September 2nd, 2013
Today is Labor Day, a day that is set aside both to honor the sacrifices of American laborers in the past who fought for fair wages and decent working conditions, and to celebrate the social and economic contributions of workers today. The holiday had already been celebrated in thirty states when Congress in 1894 declared it a Federal holiday as an olive branch to organized labor in honor of those who died at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike that year. For today’s workers and their families, this extended weekend also marks that last hurrah of summer. I hope your Labor Day is a relaxing one.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
“Perverts Vanish” from Miami: 1954. By now, the ongoing anti-gay hysteria that gripped Miami for the past month (see Aug 3, Aug 11, Aug 12, Aug 13 (twice that day), Aug 14, Aug 26, Aug 31, and yesterday) began taking on a Keystone Kops mentality. On August 26, Miami mayor Abe Aronovitz blasted City Manager E.A. Evans and Police Chief Walter Headley — who were both out of town on vacation — for “coddling homosexuals” in the city, and said that he would give Evans just one week rom the time he returns to “clean out certain pervert nests in Miami proper.” Evans returned on August 31 and met with Aronovitz, promising to “put pervert hangouts out of business by tomorrow.” Tomorrow came yesterday, and Evans was forced to clarify that no, they weren’t going to put anyone out of town that day, but that what he was really going to do was meet with Chief Headley to come up with a plan. Headley, for his part, threw up his hands, saying that he was hamstrung by the law. “We can’t put those places out of business unless someone passes a law that it’s illegal to serve homosexuals,” he told a reporter for The Miami News. His detective, Benjamin Palmer, suggested that maybe there was another way to get rid of all the homosexuals. “Practically all of the homosexuals work in Miami. If people wouldn’t hire them, they’d go away.”
That long review of increasingly comical events brings us to today, because it turns out that while Chief Headly didn’t have a new plan up his sleeve, he could at least put into practice the plan they always had: try another round of pointless police checks at known gay bars. They did exactly that later that evening, and on September 2, City Manager Evans claimed success. As The Miami News reported:
Miami’s many perverts have been chased “underground or out of town,” City Manager E.A. Evans declared today. Evants said his edict to the Police Department to harass bar owners catering to these characters had resulted from their disappearance from downtown streets.
“They have just disappeared,” said Evans. “Extra men have been added to police details and a check reveals only a few customers at bars where the homosexuals gather.”
Evans admitted that giving the city’s gay community a week’s notice through public arguments in the newspapers probably tipped them off to the coming raids, but he promised that the patrols weren’t “just for a few days. This is a long range proposition.” Neighboring Miami Beach’s Police Chief Romeo Shepard reacted to his larger neighbor’s crackdown. “We don’t want Miami’s homosexuals running over here. We’re making special plans to keep them out.”
Miami’s crackdown continued that night, but the results were paltry. The following day, The Miami News reported that four bartenders were arrested for liquor law violations — two for serving minors, one for “serving a drunk,” and one for having a “noisy juke box” — along with a 20-year-old Marine who as found drunk and turned over to military authorities and another man arrested at Bayfront Park. Meanwhile, police complained that they didn’t have enough laws to keep gay people in check. Chief Headley repeated his call for a new law “forbidding them to congregate or buy drinks.” But they did claim success in one area. Police told The News that “the notorious Moulin Rouge bar, formerly the Singing Bar, was closed down some time ago, and its new operators reportedly plan to reopen the place for ‘normal’ trade.”
Evelyn Hooker: 1907. Dr. Hooker, the psychologist who is widely credited for establishing that gay people are not inherently mentally ill, knew what it meant to overcome long odds. Born the sixth of nine children in North Platte, Nebraska, she had to overcome uncountable barriers to women in academia and psychology throughout the first half of the 20th century. In 1942 while a teacher at UCLA, one of her students introduced her to other members of the gay community and challenged her to study “people like him” — homosexuals who were neither troubled by their homosexuality and who had none of the features commonly associated with mental illness. Among those she came to know was noted author Christopher Isherwood, would rented a guest house from her. “She never treated us like some strange tribe,” he recalled later, “so we told her things we never told anyone before.” Hooker quickly became convinced that most gay men were socially well-adjusted, quite unlike the homosexuals that had been written about in the scientific literature until then. By 1953 — at the peak of the McCarthy “lavender scare” period — she decided that this could be proven through psychological testing.
For her groundbreaking study, she gathered two groups of men. The first were members of the local Mattachine Society, and the second were heterosexual men. She administered three sets of psychological tests, and presented the 60 unmarked sets of data to a team of three expert evaluators. The evaluators were unable to tell the difference between the members of the two groups. When she presented her paper, “The adjustment of the male overt homosexual“, at the 1956 annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Chicago (see Aug 30), her results were met with incredulity. It was a well-established orthodoxy in psychology that all gays were mentally ill, and that the disturbances would have been obvious in the test results. But until Hooker’s study was published, there was no scientific data available about non-imprisoned, non-patient homosexuals. For the first time, Hooker’s peer-reviewed study — it would soon appear in the March 1957 edition of the Journal of Projective Techniques and Personality Assessment — would prove that there were well-adjusted, normal and healthy gay men, and lots of them.
Hooker’s research into the subject didn’t end with just that single paper. In 1958, her paper “Male Homosexuality in the Rorschach” challenged whether the Rorschach inkblot test could weed out gays from straights as claimed by its backers. In 1959, she published “What Is A Criterion?”, in which she again reiterated that the three most popular tests then in use for personality assessments were incapable of picking gay men out of a crowd, despite claims to the contrary. She argued that part of the problem was that “we need to get beyond the fact that the individual is homosexual, to the kind of homosexual that he is,” adding:
It will have become evident by this time that I am not greatly disturbed by the fact that projective techniques diagnosing homosexuality are not demonstrably valid means for diagnosing homosexuality. In fact, I am rather encouraged by this because I hope it will force us to re-examine the much over-simplified picture we have had and encourage us to remind ourselves that the first goal of science is understanding, with prediction and control as secondary to it.
Her 1969 paper, “Parental relations and male homosexuality in patient and non-patient samples,” refused the widely accepted claim that parents were the cause of their children’s homosexuality. That same year, she chaired the National Institute of Mental Health’s Task Force on Homosexuality, which recommended the decriminalization of homosexuality and its removal from the APA’s list of mental disorders. The APA finally acted on that recommendation in 1973, but it would take another thirty years before the U.S. Supreme Court would finally eliminate the remaining sodomy laws across the nation.
In 1991, the American Psychological Association honored Dr. Hooker with its Award for Distinguished Contribution to Psychology in the Public Interest, saying: “Her research, leadership, mentorship, and tireless advocacy for an accurate scientific view of homosexuality for more than three decades has been an outstanding contribution to psychology in the public interest.” She died in 1996.
Billy Preston: 1946. As a three-year-old, little Billy began playing the piano while sitting on his mother’s lap. By age ten, the child prodigy was playing the organ for such noted gospel singers as Mahalia Jackson and James Cleveland (who, it was later revealed, was also gay — which is a different story for another time). At age eleven, he appeared on Nat King Cole’s national TV program singing Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill, and at age twelve, he started with Cole in the film St. Louis Blues, playing a younger W.C.Handy. In the 1960s, he became a much sought-after studio musician, playing organ for Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and the Beatles, whom he had met while performing in Hamburg in 1962.
When Preston joined up with the Fab Four again in 1969, the four weren’t quite so fab. In fact, they were on the verge of breaking up and were struggling to complete Abbey Road and Let It Be. George Harrison brought Preston in, and his gregarious personality and musicianship briefly calmed the tensions in the studio, so much so that John Lennon proposed making Preston an official “Fifth Beatle.” (Paul reportedly countered that it was bad enough with four.) Preston did join the band for its final rooftop concert at Abbey Road studio, and his prominent eclectic piano solo on “Get Back” earned him a credit on the resulting single as “The Beatles with Billy Preston.”
Preston didn’t join the Beatles, but he did join their record label, Apple Corps, which released his 1969 album That’s the Way God Planned It... His 1970 release, Encouraging Wordsincluded Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr as guest musicians. After his departure from Apple for A&M, Preston continued his collaboration with George Harrison in The Concert for Bangladeshand toured with Harrison during his 1974 North American tour. Meanwhile, Preston’s start as a solo artist began to shine, with his 1972 instrumental “Outa-Space” winning a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. That was followed by his number one hits “Will It Go Round In Circles” in 1972 and “Nothing from Nothing” in 1974.
While Preston continued released solo albums throughout his career, his spotlight as a solo artist was relatively short-lived. But his collaborations with other musicians remained strong, including an extended stint with The Rolling Stones for several albums and concert tours through the seventies. Keith Richards, in his recent autobiography Life, recalled, “He was gay at a time when nobody could be openly gay, which added difficulties to his life. Billy could be, most of the time, a bundle of fun. But sometimes he would get on the rag. I had to stop him beating up his boyfriend in an elevator once. Billy, hold it right there or I’ll tear your wig off. He had this ludicrous Afro wig. Meanwhile, he looked perfectly good with the Billy Eckstine look underneath.”
Some of Preston’s difficulties undoubtedly was rooted in his background in Gospel music. While his main success came in secular music, he remained in touch with the Black Gospel world, including playing organ for Donny McClurkin’s self-titled debut album in 1996. That was before McClurkin announced in 2002 that he was gay but had “experienced God’s power to change my lifestyle.” Preston’s remaining foot in Gospel only added to the pressure to remain publicly closeted. As a close friend said, “Billy was gay. He didn’t wear it on his sleeve. How could he? He was a black man that came from the church. The church would have destroyed him. [But] he wasn’t ashamed of who he was.” While Preston keenly felt the need to remain closeted, there is a good reason why he may have felt at home in the Gospel world. He once quipped to a friend in Gospel music that the Black church choir was “the original gay-straight alliance.” Here, Preston plays “How Great Thou Art” at Gospel Celebration 1988:
Preston continued collaborating with other musicians through the remainder of his life. When George Harrison died, Preston played for the 2002 commemorative Concert for George in Londpn. He also collaborated with Johnny Cash for 2002’s American IV: The Man Comes Around and on Ray Charles’s 2004 Genius Loves Company. Preston died in 2006 of complications from malignant hypertension and kidney failure, despite having undergone a kidney transplant in 2002.
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Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
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