The Daily Agenda for Friday, September 6

Jim Burroway

September 6th, 2013

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Austin, TX; Las Vegas, NV; Limerick, Ireland; Lincoln City, OR; Mankato, MN; Stavanger, Norway; Torquay, UK.

Other Events This Weekend: Pride Night at Kings Island, Cincinnati, OH (Friday Night Only); Womenfest, Key West, FL; Run to the Beat, London, UK; London to Brighton Cycle for Clarence Higgins Trust, London/Brighton, UK; Newfest Film Festival, New York, NY; Queenstown Gay Ski Week, Queenstown, NZ; Bears on Ice, Reykjavic, Iceland; North Louisiana Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Shreveport, LA; International Bears Week, Sitges, Spain.

Schematic diagram of Louis William Max’s device for inducing a powerful electric shock. (Click to enlarge.)

TODAY IN HISTORY:
First Recorded Case Of Electric Shock Treatment for Homosexuality: 1935. The idea had been floated around for quite a while among therapists practicing a brand new, non-Freudian form of psychology known as Behavioral Therapy. The premise for this form of therapy goes back to Pavlov’s dog, which was trained to salivate whenever it heard a ringing bell. Behavioral Therapy used various systems of rewards and punishments — initially, mostly punishments — to instill desired behavior in their subjects. And therapists were always on the lookout for new, effective forms of punishment. Shocking patients with a dose of electricity was seen as one promising avenue, but improperly administered, electric current could be lethal, as prisons from Sing Sing to San Quentin demonstrated on a regular basis.

But by 1935, that problem was solved. At an earlier meeting of the New York branch of the American Psychological Association, New York University’s Louis William Max introduced a new device that he invented to safely administer a painful electric shock to his patient (see Mar 15). Later that year, Dr. Max traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to give a brief talk before the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting about his attempts to cure homosexuality using his new electric shock device. On Friday, September 6th at 2:00 p.m., the APA convened a panel on Abnormal Psychology at the University of Michigan’s Chemistry Amphitheater (room 165, to be exact), where Dr. Max gave his talk. The transcript of the talk itself is not available, but this brief synopsis appeared two months later in the APA’s Psychological Bulletin:

Breaking Up a Homosexual Fixation by the Conditioned Reaction Technique: A Case Study. Louis Wm. Max, New York University.

A homosexual neurosis in a young man was found upon analysis to be partially fetishistic, the homosexual behavior usually following upon the fetishistic stimulus. An attempt was made to disconnect the emotional aura from this stimulus by means of electric shock, applied in conjunction with the presentation of the stimulus under laboratory conditions. Low shock intensities had little effect but intensities considerably higher than those usually employed.on human subjects in other studies, definitely diminished the emotional value of the stimulus for days after each experimental period. Though the subject reported some backsliding, the ” desensitizing ” effect over a three month period was cumulative. Four months after cessation of the experiment he wrote, ” That terrible neurosis has lost its battle, not completely but 95% of the way.” Advantages and limitations of this technique are discussed. [10 min.]

Behavioral techniques to try to “cure” homosexuality took many forms, from electric shock therapy on adults and adolescents, to so-called “mild swats” on four-year-old boys like Kirk Andrew Murphy, who underwent behavioral therapy at the hands of George Rekers. You can learn more about the role of Behavioral Therapy in attempts to “cure” homosexuality in Blind Man’s Bluff, an epilogue to our award-winning original investigation, What Are Little Boys Made Of?, about Kirk’s treatment at UCLA under Rekers.

[Source: Louis William Max. “Breaking up a homosexual fixation by the conditioned reaction technique: A case study.” Psychological Bulletin 32, no. 9 (November 1935): 734.]

William Martin (left) and Bernon Mitchell (center) at the Moscow press conference.

Martin and Mitchell Announce Their Defection to the Soviet Union: 1960. The U.S. was still recovering from its embarrassment over the Soviets’ shooting down of an American U-2 spy plane in Soviet airspace four months earlier when the Soviets staged another dramatic press conference at the Kremlin. This time, the Soviets trotted out two American National Security Agency employees, Bernon F. Mitchell, 31, of Eureka, California, and William H. Martin, 29, of Ellensburg, Washington, who announced that they had defected to the Soviet Union with the intention of becoming Soviet citizens.

“We would attempt to crawl to the moon if we thought it would lessen the threat of an atomic war,” Martin said as he read a statement before television cameras. He then spilled their secrets: that the U.S. had broken the codes of 40 friendly nations and had planted a spy in the Turkish embassy. He denounced the U-2 reconnaissance flights over Soviet airspace and predicted that U.S. policy would lead to World War III. “Perhaps U.S. hostility toward communism arises out of a feeling of insecurity engendered by Communist achievements in science, culture and industry. If this is so, such feelings of insecurity are a poor excuse for endangering world peace,” he said.

The whole saga began on June 24, when they left Fort Meade, Maryland, for what they told family and friends was a vacation to see family in California and Washington. They never appeared at their destinations, and their failure to report back to work in mid-July prompted a massive investigation. On August 1, the Pentagon announced that the two were missing, and four days later, they revealed the “likelihood” that they had “gone behind the Iron Curtain.” Investigators learned that the men had booked a flight for Mexico City and briefly stayed at a hotel there before taking another flight to Cuba on tickets purchased “by someone other than Martin or Mitchell.” From there, they took a freighter to the Soviet Union.

Family members were shocked, and wondered whether they had been kidnapped or were in Moscow “under duress.” The mens’ parents said that the two had been very close friends, since serving together in the navy between 1951 and 1943, and joining the NSA in 1957. Both families recalled them as “normal boys.” The “normal boys,” meanwhile, said that they planned to settle down and start families in the Soviet Union. “Talents of women are encouraged and utilized to a much greater extent in the Soviet Union than in the United States,” Martin said. “We feel that this enriches Soviet society and makes Soviet women more desirable as mates…”

But within days, talk of the “long-time bachelor pals” began appearing in the press. Rep. Francis E. Walter (D-PA), chair of the House Committee on un-American Activities, said that the two were known to their acquaintances as “sex deviates.” Speculation ran rampant that the two were either blackmailed or mentally disturbed. Time reported that a review of security records revealed that Mitchell had visited a psychiatrist and speculated that the reason for the visit was “presumably out of concern for homosexual tendencies.” Attorney General William Rogers feared that the Soviets had a list of gay people to draw on in their recruiting and blackmail efforts. President Eisenhower, who had signed an executive order seven years earlier banning gay and lesbians from federal employment, (see Apr 27), sought a central authority to coordinate a government-wide investigation of gays in the workforce.

But subsequent investigations over the next three years failed to come up with any evidence for Martin’s or Mitchell’s homosexuality. On the contrary, the NSA’s internal investigations uncovered evidence of relationships with women, with Martin sometimes engaging in sex with “multiple female partners,” as well as a running sexual relationship with a Baltimore stripper. A 1961 NSA report found no evidence that the two were gay, let alone lovers as many had assumed. “Martin and Mitchell were known to be close friends and somewhat anti-social, but no one had any knowledge of a homosexual relationship between them,” the report said. In fact, Martin married a Russian woman four months after arriving there, and Mitchell married later.

But lacking any other rationale that would explain the pair’s betrayal, the NSA launched a witch hunt for any other “deviants” on its payroll, leading to the purging of twenty-six employees because of alleged “perversions.” When the House un-American Activities Committee issued its report in 1961, it blamed the pair’s defection on their alleged homosexuality. The press jumped on the same bandwagon, with the Los Angeles Times speculating that Martin and Mitchell were part of a ring of homosexuals who “recruit other sex deviates for federal jobs.” Hearst papers referred to them as “the two defecting blackmailed homosexual specialists” and as a “love team.” The Lavender Scare of the McCarthy era ten years earlier was in full bloom again. For years to come, government officials would point to the Martin and Mitchell case as justification for maintaining its ban on federal employment and security clearances for gay people. The employment ban would remain in place until 1975 (see Jul 3), and it would take an executive order from President Bill Clinton in 1995 (see Aug 5) to finally remove homosexuality as a reason for denying security clearances once and for all.

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
Sylvester: 1946. Born Sylvester James in Los Angeles, he lived his entire life on the corner of Gay and Black. Like Cher, he dropped his surname when he moved to San Francisco in 1970 and began performing with the gender-queering troupe known as the Cockettes. He also performed in drag in a musical review of Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday songs. He went on to form rock several bands before finally latching onto the disco craze in the mid-1970s as a solo artist. His second album, Step II, yielded his greatest funk/disco hits, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “Dance (Disco Heat)”. In 1979, he appeared in the film The Rose, starring Bette Midler, and in 1983 his Hi-NRG dance hit “Do You Wanna Funk” appeared in the film Trading Places. During the disco era, he was called “The Queen of Disco,” but as he moved away from disco and toward a more Dance/Funk sound, his record company wanted him to butch things up a bit. Sylvester’s response was to attend meetings with the label’s execs in full-on drag. A drag photo shoot that he put together to tweak his record label bosses ended up on the cover art for his posthumous release Immortal. His last hit, 1986’s “Someone Like You,” hit number 1 on the U.S. Dance Chart, and came from his only Warner Brother’s album, Mutual Attraction, which featured cover art by Keith Haring. Sylvester is another of the many giant talents consumed by the AIDS epidemic; he died in 1988, and willed his future royalties San Francisco’s AIDS Emergency Fund and Project Open Hand. Last June, Fantasy Records re-released Mighty Real: Greatest Dance Hits, with proceeds going to Sylvester’s named charities.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

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