The Daily Agenda for Friday, May 31

Jim Burroway

May 31st, 2013

Last Chance For Marriage Equality: Springfield, IL. Today’s the last day of business before the Illinois legislature adjourns for the end of its spring session, and marriage equality supporters are asking the House Speaker to schedule a vote for the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which, if passed, would bring marriage equality to the Land of Lincoln. The Senate approved the measure on Valentine’s Day in a 34-21 vote. The bill’s chief sponsor, Greg Harris, has been holding off calling for a vote until he’s sure he has the votes to pass it, and right now he’s being quiet about exactly how many vote he has. Equality Illinois is calling for a rally today, beginning at 11:00 a.m. at the Capitol Rotunda in Springfield.

Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Aarhus, Denmark; Alkmaar, Netherlands; Angers, France; Bradford, UK; Boston, MA; Buffalo, NY; Cambridge/Kitchener/Waterloo, ON; Davenport, IA; Dayton, OH; Dresden, Germany; Göteborg, Sweden; Honolulu, HI; Kiel, Germany; Lille, France; Lorraine, France; Los Ranchos, NM; Oxford, UK; Queens, NY; Regensburg, Germany; Salt Lake City, UT; Santa Cruz, CA; Shanghai, China; Sonoma Co, CA Springfield, MA; Staten Island, NY; Tulsa, OK; Washington, DC; Waterford, Ireland; Winnipeg, MB; York, UK.

AIDS Walks This Weekend: Beaver Lake, NY; Boston, MA; Long Beach, CA.

Other Events This Weekend: Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Hartford, CT; Rainbow 5K Run/Walk, Indianapolis, IN; Cinépride LGBT Film Festival, Nantes, France; Gay Days Disney, Orlando, FL; Film Out, San Diego, CA; AIDS Lifecycle, San Francisco to Los Angeles, CA (Sponsor Rob Tisinai here!); Inside Out Toronto Film Festival, Toronto, ON.

Scientists Trace AIDS To 1951: 1986. The summer of 1986 looked to be another terrible year in the nearly five-year-old AIDS epidemic. To be precise, that should be the five-year-old known AIDS epidemic. The CDC first noted the new disease in 1981 with the death of five young men, “all active homosexuals” whose immune system had been mysteriously and severely compromised. Out of the 23,000 known cases of people with AIDS between 1981 and the end of 1986, 56% were already dead (PDF: 32KB/5 pages).

While anti-gay activists rushed to declare that the so-called “gay plague” was a divinely inspired “terrible retribution,” scientists sought to figure out where the deadly disease came from. It wasn’t long before doctors in Europe and Africa noticed that the new disease first reported in America was remarkably similar to a mysterious illness striking the Congo River basin of Zaire and was already spreading eastward to Uganda. Swedish doctors remembered an infant born in Zaire who had contracted a similar disease in 1975 and finally died in 1982. Others recalled a Danish surgeon who died in 1977 after working in the Congo River region. Preserved blood and tissue samples tested positive for HIV, and this sent scientists scurrying to identify earlier possible samples which may offer clues to the disease’s origin.

On May 31, 1986, a team of American scientists published a letter in the British journal The Lancet announcing that they were able to determine that a blood sample that had been taken from an unknown patient at a Kinshasa hospital in 1959 tested positive for HIV. Nothing was known of the patient — neither a name nor medical records survive — but we can certainly guess at the suffering he or she must have endured. Nevertheless, this finding was an early clue that the epidemic itself was much older than previously thought. Later genetic analysis of the virus in that blood sample would indicate that the virus had actually entered the human population sometime around 1931. And later analysis still would push that estimate back to around 1908. But as early as 1986, it was already clear that it was only the stigma surrounding the disease, and not the disease itself, that was then approaching its fifth birthday.

Walt Whitman: 1819. Usually I commemorate famous birthdays by providing a brief biographical sketch. But when describing the life of the great American poet, it strikes me as unseemly to describe a man’s life when he has already written all that needs to be said:

When I Heard At The Close Of The Day.

WHEN I heard at the close of
             the day how my name
             had been receiv’d with
             plaudits in the capitol, still it was
             not a happy night for me that follow’d,
And else when I carous’d, or when my plans were accomplish’d,
             still I was not happy,
But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of perfect health,
             refresh’d, singing, inhaling the ripe breath of autumn,
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and disappear in
             the morning light,
When I wander’d alone over the beach, and undressing bathed,
             laughing with the cool waters, and saw the sun rise,
And when I thought how my dear friend my lover was on his way
             coming, O then I was happy,
O then each breath tasted sweeter, and all that day my food
             nourish’d me more, and the beautiful day pass’d well,
And the next came with equal joy, and with the next at evening
             came my friend,
And that night while all was still I heard the waters roll slowly
             continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands as directed to
             me whispering to congratulate me,
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover
             in the cool night,
In the stillness in the autumn moonbeams his face was inclined
             toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast and that night I was

This poem was originally part of a sequence of poems titled “Live Oak with Moss,” which tells the story of an unhappy affair with a man. When Whitman published the third edition of Leaves of Grass in 1860, he included them among the forty-five poems of “Calamus,” but re-arranged their order to obliterate the narrative. For the fourth edition of Leaves of Grass, two of the three poems dropped were “Live Oak ” poems, perhaps revealing that Whitman still feared that the poems told more than he could safely reveal. You can see the reconstructed “Live Oak” series at the Whitman Archive.

95 YEARS AGO: Bob Hull: 1918. The future co-founder of the Mattachine Foundation grew up near Minneapolis. While a student at the University of Minnesota, Hull met Chuck Rowland — another future Mattachine co-founder — and they became lovers, briefly. After the war, Rowland became a Communist organizer, and Hull soon followed. In 1948, Rowland left the party and moved to Los Angeles. Hull followed him to L.A., but remained in the party where he met Harry Hay (see Apr 7). When Hay discussed his idea for forming a support organization for gay people with Hull, Hull shared the idea Rowland and Hull’s then-current lover, Dale Jennings (see Oct 21). Together with Hay’s lover, Rudi Gernreich, the five met in November of 1950 and formed what would become the Mattachine Foundation.

Hull’s role in the new organization was rather limited. He was best known for leading discussion groups and writing tracts for the group. As Mattachine grew and attracted new members, many of those new members were skittish over its founders’ Communist ties and the Foundation’s high degree of secrecy. Few knew the names of those in leadership positions, and the founders organized the individual discussion groups so that each one was compartmentalized. That way, if one member was picked up by the FBI — remember, this was at the height of the McCarthy anti-Communist and anti-gay witch hunts — the other members of the organization would be protected.

But by 1953, newer members, mostly conservative members from San Francisco led by Hal Call (see Sep 20), demanded that the secrecy surrounding the leadership be abandoned and the organization cleared of Communists. Hull voiced concerns that some of those northern members might tip off a Senate Committee that Communists had founded the organization and questioned whether the founders could withstand such an investigation. (In fact, two new members from the Bay area were already FBI informants.) After the Foundation’s first constitutional in April broke down in disagreement (see Apr 11), a second meeting was called for May, when Hay, Rowland, and Hull stepped down. The remaining members declared the Mattachine Foundation disbanded and announced the formation of the newly reconstituted Mattachine Society.

When Hull left Mattachine, he also left advocacy behind. He briefly joined up with Rowland’s short-lived gay-affirming Church of One Brotherhood, but Hull’s personal demons soon caught up with him. A lifelong introvert, Hull struggled with depression for which he underwent years of therapy. Just days after his lover left him, Hull killed himself on May 1, 1962.

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?

Ben in Oakland

May 31st, 2013

When I was in the San Francisco gay men’s chorus 32 years ago, we sang a beautiful setting of the Whitman poem. It was the kind of music I joined the chorus to sing– as powerful a political statement as music could make.

In 1992, I married my then partner. We called it a wedding for all of our gay friends, though we referred to it as a commitment ceremony for our straight friends, who outnumbered our gay friends. My best friend read this poem, and my other best friend read Shakepeare’s sonnet “when in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes.”

to this day, 17 years after Larry passed, they both bring poignant memories of him.


May 31st, 2013

Supporters of equality were invited into the speaker’s box in the IL House. SB 10 is likely to get a vote today, but no one will say for sure. And if not today, not this year. :(

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