The Daily Agenda for Saturday, August 24
August 24th, 2013
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Charlotte, NC; Cornwall, UK; Chico, CA; Copenhagen, Denmark; Foyle (Derry/Londonderry), Northern Ireland; Galway, Ireland; Lansing, MI; Manchester, UK; Moncton, NB; Ottawa, ON; Toledo, OH; Ventura, CA.
Other Events This Weekend: Big Bear Adventure Weekend, Big Bear Lake, CA; SHOUT LGBTQ Film Festival, Birmingham, AL; Windy City Rodeo, Crete, IL; Camp Camp, Portland ME; Provincetown Carnival, Provincetown, MA; AIDS Red Ribbon Ride, Rochester, NY; Vancouver Queer Film Festival, Vancouver, BC.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
New York Times’s “Homosexuals In Revolt”: 1970. On June 28, 1969, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn erupted in revolt when New York City police tried to raid the bar. The New York Times, the city’s newspaper of record, published nary a word about it. But more than a year later, the Grey Lady finally found that the explosion of new gay organizations, along with the successful Gay Pride march and a large gathering in Central Park marking the one-year anniversary of Stonewall a few months earlier, was all too much to ignore. And so on August 24, 1970, the Times printed an exhaustive and (for 1970) relatively balanced exploration of the dynamic shifts that had just occurred within the gay community over the past year, namely its new-found pride and emerging sense of self worth. Of course, not everyone thought those new dynamics were positive:
This new attitude has its critics, both among “straights” and among homosexuals. Many doctors believe that, while homosexuals have full legal rights, “gay is not necessarily “good.” Dr. Lionel Ovesey, ad professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, said: “Homosexuality is a psychiatric or emotional illness. I think it’s a good thing of someone can be cured of it because it’s so difficult for a homosexual to find happiness in our society. It’s possible that this movement could consolidate the illness in some people, especially among young people who are still teetering on the brink.”
Having gotten that out of the way early on however, the rest of the Times article focused mainly on the the emergence of a new attitude and commitment to equality among younger people, in contrast to the timidity that was still common among the older generation. The youth, who were organizing gay advocacy and social groups at an astonishing pace across the country, were inspired particularly by the civil rights movement as well as the women’s movement:
“We are all fighting for equal rights as human beings,” explained (New York Mattachine Society president Michael) Kotis, who had a picture of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. above his desk in the society’s cramped offices on West End Avenue. “The philosophical ideals on which this country was founded have yet to be realized. We owe a great debt to the blacks — they were the pioneers.”
Gays and lesbians were up against a lot of history however, and they were also up against a lot of internalized shame and guilt — even among some of the brave new activists:
“The first job we have to do is to decondition ourselves, to undo that self-contempt we have,” said Don Kilhefner, a graduate student who started a Gay Liberation branch at the University of California at Los Angeles. “We’ve gone through the same kind of conditioning blacks have gone through. We believe the myth society tells about us, consciously or unconsciously.”
“Homosexuality is not an illness; it’s a way of expressing love for someone of the same sex, and any form of love is beautiful and valid,” said Karla, a leader of the Lavender Menace, a lesbian organization in New York, who would not give her full name.
The article went on to discuss some of the discrimination that gay people face, particularly in employment where people were routinely fired if their employers found out they were gay. At that point, the article circled back around to Karla:
As a result, people like Karla, despite her devotion to the movement, are still afraid. “I still face the possibility that I might have to make it in the ‘straight’ world,” she said, in explaining why she would not give her full name. “And there are a lot of things you still can’t do if they know you’re ‘gay’.” In answer to these problems, “gay” organizations provide legal counsel, offer advice on job hunting, and lobby for legislative reforms.
There is much that feels antiquated when reading this article more than forty years later, but there is also much that feels familiar, particularly the tensions between the more established gay rights groups who feared pushing too hard and provoking a backlash (and who, quite visibly in this article, called themselves “homosexuals”), and the younger, more active members of the community who were impatient for change and were more willing to take their complaints to the street — and to proclaim themselves gay:
There are sharp disagreements within the homosexual community. People such as Michael Brown of Gay Liberation in New York identify with a broader radical movement. “The older groups are oriented toward getting accepted by the Establishment,” he said, “but what the Establishment has to offer is not worth my time. …”
On the other side are organizations such as the Tangent Group in Los Angeles, headed by a brisk, middle aged man named Don Slater. He agreed that homosexuals should have pride in themselves, but he added: “People should stop thinking of homosexuals as a class. They’re not. We have spent 20 years convincing people that homosexuals are no different than anyone else, and here these kids come along and reinforce what society’s thought all along — that they’re ‘queer.’ ‘Gay’ is good! To hell with that. Individuals are good.”
The parameters of the argument have changed quite a bit in the past forty years, but the fundamental discussion continues: assimilation vs. queer identity, the establishment vs. the grassroots, Gay, Inc. vs. Act-Up. Some things may never change.
25 YEARS AGO: Canada’s Largest Protestant Church Accepts Gay Ordination: 1988. The governing council of the United Church of Canada voted at a meeting in Victoria, British Columbia, to allow gay men and women to be ordained into the clergy. The church, which was formed in 1925 from a merger of Canada’s Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches, decreed: “All persons regardless of their sexual orientation, who profess faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to Him, are welcome to be or become members of the United Church. All members of the church are eligible to be considered for the ministry.”
The 205-160 vote followed months of heated debate, during which a quarter of the church’s ministers and 30,000 of its 860,000 members signed a declaration opposing the move. Over the next four years, membership fell by 78,000 as some congregations split and a few others left the denomination altogether.
Chuck Rowland: 1917. His tiny hometown of Gary, South Dakota, straddling the state line with Minnesota, may have been off the beaten path, but the town’s only newsstand was located in his father’s drugstore, providing young Chuck with a window to a much larger world. He vividely remembered that day when he snatched a copy of Sexology magazine, and read “that if one was homosexual, he shouldn’t feel strange or odd, that there were millions of us, that there was nothing wrong with it.” Rowland knew very early that he was gay, from the time he was ten years old and fell in love with another boy. “As soon as I read that there were millions of us, I said to myself, Well, it’s perfectly obvious that what we have to do is organize, and why don’t we identify with other minorities, such as the blacks and the Jews? I had never known a black, but I did know one Jew in our town. Obviously, it had to be an organization that worked with other minorities, so we would wield tremendous strength.” Organizing would become Rowland’s greatest contribution to the early gay rights movement.
In the late 1930s, Rowland went to the University of Minnesota, where he met Bob Hull (see May 31), and the two became lovers, briefly, then lifelong friends. Rowland was drafted into the Army, but due to a severe injury, he stayed stateside and, “frankly, I had a ball.” After his discharge in 1946, he became an organizer for the New York-based American Veterans Committee, a liberal veterans group. Rowland also became friends with a young man whose parents had been Communists. Rowland decided to join, and he became head of a youth group called the American Youth for Democracy in the Dakotas and Minnesota, but he left in 1948, “not because I disagreed with anything, but because I just wanted out. Joining the Communist Party is very much like joining a monastery or becoming a priest. It is total dedication, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.”
That year, Rowland moved to Los Angeles to start a new life. Hull moved there soon after, where the two of them met Harry Hay (see Apr 7), who was already kicking around with the idea of starting an organization for homosexuals. Rowland and Hull, along with Dale Jennings (see Oct 21), met with Hay and Hay’s lover, Rudi Gernreich, and in November of 1950 they formed what would become the Mattachine Foundation. Rowland’s track record for organizing proved to be an important asset to the fledgling group. Given the fearful political climate of the McCarthy era, Mattachine meetings were held in secret, with members using aliases and the leadership known only as “The Fifth Order.” Taking a cue from the Communist party, each discussion group or chapter was operated autonomously with loose coordination, so that if police were to raid and arrest one chapter, it wouldn’t endanger the others.
That worked for a while. But by 1953, Mattachine had grown to over 2,000 members, thanks in part to the publicity over Dale Jennings’s acquittal of trumped up charges for soliciting a police officer. Mattachine raised its profile during the trial: raising money, hiring a lawyer, and generating quite a bit of publicity along the way. But the flood of new members brought pressure to change the Foundation. In particular, they demanded the secrecy surrounding the leadership’s identities be abandoned and the organization cleared of Communists. Many of them also demanded that the Foundation become less “activist,” an ironic stance given that Mattachine’s activism in the Jennings case was what brought to the organization to the newer members’ attention in the first place.
The group also split over a far more fundamental disagreement: over the nature of homosexuality itself. Were they a distinct cultural minority seeking recognition, or were they exactly like heterosexuals in every way except one? The latter “integrationist” model was sought by many (though certainly not all) of the more “conservative” members, who also demanded transparency, the ejection of former Communists, and a non-confrontational approach to public activism. A Constitutional Convention was called to try to reconcile the many emerging fault lines and come up with a new organizational structure that everyone could agree on (see Apr 11). Rowland gave a speech which blasted through the wall of secrecy of the group’s leadership. “You will want to know something about the beginnings of the Mattachine Society, how the Fifth Order happened to be. … I think it is reasonable that you should ask this and important that you understand it,” he said. He then introduced the leadership to the rank-and-file. That satisfied one of the conservatives’ demands. But he also declared his unwavering belief that homosexuals were a unique, valuable segment of society, and if they could only see themselves as such, and with pride, only then could the effect change in society. “The time will come when we will march arm in arm, ten abreast down Hollywood Boulevard proclaiming our pride in our homosexuality.” The newer members found that idea far too radical and confrontational — and downright “communistic.”
Rowland proposed a new constitution, organizing the Mattachine Foundation as a group of autonomous clubs governed by a committee and an annual convention. His draft constitution was rejected and the convention decided to suspend its meeting due to a lack of consensus. During a second meeting called for May, Rowland, Hull and Hay resigned their leadership positions, the remaining members declared the Mattachine Foundation disbanded, and announced the formation of the newly reconstituted Mattachine Society with a centralized organizational structure and a disavowal of activism.
Rowland tried to remain active in the new Society, in a chapter that was intended to take on legal cases. But an attorney for the new Society charged that “the very existence of a Legal Chapter, if publicized to society at large, would intimidate and anger heterosexual society.” At the next convention in November, Rowland was branded a Communist, his credentials were revoked and he was out of the group.
Meanwhile, a group of disaffected Mattachine members had founded ONE, Inc. (see Oct 15), which was originally formed solely to publish ONE magazine, but which found itself fielding questions and requests for help from gay men and women who were showing up at its tiny Los Angeles office. Rowland became director of ONE’s social services division, providing job placement and counseling services for nearly 100 people in 1955 alone. The following year, Rowland decided to found a church, the Church of One Brotherhood, using the name he lifted from ONE. The church launched a burst of activity in social work, activism and advocacy before flaming out in 1958.
Sometime later, Rowland suffered alcoholism, a nervous breakdown, a failed business partnership, debt, and eviction. When Hill committed suicide in 1962, Rowland moved to Iowa, where he somehow managed to become a high school teacher. He then earned his master’s degree in theater in 1968 and chaired a theater arts department at a Minnesota college. On retiring in 1982, Rowland returned to Los Angeles to form Celebration Theatre, “the only theatre in Los Angeles dedicated exclusively to productions of gay and lesbian plays.” In March of 1990, Rowland was hospitalized with prostate cancer, which was deemed to be terminal. He moved to Duluth, living in an apartment donated by a former student, and spent the remainder of his days among students and relatives. He died on December 20, 1990.
Stephen Fry: 1957. Fry never really had an official coming out moment in his professional life. When he was asked when he first acknowledged his sexuality, Fry joked, “I suppose it all began when I came out of the womb. I looked back up at my mother and thought to myself: ‘That’s the last time I’m going up one of those.'” His early interests included being expelled from two schools and spending three months in prison for credit card fraud. But once he got that behind him, he earned a scholarship to Queen’s College at Cambridge University and was awarded a degree in English literature. While at Cambridge, he joined the Cambridge Footlights, an amateur theatrical club, where he met his best friend and comedy co-conspirator Hugh Laurie.
After a Cambridge Footlights Review in which Fry appeared was broadcast on television in 1982, Fry and Laurie were signed to two comedy series for Granada Television. In 1983, the duo moved to the BBC. Their first show, a science fiction mocumentary, flopped and was cancelled after only one episode. Their next project, the sketch comedy A But of Fry & Laurie, was considerably more successful, running for four seasons between 1986 and 1995. Fry also appeared in several episodes of the Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder series.
Beginning in 1992, Fry began appearing in several BBC dramas, and in in 2005 he added documentaries to his many projects. He explored his bipolar disorder in the Emmy Award-winning Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive in 2006, and that same year he delved into his genealogy in an episode of Why Do You Think You Are? His six part 2008 series Stephen Fry in America had him travelling through all fifty states, mostly in a London Cab. His film credits include portraying Oscar Wilde — a role he said he was born to play — in 1997’s critically acclaimed Wilde. He made his directorial debut in 2003’s Bright Young Things, and he provided the voice for the Cheshire Cat in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
Fry’s interests seems to know no bounds. He’s appeared in London’s West End, published four novels and several non-fiction works, sits on the board of directors of the Norwich City Football Club, and is an active blogger podcaster, vlogger, and Twitterer. (One stray Fry tweet linking to BTB resulted in the highest single-hour traffic in the web site’s history.) He flies his own biplane, and is a member of the Noel Coward Society, the Oscar Wilde Society, the Sherlock Holmes Society — and he was was voted pipe-smoker of the year in 2003.
He is also an advocate for mental health, based on his own struggles with bipolar disorder and thoughts of suicide. In 2013, he revealed that while filming abroad for a BBC documentary, “I took a huge number of pills and a huge [amount] of vodka.” The mixture made him convulse so much that he broke four ribs. “It was a close-run thing,” he said. “Fortunately, the producer I was filming with at the time came into the hotel room and I was found in a sort of unconscious state and taken back to England and looked after.”
That documentary Fry was filming, “Stephen Fry: Out There,” shows him confronting anti-gay campaigners in Russia, Uganda and elsewhere around the world, as well as ex-gay movement leaders in the United States. The two-parter will air on BBC later this year.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?