The Daily Agenda for Monday, August 12
August 12th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
180 YEARS AGO: Captain Nichols Hanged for “Buggery”: 1833. Yes, that was the actual British legal term for homosexual activity, and it was a capital offense until 1861, when the laws were finally relaxed to allow for life imprisonment. But that change came almost thirty years too late for Captain Henry Nichols. In 1833, the London Courier printed the following account:
Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls, who was one of the unnatural gang to which the late Captain Beauclerk belonged, (and which latter gentleman put an end to his existence), was convicted on the clearest evidence at Croydon, on Saturday last, of the capital offence of Sodomy; the prisoner was perfectly calm and unmoved throughout the trial, and even when sentence of death was passed upon him. In performing the duty of passing sentence of death upon the prisoner, Mr. Justice Park told him that it would be inconsistent with that duty if he held out the slightest hope that the law would not be allowed to take its severest course. At 9 o’clock in the morning the sentence was carried into effect. The culprit, who was fifty years of age, was a fine looking man, and had served in the Peninsular war. He was connected with a highly respectable family; but, since his apprehension not a single member of it visited him.
You can also read a different account from another popular broadsheet by clicking the above image.
[via ExecutedToday.com, which goes to show that there really is a blog for everything!]
Miami News Reports On Trial of Gay Informant: 1954. That summer, greater Miami was swept up by an unprecedented wave of anti-gay hysteria, triggered, in part, by the murder of a male Eastern Airlines flight attendant earlier in August (see Aug 3, Aug 11). Meanwhile, bars and beaches were being raided and gay men were being convicted under Florida’s sodomy law. The Miami News on August 12 reported on one such case involving a gay man and a reputed police informant who was apparently himself gay. Because The News’s report leaves open far more questions than it answers, I will just repeat it in full.
Informant Escapes Jail Term in Pervert ‘Turnabout’ Trial.
By Larry Birger
Miami Daily News Staff Writer
A self-styled police informer escaped trial on sex charges today when a convicted homosexual refused to press a complaint which he had filed at the suggestion of City Judge Cecil C. Curry.
The case against truck driver Leonard M. Odom, 24, of 3523 SW 14th Ter., was dispatched so quickly that the name of the complainant’s attorney escaped reporters.
The convicted homosexual, Walter G. Quester, changed his mind and dropped charges against Odom of committing lewd and lascivious acts.
Judge Curry asked the unidentified attorney for Quester: “Why did you drop the charges?”
“I don’t know,” the lawyer replied. “I wasn’t here yesterday.”
The attorney was referring to the unusual court session at which the judge had turned on the chief witness against the defendant at Quester’s hearing on charges of lewd and lascivious acts.
On the basis of Odom’s testimony, concerning a “date” he claimed he’d had with Quester to get information for the police, Quester was convicted and sentenced to 60 days in jail.
Then Curry told Odom, “It looks to me as if you’re just as guilty as the defendant.” He suggested to Quester that he file counter-charges against Odom, which was done.
Before today’s hearing Odom’s lawyer, Morey A. Rayman, said he would move that Curry disqualify himself as presiding judge on grounds he had prejudged the defendant.
This report raises all sorts of questions. Was Odom really working as a police informant? Or did he decide to try to claim that’s what he was doing in order to try to get out of being charged himself? What — or who — led Quester to drop the charges against Odom? And with Odom’s name, address, and photo published in the paper, what happened to him after the trial was over?
It really is quite possible that there were two victims in the sordid mess, each one trying to make the best of a very bad, no-win situation. These are the kinds of stories that appear briefly in newspapers across the country and then, just as quickly, disappear. These are also the kinds of stories I would love to be able to track down. In searching Ancestry.com, there was a Walter G. Quester who died in 1987 in Broward County, Florida, and a Leonard M. Odom who died in Madison, Florida in 1997. Were these the guys mentioned in this article?
45 YEARS AGO: “Gay Is Good” Adopted As National Homophile Slogan: 1968. The North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO), an umbrella group with representatives from twenty-six local and national gay rights organizations, was formed two years earlier, and from the very beginning they were hampered squabbles between the member groups. At the core, they were hampered by a lack of a unifying vision of where the gay community needed to concentrate its meager resources and energies. When they finally met in Chicago just a few weeks before the contentious Democratic National Convention, a whole host of fault lines had emerged, along generational lines with younger members being influenced by civil rights and anti-war protests, along gender lines as lesbians became increasingly impatient and distrustful as the dominant male leadership gave short shrift to their concerns, and along geographic lines between the more “militant” East Coast and the less confrontational West Coast factions.
Although the delegates failed to form a unified national organization, they did manage to accomplish two things. First, they passed “Homosexual Bill of Rights”, which consisted of these five points:
- Private consensual sex between persons over the age of consent shall not be an offense.
- Solicitation for any sexual acts shall not be an offense except upon the filing of a complaint by the aggrieved party, not a police officer or agent.
- A person’s sexual orientation or practice shall not be a factor in the granting or renewing of federal security clearances or visas, or in the granting of citizenship.
- Service in and discharge from the Armed Forces and eligibility for veteran’s benefits shall be without reference to homosexuality.
- A person’s sexual orientation or practice shall not affect his eligibility for employment with federal, state, or local governments, or private employers.
But it was their second accomplishment which proved to be more enduring, when they formally adopted Frank Kameny’s “Gay is Good” slogan as the official slogan of the movement. The full resolution read:
BECAUSE many individual homosexuals, like many of the members of many other minority groups suffer from diminished self-esteem, doubts and uncertainties as to their personal worth, and from a pervasive false and unwarranted sense of an inferiority and undesirability of their homosexual condition, and from a negative approach to that condition; and
BECAUSE, therefore, many individual homosexuals, like many of the members of many other minority groups, are in need of psychological sustenance to bolster and to support a positive and affirmative attitude toward themselves and their homosexuality and to hae instilled into them a confident sense of the positive good and value of themselves and of their condition; and
BECAUSE it would seem to be very much a function of the North American Homophile Conference to attempt to replace a wishy-washy negativism toward homosexuality with a firm no-nonsense positivism, to attempt to establish in the homosexual community and its members feelings of pride,self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth, in being the homosexuals that they are and have a moral right to be (these feelings being essential to true human dignity), and to attempt to bring to bear a counter-vailing influence against negative attitudes toward homosexuality prevalent in the heterosexual community; and
BECAUSE the Negro community has approached similar problems and goals with some success by the adoption of the motto or slogan: Black is Beautiful
RESOLVED: that it is hereby adopted as a slogan or motto for NACHO that
GAY IS GOOD
The vote was unanimous, perhaps the only point of unanimity in the convention. Kameny saw his slogan’s adoption as being a critical step toward changing the internal self-perceptions that many in the gay community had of themselves. Just a few years earlier, he persuaded his own group, the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., to pass a resolution declaring that homosexuality was not a mental illness (see Mar 4), a vote that was very controversial locally and nationally. This showed Kameny that if the gay community wanted psychiatry to stop regarding gay people as mentally ill, then gays and lesbians themselves would have to change how they saw themselves:
In order that we might hear something good to offset all this negativity, I came up with the slogan “Gay is good” in 1968, in parallel with the slogan “Black is beautiful” coined around the same time for similar psychological reasons. Upon careful analysis, it quickly became clear that as long as we were classified by organized psychiatry as being mentally ill or emotionally disturbed, we were never going to be granted any kind of remedy for the cultural ills besetting us. Society was not going to offer protection to a bunch of “loonies,” which is what psychiatry of that day made of us…
Psychiatry would eventually change its mind about five years later. For countless millions of gay people, it would take longer. But Kameny didn’t just fight to change how the laws pr psychiatry treated gay people. He fought so that gay people to see themselves as fully equal to everyone else as people. In 2007 when his papers and artifacts were accepted by the Smithsonian Institution, Frank reflected in an email to me:
I’ve said, for a long time, that if I’m remembered for only one thing, I would like it to be for having coined “Gay is Good.” But never did I expect that that would make its way to the Smithsonian. I feel deeply contented.
[Sources: Ronald Bayer. Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis 2nd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987):89-91.
Frank Kameny. "How It All Started." Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health 13, no. 2 (2009): 76-81.]
Radclyffe Hall: 1880. Influenced by the writings of Havelock Ellis, Radclyffe Hall described herself as a “congenital invert,” typically dressing in masculine clothing and living her lesbian on her sleeve. Her nickname “John” was bestowed on her by her first partner, the German singer Mabel Batten. When Batten died in 1916, Hall had already fallen in love with Batten’s cousin, the sculptor Una Troubridge, and the two of them would remain together for the rest of Hall’s life. Hall’s first novel, the long and dreary The Unlit Lamp, didn’t sell well. But her next books — a comedy titled The Forge, a more serious volume titled Unlit Lamp, and another comic novel A Saturday Life, established Hall as a novelist of serious talent.
But it would be her 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness, the only one of her eight novels with an overt lesbian theme, which she would become most famous for. (Other short stories also carried lesbian themes as well.) While the novel was not sexually explicit, it nevertheless became the subject of a sensational obscenity trial in Britain, which resulted in all copies of the novel being ordered destroyed. It’s publication in the U.S. came about only after a long court battle. After the fireworks were over, the New York Court of Special Sessions cleared the book for publication in 1929, and it has been continuously available ever since then.
Hall and Troubridge were important figures in lesbian circles in London, Paris and elsewhere in Europe, where Hall would be easily recognized by her tailored jackets, ties, socks and close-cropped hair. Her appearance wasn’t particularly shocking in the 1920s, where androgynous appearance among women was considered tres chic. But as the decades wore on, it became her most consistent visual identity in keeping with her self-identification as a member of “the third sex.” Britain’s sensational press was only too happy to play up that image. During the height of the furor over the British obscenity trials, newspapers routinely published photos of her which depicted her in the most masculine way possible, often cropping the photo above her waist on the many occasions when she wore a skirt with a man’s jacket.
The Well of Loneliness would be the only source of information about lesbianism for many women right on through the 1960s. Hall herself said that she had received more than 10,000 letters about her novel, many of them thanking her from grateful lesbians. When she died in 1943 of colon cancer, The Well of Loneliness had been translated into fourteen languages and was selling more then 100,000 copies per year. Nineteen-fifties editions of The Ladder, the newsletter for the Daughters of Bilitis, often wrote of The Well of Loneliness in reverential tones, and many anonymous letters to the editor from across America citing the book as a lifeline for many women coming to terms with their own sexuality.
Gladys Bentley: 1907. The Harlem Renaissance blues singer was known as “Brown Bomber of Sophisticated Songs.” Her “sophisticated songs” were obscene parodies of famous blues standards and popular songs, which she sang in the speakeasies of Harlem, often while brazenly flirting with the women in the audience. She was famous for her powerful voice, her girlfriends, and her manner of dress, in her signature tuxedo and top hat. In the 1930s, she headlined at Harlem’s Ubangi Club, an “exotic” (read: gay) club where she performed with a chorus line of drag queens as backup. She was successful enough to acquire a Park Avenue apartment, a fancy car, servants, and, she claimed at one time, a white wife in New Jersey.
But by 1937, the popularity of Harlem began to wane, so she moved to Los Angeles to be with her mother. She continued to carve out a place for herself there in the underground gay scene, performing at such popular lesbian bars as Joquins’ El Rancho in Los Angeles and Mona’s in San Francisco. But when the straight-laced fifties came around, Bentley abandoned her trademark tuxedo, began wearing dresses, and, in a 1950 article for Ebony, claimed to have cured her lesbianism through hormone treatments. She also claimed that she married J. T. Gibson, a newspaper columnist, who later denied that they had ever met. She did marry a man who was sixteen years her junior, although they eventually divorced. In 1960, she was on the verge of being ordained a minister for the Temple of Love in Christ when she died of pneumonia at age 52.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?