TODAY IN HISTORY:
New York’s WBAI Radio Broadcasts Talk Show Featuring Eight Gay Men: 1962. There had long been an inherent tension among the various local chapters of the Mattachine Society between those who, because of their experience with the McCarthy-led Lavendar Scare witchhunt in the early 1950s, feared public scrutiny and exposure, and those who argued for greater visibility. The latter group sought increased public exposure for two reasons. First, to let other gay people across the country to understand that they weren’t alone. And also so that society at large could get to know gay people, which, they argued, was necessary if attitudes were every going to change. Randy Wicker, a recent Texas college student who moved to New York to become involved with that city’s Mattachine Society, was a natural at public relations, and he pushed to get the Society’s activities publicized in the local press. “Randy was very young and wild-eyed,” one Mattachine member recalled. “He was very radical and did things that the rest of us didn’t have the guts to do. Many of other people in our group were professionals, and I think they thought Randy was moving too fast. We weren’t sure things were ready for someone like him yet. But he certainly made us sit up and take notice.”
To get around some of the group’s objections, Wicker established a separate entity he called the Homosexual League of New York, an organization that consisted solely of himself. This way, if Mattachine members became too uncomfortable with his actions, he could just switch and do them under the guise of the alternative “group.” One of his first projects was to talk WBAI, a listener-supported radio station, to air a ninety-minute program with gay people as part of the panel. He proposed this after the station had already aired an hour-long special, “The Homosexual In America,” featuring a panel of psychiatrists who described gay people as being sick and in need of a cure. When WBAI agreed to air Wicker’s follow-up program, the New York Journal-American went ballistic. Jack O’Brian, the paper’s radio-TV columnist, wrote that the station should change its callsign to WSICK for agreeing to air an “arrogant card-carrying swish. …We’ve heard of silly situations in broadcasting, but FM station WBAI wins our top prize for scraping the sockly barrel-bottom.”
WBAI went ahead despite the controversy and the program, titled “Live and Let Live,” featured Wicker and seven other gay men talking for ninety minutes about what it was like to be gay. They talked about the difficulties in maintaining careers, the problems of police harassment, and the social responsibility of gays and straights alike. The following morning, The New York Times’s Jack Gould called the program “the most extensive consideration of the subject to be heard on American radio” — a statement that betrays his own unawareness of several similar programs which had already aired on radio and television in San Francisco and Los Angeles years earlier. Nevertheless, he wrote that “it succeeded, one would think in encouraging a wider understanding of the homosexual’s attitudes and problems.” Newsweek called the program “96 minutes of intriguing, if intellectually inconclusive listening.” A group of listeners lodged a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission and challenge the station’s broadcast license. When the FCC recognized the broadcast as a legitimate exercise in free speech, it signaled to other radio and television stations that homosexuality was an acceptable topic for broadcast.
110 YEARS AGO: Samuel Reber, Jr.: 1903. He was a well-regarded American diplomat who spent twenty-seven years in the Foreign Service. During World War II, Reber scored a significant diplomatic success by getting Vichy France to agree that French colonies and possessions, ships and planes in the Caribbean would not be used by the Axis powers, an agreement which underscored Vichy’s weakness as a French power. Reber then joined the Allied Control Commission in Italy, and from there he served as the U.S. representative to the Allied French government in 1944. By 1946, he was a political adviser to the U.S. delegation at the Council of Foreign Ministers Conference in Paris, in 1947 he was director of the State Department’s Office of European Affairs, and in 1950 he joined in the Allied High Commission as an adviser for the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany.
Beginning in 1948, Reber faced his greatest diplomatic challenge working t for an Austrian peace treaty while enduring years of threats and insults from the Soviet Union. His work ultimately laid the groundwork for an independent Austria remaining outside of the Soviet block. But the treaty guaranteeing that independence wouldn’t come about until two years after Reber was forced out of the State Department in 1953. That’s when Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare — and the accompanying Lavender Scare — was in full force in the U.S. Senate. McCarthy charged that the upper ranks of the State Department were filled with communists and homosexuals, prompting a wide-ranging witch hunt within the department. Reber was called in for a polygraph test and interviews on March 17 and 19, 1953. That investigation uncovered “a lot of admissions” about homosexuality. When McCarthy threatened to reveal allegations of Reber’s homosexuality, Reber promptly announced his retirement in May 1953, effective July 15 when he turned 50.
But because of Reber’s high profile, the reasons for his resignation quickly became well known in diplomatic and political circles. In 1954, McCarthy would use Reber’s resignation against his brother, Major General Miles Reber, who was called to testify on the first day of the Army-McCarthy hearings. According to Time magazine:
Returning to twist the dirk already thrust into the Reber brothers, McCarthy asked General Reber: “Are you aware of the fact that your brother was allowed to resign when charges that he was a bad security risk were made against him as a result of the investigation of this committee?” Jenkins roared in protest. McClellan roared in protest. McCarthy talked on, stuck to his question. General Reber sat in silence, gripping the edges of the witness table until his knuckles showed white. Finally, McCarthy, having made his point over radio and television, dismissed the entire question as unimportant, and grandly said he would withdraw it.
But West Pointer Reber would not have it so. In a voice thick with emotion, he asked to be allowed to answer the “very serious charge” made against his brother. After another long argument, Reber said simply: “. . . As I understand my brother’s case, he retired, as he is entitled to do by law, upon reaching the age of 50 … I know nothing about any security case involving him.” With a sigh of relief, Chairman Mundt dismissed Reber, thanking him for his frank manner—a remark to which McCarthy, who seemed determined to resent any civility, made a formal objection.
David Cicilline: 1961. When he was elected mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, in a landslide in 2002, David Cicilline became the first openly gay man to become mayor of a state capital. He held that position until 2011, when he went to Congress to represent Rhode Island in the U.S. House of Representatives. When he joined Congress, he became one of four openly gay representatives in the House.
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