here.
Paul Neville. “Appeals court deals setback to gay rights foes.” Eugene Register-Guard (April 13, 1995): 1A. Available online here.]
Peter Wildeblood: 1923. In 1954, Peter Wildeblood was a diplomatic correspondent for London’s Daily Mail in 1953, when he was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for homosexual offenses. In essence, he was convicted of refusing to be ashamed. Wildeblood has one of four men caught up in the so-called “Montagu Case,” named for Lord Montagu (see Oct 20), whose beach house was raided by police on a tip that a homosexual orgy was taking place. Montagu had offered Wildeblood the use of the beach house, and Wildeblood in turn invited two friends from the RAF, his lover Edward McNally and John Reynolds. Montagu’s cousin, Michael Pitt-Rivers, had also joined the group.
Wildeblood later said that the whole affair had been “extremely dull,” while Montague elaborated, “We had some drinks, we danced, we kissed, that’s all. But McNally and Reynolds turned Queen’s Evidence and claimed that “abandoned behavior” had occurred. Wideblood was charged with “conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons,” among other charges, and was sentenced to eighteen months’ imprisonment.
After his release, Wildeblood considered his battle only half over. Just as he proclaimed his homosexuality during his trial, he published his audacious, ground-breaking memoir Against the Law, which revealed his experiences during his arrest and trial, and the appaling conditions of his imprisonment. He also described being on the receiving end of popular scorn when news of his arrest hit the papers:
That night, a woman spat at me. She was a respectable looking, middle-aged, tweedy person wearing a sensible felt hat. She was standing on the pavement as the car went by. I saw her suck in her cheeks, and the next moment a big blob of spit was running down the windscreen.
This shocked me very much. The woman did not look eccentric or evil; in fact she looked very much like the country gentlewomen with whom my mother used to take coffee when she has finished her shopping on Saturday mornings. She looked thoroughly ordinary, to me. But what did I look like to her? Evidently, I was a monster.
The following year, Wildeblood came out with another book, A Way of Life, which included twelve essays describing various gay people he had come in contact with. This helped to put a human face on the hitherto faceless “homosexuals.” Wildeblood’s two books also helped to inform the Wolfenden Report, which in 1957 recommended the decriminalization of homosexual acts in Britain. But those recommendations wouldn’t be acted upon for another ten years (see Jul 28).
Wildeblood went on to become a television producer and writer, first for Granada Television, and then CBC Toronto. He became a Canadian citizen in the 1980s, and died in Victoria, British Columbia in 1999.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?