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The Daily Agenda for Saturday, July 20

Jim Burroway

July 20th, 2013

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Charlotte, NC (Black Pride); Colorado Springs, CO; Frankfurt, Germany; Hull, UK; Kitsap, WA; Leipzig, Germany; Marseille, France (EuroPride 2013); Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK; Peel, ON; Plymouth, UK; Portland, OR (Latino Pride); Reading, PA; Rochester, MN; Rochester, NY.

AIDS Walk This Weekend: San Francisco, CA.

Other Events This Weekend: Sand Blast Weekend, Asbury Park, NJ; Outfest Film Festival, Los Angeles, CA; Miami Beach Bruthaz, Miami Beach, FL; QFest Film Festival, Philadelphia, PA; Bear Week, Provincetown, MA.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
 55 YEARS AGO: Panel Discussion on Homosexuality Airs in L.A.: 1958. KTLA’s Crime Story was one of those very serious, topical panel discussion programs, airing in the graveyard time slot of 11:00 p.m. on Sunday nights. The program picked a topic each week, and moderator Sandy Howard would assemble a panel of “experts” — typically from among the KTLA staff, since real experts weren’t eager to schlep to the studio late at night for a low-rated program. Topics for discussion included drugs, law enforcement, prison reform, international crime, and, on this night, homosexuality, which itself was a crime under California law.

In previous episodes when the subject of homosexuality came up, the tone was almost entirely negative and the opinions offered were ill-informed. But on this night, things were different. Sitting in for Howard was Bill Bradley, who this time actually managed to assemble a panel of real people who actually had experience on the topic, including Herbert Selwyn, attorney for the Los Angeles Chapter of the Mattachine Society. Also on the panel were two psychiatrists (both of them working for state penal systems), and a private detective and former L.A. policeman who also free-lanced for the scandal magazine Confidential. After the announcer made clear that the opinions expressed on the program were not those of KTLA, Bradley asked the panel to define “sex crime.” Right off the bat, one of the two psychiatrists, Dr. Isidore Ziferstein of the Iowa State Penitentiary, declared that he didn’t consider sex acts between consenting adults to be criminal because no one was harmed — a radical idea in 1958. Fred Otash, the private detective, began explaining that California’s penal code defined “sex perversion” as including, more specifically, “copulation by mouth.” Ziferstein responded, “Yes, the penal code regarding sex acts would make nearly every American citizen a sex criminal.” The other psychiatrist, Dr. William Graves of San Quentin, then joined Ziferstein in agreement.

Bradley then asked whether all homosexual men — lesbians were never mentioned during the entire program — were sex criminals. Otash jumped in and said yes, according to the letter of the law, and rightly so, contending that homosexuals bred other homosexuals simply by contact. Because homosexuals could not keep to themselves, they “preyed on normal men” and made them gay. He then got tired of saying the word “homosexual,” over and over. “You may call them homosexuals, I call them ‘fags’,” he declared. That, for the most part, was the extent of his “expertise.”

Selwyn, confident that the two psychiatrists would answer the question of whether “normal men” could be turned so easily, turned the topic instead to the problem of police entrapment, which was rampant in Los Angeles. If a policeman could strike up a conversation with a gay man in a bar and get the man to suggest that they retire to his apartment, he was liable to find himself in handcuffs and facing a fifteen year sentence.

The program ended with the two psychiatrists agreeing that homosexuality should not be against the law, but they debated whether homosexuality was a neurosis or not. Ziferstien said that society wasn’t just anti-gay, but anti-sex, and that this produced an abundance of “sex deviates,” including homosexuals. Graves pushed back, and pointed out that because society was so anti-gay, it would be surprising if some gay people didn’t become in some way disturbed or distressed over the situation. (In other words, Graves was explaining the concept of homophobia some ten years before the word itself was invented.) By this point in the program, the panelists were regularly ignoring Otash as they lamented the way the law and society treated gay people. A review by ONE magazine, the nation’s first gay magazine, commented that viewers “may have been gratified, if surprised, by the unexpectedly friendly attitudes toward homosexuality expressed on the program. … The members of the qualified panel made effective, intelligent observations, and many positive and constructive points.”

[Sources: “Sten Russell” (Stella Rush) “TV: Crime Story.” ONE 6, no. 8 (September 1958): 26-28.

“Sten Russell” (Stella Rush). “Crime Story.” The Ladder 2, no 12. (September 1958): 11-14.]

30 YEARS AGO: Rep. Gerry Studds Censured: 1983. The U.S. House of Representatives voted to censure Reps. Gerry Studds (D-MA) and Daniel Crane (R-IL), both of whom admitted to having sexual affairs with pages. Crane admitted to having sex with a 17-year-old female page three years earlier, while Studds acknowledged a relationship with a 17-year-old male page ten years earlier. (Both pages were above the age of consent.) In Studds’s case, the page himself defended the relationship as consensual and not intimidating. When Studds returned home to his district following his censure, he was met with standing ovations at his first town meeting. He would continue to be re-elected to Congress where he fought for AIDS funding, gays in the military, and marriage equality, right up until his retirement in 1997. When Studds died in 2006, his legally married husband was denied Studd’s pension, the same pension which was provided to all other surviving spouses of former members of Congress.

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?

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