August 28th, 2013
“This is not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream,” August 28, 1963.
“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.
“I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people. … But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.” — Coretta Scott King, 2003.
“What I know, for sure, is that dad was beyond the average person in terms of what he chose to embrace and accept. One of the most significant persons — the most significant person in fact — who helped to organize the March on Washington was Mr. Bayard Rustin. And Mr. Bayard Rustin was openly gay. The point is, if dad had problems with gays I don’t think he would have embraced someone in a such a significant role. I think that as he worked to advocate for civil and human rights, he was talking for everyone, not just for people of color. That’s where my mom was throughout her life.” — Martin Luther King III, 2013.
“Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new “niggers” are gays. No person who hopes to get politically elected, even in the deep South, not even Governor Wallace, would dare to stand in the schoolhouse door to keep blacks out. Nobody would dare openly and publicly to argue that blacks should not have the right to use public accommodation. Nobody would dare say any number of things about blacks that they are perfectly prepared to say about gay people. It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change. … The barometer for social change is measured by selecting the group which is most mistreated. … The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.” — Bayard Rustin, “The New Niggers Are Gays,” 1986.
50 YEARS AGO: A Gay Black Man Organizes the Most Successful March in U.S. History: 1963. When the late civil rights leader James Farmer organized the Freedom Rides in 1961, he carefully vetted the riders before he allowed them to board those buses: “We had to screen them very carefully because we knew that if they found anything to throw at us, they would throw it. We checked for Communists, homosexuals, drug addicts.” Bayard Rustin (see Mar 17) was two for three: arrested on a morals charge in 1953 and, for a few years before 1941, a member of the Young Communist League where he was an organizer for desegregation issues. But instead of being drug addict, he his third strike came from having been a conscientious objector during World War II due to his pacifist Quaker beliefs. But it was while he was jailed as a conscientious objector that Bayard truly understood the power of non-violent direct action. So he no more hid his “draft dodger” status than he did his sexuality or his prior political and civil rights activities. After all, he had already been working for racial justice and desegregation for a decade while a young Martin Luther King, Jr., was still an undergrad at Morehouse.
Rustin’s organizational skills were formidable, and they were put to their greatest test in 1963 when he organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But in a movement dominated by preachers, Rustin’s sexuality was a particular sore point. Already, they had insisted that A. Philip Randolph be given the honor of organizing the march, but Randolph, knowing that only Rustin could truly pull it all together, insisted on making Rustin his official deputy. But that wasn’t enough for some who, at a meeting in Harlem in July 1963, insisted that Rustin be taken off of the organizing team:
Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, was candid. “I don’t want you leading that march on Washington, because you know I don’t give a damn about what they say, but publicly I don’t want to have to defend the draft dodging,” he said. “I know you’re a Quaker, but that’s not what I’ll have to defend. I’ll have to defend draft dodging. I’ll have to defend promiscuity. The question is never going to be homosexuality, it’s going to be promiscuity and I can’t defend that. And the fact is that you were a member of the Young Communist League. And I don’t care what you say, I can’t defend that.”
Wilkins and the others lost the argument; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., kept Rustin as lead organizer. A month before the historic march on that hot, humid August day in 1963, Sen. Strom Thurmond tried to derail it by going to the Senate floor to blast its organizer as “a “Communist, draft-dodger and homosexual” — those big three things that everyone feared. But the organizers got a break: because it was Thurmond doing the blasting, the fallout was minimal. The March on Washington was wildly successful, partly because it was a springboard for the passage of the Civil Rights Act, mainly for the way Dr. King’s speech forever crystalized the essence of the civil rights movement in the minds of all Americans. The march was successful in so many other important ways, too, and in one key minor way: it became the template for so many other marches on Washington for so many other causes, including five for gay rights (1979, 1987, 1993, 2000 and 2009). Rustin, who died in 1987, will be honored this year with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which will be bestowed by the first African-American President and the first American President to support LGBT equality.
Other Events This Weekend: Splash Days, Austin, TX; Burning Man, Black Rock City, NV; Show-Me State Rodeo, Cleveland, MO; AIDS Walk, Ft. McMurray AB; Three Cities Cycle for Terrence Higgins Trust, London/Amsterdam/Brussels; Southern Decadence, New Orleans, LA; Queenstown Gay Ski Week, Queenstown, NZ.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
California Gay Bars Given Very Brief Reprieve: 1951. The Black Cat Cafe was one of San Francisco’s more enduring institutions. Opened originally after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the dance hall and host of raunchy vaudeville-style acts came under police scrutiny as it earned a reputation as a center of prostitution. It closed during the Prohibition era, but was re-opened again in 1933 by the same owners when the booze started flowing again. After World War II, the Black Cat became a watering hole for the Beat crowd and for a growing gay clientele, and by the 1950s, the bar was placed on the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board’s list of forbidden establishments for military personnel. The bar had also been the target of a steady stream of police harassment. In 1951, the cafe’s owner, Sol Stoumen, was charged with “keeping a disorderly house” and the State Board of Equalization, which was then responsible for regulating the sale of alcohol, suspended the Black Cat’s liquor license indefinitely. Stouman sued, and on August 28, 1951, the California Supreme Court ruled in Stoumen v. Reilly that “something more must be shown that many of his patrons were homosexuals” before the bar could be closed down.
The case is one of the earliest legal affirmations of gay rights, but there was a clause in that ruling that made it an extraordinarily limited one. The court added that the bar could be closed with “proof of the commission of illegal or immoral acts on the premises.” Because homosexuality was illegal in California (along with every other state and territory), the state still had broad powers to act against gay establishments. It just needed the proper legislation to do so. Three years later, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (CABC) was established via a constitutional amendment, and the California Assembly passed legislation authorizing it to shut down any “resort [for] sexual perverts.”
The Black Cat continued to be the target of raids and mass arrests until 1963, when the CABC revoked its liquor license right before its annual Halloween party. Stouman was already in debt from past legal battles and could no longer afford to keep fighting. The Black Cat limped along a few months more as a non-alcoholic venue before closing down permanently in February of 1964.
Gay Rights Picket at the State Department: 1965. The historic year of organized gay rights protests continued as the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., organized another of its pickets, this time in front of the State Department. Earlier pickets that year had targeted the White House (see Apr 17, May 29), the U.N. (see Apr 18), the Civil Service Commission (see Jun 26), Philadelphia’s Independence Hall (see Jul 4), and the Pentagon (see Jul 31). This time, fourteen people turned out to picket the State Department in protest over the department’s prohibition on hiring gay people or granting them security clearances. Some of the signs they carried read, “Sexual Conduct is Irrelevant to State Department Employees” and “Governor Wallace Met with Negroes, Our Government Won’t Meet with Us.”
The Mattachine Society circulated a press release two days earlier to announce the protest, explaining that “the State Department remains the last resolute bastion of McCarthyism in our government.” The announcement also promised that “the demonstration is expected to be orderly, dignified, and fully lawful.” The day before the appointed day, reporters asked Secretary of State Dean Rusk about the upcoming picket during a news conference. Rusk explained department policy:
“I understand that we are being picketed by a group of homosexuals. The policy of the Department is that we do not employ homosexuals knowingly, and that if we discover homosexuals in our department we discharge them. This does not have to do with medical or humane considerations. It has to do with the fact that the Department of State is a department that is concerned with the security of the United States, and that we have to exact standards of conduct that are far higher than the conduct of the general society in which we operate. This has to do with problems of blackmail and problems of personal instability and all sorts of things. So that I don’t think that we can give any comfort to those who might be tempted to picket us tomorrow.”
Thanks to Rusk’s comments, there was somewhat greater press interest in this protest compared to the previous ones. Reporters from CBS, Agence France-Presse and the Kansas City Star were there, and a story ran the next day in the Washington Post.
[Sources: “Rusk Probed on Picketing.” The Ladder (October 1965): 18.
Marcia M. Gallo. Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement(Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2007): 105-108.]
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs: 1825. If anyone can claim the mantle of being the very first gay rights advocate of the modern age, the native of the Kingdom of Hanover, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, has as good a claim as any. When he was very little, he remembered wanting to be a girl and preferring to play with girls, but as often happens (though not always) when a very young boy like him hits puberty, his leanings moved toward homosexuality rather than a transgender identity. He went on to study law and theology at Göttingen University and history at Berlin University. He became a legal adviser for a district court in Hanover, but was dismissed when his homosexuality became known. That led him to declare himself, openly, an Urning. A word he coined in the 1860’s, he described the Urning as a “male-bodied person with a female psyche” who is sexually attracted to men and not women. He also coined Urningin for a “female-bodied person with a male psyche,” and Urningthum came to mean homosexuality itself.
Ulrichs devised an entire system of classification based on different combinations of attractions and gender roles, and more importantly, he set about to develop a robust argument for the legalization of homosexuality. Between 1864 and 1880, he published a series of twelve tracts which he collectively called, Research on the Riddle of Man-Manly Love, and his writings kept him in trouble with the law. His books were banned and confiscated in Saxony, Prussia, and Berlin. In 1867 after the formation of a united Germany, he became the first homosexual to address the Association of German Jurists in Munich on the need to reform German laws against homosexuality. He was shouted down but remained undeterred. In 1870, he published Araxes: a Call to Free the Nature of the Urning from Penal Law, in which he wrote:
The Urning, too, is a person. He, too, therefore, has inalienable rights. His sexual orientation is a right established by nature. Legislators have no right to veto nature; no right to persecute nature in the course of its work; no right to torture living creatures who are subject to those drives nature gave them.
The Urning is also a citizen. He, too, has civil rights; and according to these rights, the state has certain duties to fulfill as well. The state does not have the right to act on whimsy or for the sheer love of persecution. The state is not authorized, as in the past, to treat Urnings as outside the pale of the law.
…. Uranian love is in any instance no real crime. All indications of such are lacking. It is not even shameful, decadent or wicked, simply because it is the fulfillment of a law of nature. It is reckoned as one of the many imagined crimes that have defaced Europe’s law books to the shame of civilized people. To criminalize it appears, therefore, to be an injustice officially perpetrated. Just because Urnings are unfortunate enough to be a small minority, no damage can be done to their inalienable rights and to their civil rights. The law of liberty in the constitutional state also has to consider its minorities.
By 1879, Ulrichs decided that he had done all he could do in Germany and went into self-imposed exile in Italy. He later wrote, “Until my dying day I will look back with pride that I found the courage to come face to face in battle against the spectre which for time immemorial has been injecting poison into me and into men of my nature. Many have been driven to suicide because all their happiness in life was tainted. Indeed, I am proud that I found the courage to deal the initial blow to the hydra of public contempt.”
Nancy Kulp: 1921. Her name is not exactly a household name today, but her character from The Beverly Hillbillies, Miss Jane Hathaway, lives on in re-runs. Kulp began life as a journalist for The Miami Beach Tropics, writing celebrity profiles while studying English and French at the University of Miami. In 1944, she left academic life to enlist in the U.S. Naval Reserves and served in World War II as a member of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), where she was highly decorated. She married relatively late for her time (at the age of thirty) and divorced ten years later.
Shortly after she married, she moved to Hollywood and began her career as an actress, appearing in several movies including Shane, A Star Is Born, The Three Faces of Eve, and The Parent Trap. Her characters were what we today would call a geek. On television, she inevitably played the spinster. One reviewer called her the homeliest girl in television and said she had the “face of a shriveled balloon, the figure of a string of spaghetti and the voice of a bullfrog in mating season.” But her straitlaced approach to comedy made her an ideal “straight man,” so to speak, for the other zanier characters around her.
In 1984, she went home to Port Royal, Pennsylvania and ran for Congress as a Democrat. To her great dismay, her opponent, Bud Shuster, picked up the endorsement of Beverly Hillbillies costar Buddy Ebsen, who recorded a radio commercial denouncing her as “too liberal.” Kulp lost, picking up only a third of the vote.
In a 1989 interview, Kulp finally came out as a lesbian in an interview: “As long as you reproduce my reply word for word, and the question, you may use it… I’d appreciate it if you’d let me phrase the question. There is more than one way. Here’s how I would ask it: ‘Do you think that opposites attract?’ My own reply would be that I’m the other sort – I find that birds of a feather flock together. That answers your question.” She died in 1991 of cancer.
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Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
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Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
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