The Daily Agenda for Thursday, August 8
August 8th, 2013
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Antwerp, Belgium; Eugene/Springfield OR; Fargo/Moorhead ND/MN; Glasgow, UK; Hampton Roads, VA; Indianapolis IN (Black Pride); Mannheim, Germany; Moscow, ID; Reykjavick, Iceland; Rochester, NY (Black Pride); Santa Ana, CA; Swindon, UK; Wakefield, UK; Windsor, ON.
AIDS Walk This Weekend: Denver, CO.
Other Events This Weekend: World Outgames, Antwerp, Belgium; Rainbow Days At Six Flags Over Georgia, Atlanta, GA; Northalsted Market Days Street Fair, Chicago, IL; Rendezvous LGBT Campout, Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming; Toronto Leather Pride, Toronto, ON.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
50 YEARS AGO: Congress Holds Hearings on Mattachine Society: 1963. “If these people are a charitable organization promoting homosexuality, I’ve grown up in a wrong age,” Rep. John Dowdy (D-TX) said as the House Subcommittee for the District of Columbia opened hearings on a bill to strip the Mattachine Society of Washington of its fundraising permit. The permit had been award to the group by D.C. officials in August 1962 when the group demonstrated that it qualified for the permit under the Charitable Solicitations Act. Mattachine president Frank Kameny (see May 21)then sent a statement to members of Congress along with excerpts from the Society’s constitution. Noting that gays were barred from federal employment, military service and security-sensitive positions in the private sector, Kameny blasted federal laws as “archaic, unrealistic, and inconsistent with basic American principles. … Policies of repression, persecution, and exclusion will not prove to be workable ones in the case of this minority, any more than they have, throughout history, in the case of other minorities.”
Kameny’s letter ended with an offer to meet with members of Congress. Dowdy, instead, introduced a bill in July which specifically singled out the Mattachine Society for revocation of its permit. A second section of the bill would provide that no solicitation permits could be issued unless the District’s Commissioners determined that the “solicitation which would be authorized by such certificate would benefit or assist in promoting the health, welfare and morals of the District of Columbia.”
During the subcommittee’s hearing on August 8, city officials joined the District Republican Committee in opposing the measure on constitutional grounds. Dowdy was indignant at the opposition. “You contrast that with permitting the solicitation of funds for perversion and morality. Which is more important to the community?” Noting that Congress had passed laws designed to curb the Communist Party, he continued, “As far as I know, all the security risks that have deserted the United States have been homosexuals. Do you place them on a higher plane than communists?” Rep. Basil Whitener (D-NC) joined the fray, asking if the Commissioners “want to repeal the section of the Criminal Code dealing with sodomy.” Mattachine president Frank Kameny was also at the hearing. He was just beginning to read a prepared statement when the hearing was suddenly adjourned due to a quorum call on the House floor.
Randy Shilts: 1951. The pioneering gay journalist came out relatively early, while still in college at the age of 20, when he ran for student government with the slogan “Come Out for Shilts.” That was in 1971, when coming out was still something of a novelty. It also meant that when he graduated at the top of his class in 1975, he had trouble finding a job. After working freelance, including several articles he wrote for The Advocate which was then a Los Angeles-based monthy newspaper, Shilts was finally hired in 1981 by the San Francisco Chronicle as perhaps the first openly gay reporter in the American mainstream press. The following year, he published The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, the critically acclaimed biography of the slain San Francisco Supervisor and personal friend, Harvey Milk.
When he went to work for the Chronicle, he was given the gay beat. But this quickly proved to be no ordinary ghetto beat, because that very same year a new disease was stalking the gay community. Shilts would wind up devoting much of his career to oncovering the disease and its impact on medicine, politics, society and, specifically, the gay community itself. His second book, And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic brought him national fame. While Shilts was praised for bringing attention to the AIDS crisis, he was also criticized for popularizing the mythology surrounding “patient zero,” an Air Canada flight attendant by the name of Gaëtan Dugas, who was portrayed as the central figure in bringing AIDS to America. Shilts’s book didn’t make that allegation directly, but the mythology stuck. And the Band Played On remained on the New York Times Bestseller List for five weeks and was nominated for a National Book Award, and it remains an essential account of the early AIDS era.
Shilt’s third book, Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military, was released in 1993, just as the fight over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was heating up. But by then, Shilts was already ill from the disease he covered in And the Band Played On. In fact, he had been tested for HIV while writing And the Band Played On, but he declined to be told the result, concerned that knowing it would interfere with his objectivity. He became ill with pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, a common opportunistic disease, in 1992, and developed Kaposi’s sarcoma a yaer later. He dictated the last chapter of Conduct Unbecoming from his hospital bed, but he lived long enough to see that book make it to print and to see And the Band Played On made into an HBO movie. He died in 1994.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?