The Daily Agenda for Sunday, June 9
June 9th, 2013
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Albany, NY; Anchorage, AK; Birmingham, AL; Blackpool, UK; Boston, MA; Des Moines, IA; Detroit, MI; Edmonton, AB; El Paso, TX; Indianapolis, IN; Innsbruck, Austria; Key West, FL; Los Angeles, CA; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Milwaukee, WI; Oxford, UK; Philadelphia, PA; Söderhamn, Sweden; Washington, DC; Zurich, Switzerland.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Newsweek on “Homosexuals in Uniform”: 1947. “Although Army regulations strictly forbade the drafting of homosexuals, scores of these inverts managed to slip through induction centers during the second world war. Between 3,000 and 4,000 were discharged for this abnormality; others were released as neuropsychiatric cases. Last week, with most of the records on homosexuals tabulated, Army medical officers, for the first time, summed up their strange story.”
That strange story, in retrospect, was that gay people came from all walks of life. But in 1947, neither the Army nor Newsweek in its June 9, 1947 story could wrap their heads around that fact. Gays on average were found to be intelligent, not particularly feminine, and “as a whole, these men were law-abiding and hard working. In spite of nervous, unstable and often hysterical temperaments they performed admirably as workers. Many tried to be good soldiers.” If gay soldiers were “nervous,” that undoubtedly came from the consequences of being found out. “Once this abnormality was detected, the man was usually evacuated by the unit doctors to a general hospital where he received psychiatric treatment while a military board decided whether or not he was reclaimable. A good number begged to be cured, but doctors usually doubted their sincerity, and recommended discharge.”
But being discharged was far from the end to these soldiers’ problems. During the first half of the war, they were brought up on court-martial, punished and dishonorably discharged. But by 1943, courts-martial were overwhelmed by the rising caseload, so the Army decided to let them go with an administrative “blue” discharge — neither honorable or dishonorable, and so named for the color of paper they were printed on. The suspiciously vague nature of blue discharges made it very difficult when these soldiers hit the job market. In an economy where nearly everyone served and the vast majority could report honorable discharges to their prospective employers, these blue discharges stood out. The Veterans Administration also routinely denied benefits to blue discharge holders, despite the law’s explicit language stating that only dishonorable discharges were grounds for denial of benefits. As of July 1, 1947, the situation was about to get worse: “Instead of leaving the service with the vague and protective ‘blue’ discharge, the homosexuals who had not been guilty of a definite office would receive an ‘undesirable’ discharge.”
65 YEARS AGO: Congress Allows Indefinite Confinement of “Sexual Psychopaths” in Washington, D.C.: 1948. The nation’s capital had experienced explosive growth through the New Deal and World War II. And in the relatively short time period, the sleepy Southern town became a major bustling East Coast city, with all of the attendant problems and anxieties which comes with rapid urban growth. Among those anxieties were worries over a declining moral environment in the growing city. In response, Congress passed and the President Harry Truman signed Public Law 615 on June 9, 1948 which provided for the indefinite interment and treatment for “sexual psychopaths” in the District. (Before D.C. was given Home Rule with an elected mayor and council in 1973, the district was ruled directly by Congress and administered by a three-person appointed commission.) The Miller Act, as it was popularly known, defined a “sexual psychopath” as a:
“person, not insane, who by a course of repeated misconduct in sexual matters has evidenced such lack of power to control his sexual impulses as to be dangerous to other persons because he is likely to attack or otherwise inflict injury, loss, pain, or other evil on the objects of desire.”
The act specifically excluded rape or assault with intent to rape. Those charges were handled as normal criminal complaints. But according to this new law, the U.S. Attorney was empowered to initiate proceedings against anyone else — even if they hadn’t been charged with a crime — to have them committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital until the superintendent “finds that he has sufficiently recovered so as not to be dangerous to other person.” The act refers to the individual as “the patient”, not the accused or the defendant. It was the sole prerogative of the U.S. Attorney, after reviewing “information… from any source” to decide whether to initiate proceedings. And those proceedings were civil proceedings, not a criminal one with constitutional guarantees against self-incrimination that a criminal procedure would guarantee. Instead, the accused “patient” was required to submit to an examination by two psychiatrists and was required to answer their questions which became part of the official record.
The law’s wording suggested the aim was to keep dangerous people off the streets, but the vague definition of “sexual psychopath” left the door open to all sorts of abuse. U.S. Attorney Sidney Sachs, who helped draft the legislation, recalled in 1964 as a guest speaker at a conference of the East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO) — this was long after he left the Justice Department for a position in private practice — that the law was an open invitation to abuse:
“Though it’s not right,” Mr. Sachs admitted, the courts generally take the path of least resistance when the mental condition of someone accused of sex crime “comes into question”: they commit him to Washington’s mental hospital. There the overworked psychiatrists “write brief reports” on the person. And when his trial comes up, it’s “just perfectly understandable then” that the doctors’ judgment is chiefly relied on.
A women in the audience challenged the merit of the Miller Act by pointing out — and Mr. Sachs had to agree — that condemnation to psychiatric incarceration is potentially worse than jail because the person could languish in a mental hospital forever. Then a man bluntly asked the prime question: “Would I, as a habitual practicing homosexual, be called a sexual psychopath?” “I think that you would be,” Mr. Sachs replied. Yet, he reminded us, “everything that’s on the books that is oppressive to homosexuals is not carried out to the letter.”
According to a paper read at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in 1950, the law’s reach did, in fact, extended to “habitual practicing homosexuals” in consensual relationships. Dr. Francis Tartaglino of St. Elizabeth reported that as of March 1, 1950, twenty-four patients had been admitted to the hospital’s maximum security ward under this new law, “including 2 non-coercive homosexuals and 1 aggressive sodomist.”
[Sources: Bernard A. Cruvant, Milton Meltzer, Francis J. Tartaglino. “An institutional program for committed sex deviants.” American Journal of Psychiatry 107, no. 3 (September 1950): 190-194.
Lily Hansen, Barbara Gittings. “East Coast Homophile Organizations — Report ’64. Part Two: Highlights of ECHO.” The Ladder 9, no. 4 (January 1965): 10-11.]
Cole Porter: 1891. American songwriters could match the sophistication, wit, and discreet naughtiness of Let’s Do It (1928), You Do Something To Me (1929), Love for Sale (1930), Anything Goes (1934), Let’s Misbehave (1937), Well Did You Evah! (1939) or Too Darn Hot (1948). That barely scratches the surface of Porter’s musical output. He was born to a wealthy family in Peru, Indiana, and after graduating from an exclusive prep school, he studied law, first at Yale (where he wrote two of Yale’s football fight songs that are still played today), then at Harvard for his graduate studies. But after finally deciding that he was more interested in music, he left Harvard Law and enrolled in Harvard’s music program. In 1917, he moved to Paris to lend his hand at the war effort, and where his luxury Paris apartment became the scene of lavish parties.
That was where he met Linda Thomas, a rich Kentucky divorced socialite who was eight years his senior. She was reportedly aware of Porters homosexuality — his affair with Ballet Russes star Borish Koncho in 1925 wasn’t much of a secret — but they both found marriage mutually advantageous. For Porter, a wife like Linda afforded a respectable heterosexual front, and for Linda, Porter’s success and growing fame only enhanced her social position. And besides, he was genuinely kind to her, which was very unlike her abusive first husband.
In 1928, Porter returned to Broadway, where he found considerable success and offers from Hollywood. The Porters moved there in 1935, but Linda didn’t appreciate Cole’s increasingly open dalliances with other men. She moved back to their home in Paris, and Porter became about as openly closeted as any other Hollywood A-gay. A severe horse riding accident in 1937, which left Porter with a permanently-crippling leg injury, brought the Porters back together, but they reconciled with an apparently renewed understanding. Linda was more than just a beard to Porter: by all accounts they were very close, at least in a spiritual or emotional sense. Yet throughout their marriage, Porter also had significant relationships with several men, including Boston socialite Howard Sturges, architect Ed Tauch (who inspired “Easy to Love”), choreographer Nelson Barclift (who inspired “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”), actor Robert Bray, and longtime companion Ray Kelly, to whose children Porter left half of his royalties when he died in 1964. (Linda preceded him in death ten years earlier.) Porter’s life was significantly de-gayed in the 2004 biopic De-Lovely: The Cole Porter Story with Kevin Kline in the starring role. William McBrien’s 1998 biography however provides a much more complete picture of Porter’s life.
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