The Daily Agenda for Saturday, September 14

Jim Burroway

September 14th, 2013

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Boulder, CO; Burlington, VT; Cherry Hill, NJ; Dallas, TX; Derby, UK; Humboldt/Eureka CA; Outer Banks, NC; Savannah, GA; Spartansburg, SC.

AIDS Walks This Weekend: Amherst, NS; Chatham, ON; London, ON; Ottawa, ON; Peterborough, ON; Prince George, BC; Regina, SK; San Antonio, TX; Springhill, NS; Sydney, NS; Yorkton, SK.

Other Celebrations This Weekend: Folsom Europe, Berlin, Germany; Out in the Park Six Flags, Gurnee, IL; BUPA Great North Run, Newcastle, UK; International Bears Week, Sitges, Spain; Out in the Park Six Flags, Springfield, MA.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Disgusting Depravity: 1822. The following notice appeared in the September 14, 1822 edition of The Times of London:

DISGUSTING DEPRAVITY — On Monday last Benjamin Candler, late valet to the Duke of Newcastle, was committed to Lincoln Castle by Sir R. Heron, Bart., charged with an unnatural offence. On the same day was committed to the same place by the Alderman of Grantham, William Arden, Esq., of Great Pultney-street, Golden-square, London, charged with the same offence; and on Tuesday was committed to the Castle , by the Alderman of Grantham, John Doughty, of Grantham, joiner, charged with the same. A discovery of the abominable intercourse which had been carried on it, it is stated, was made through the circumstance of a letter from Rantham, intended for the valet at Clumber, but accidentally not addressed on the outside, falling into the hands of the Duke of Newcastle. His Grace, on discovering the nature of the contents, proceeded with due caution for furthering the purposes of justice, and the consequence has been the commitment of the above persons to Lincoln Castle for trial at the next assizes. The person committed as an Esquire, was apprehended in London after the first examination of the others at Grantham, and was brought down in safe custody in one of the mail coaches on Sunday morning. We understand that he had apartments at Grantham during the last hunting season.

The “unnatural offence” was a capital crime, and the three men were hanged at Lincoln Castle on March 21, 1823.

ACT-UP Protests At NY Stock Exchange: 1989. Chaining themselves to a banister at the New York Stock Exchange and unfurling a sign reading “SELL WELLCOME,” five AIDS activists protested the price set by Burroughs Wellcome for AZT, the only drug that had been approved in the U.S. to fight AIDS. Burroughs Wellcome had been charging from $7,000 to $8,000 per year for the drug, which was far beyond the ability for many people to pay. Four days later, Burroughs Wellcome announced a twenty percent reduction in the wholesale price of the drug. A spokesman denied that the announcement was connected to the high profile protest.

TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS:
David Wojnarowicz: 1954. In November of 2010, G. Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, made the executive decision to remove a short silent film A Fire in My Belly by David Wojnarowicz from the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibit “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.” The film, which included a twelve-second scene of ants crawling over a crucifix, was denounced by the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue as anti-Catholic “hate speech.” Clough removed the video after complaints from soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), but he neglected to consult co-curator, gay activist and art historian Jonathan David Katz, about the decision. “It was an incredibly stupid decision. I am flabbergasted that they rose to the bait so readily,” he said in an interview after the video was removed. The irony, which was not lost on anyone, is that the whole point of “Hide/Seek” was to highlight the role of sexual difference in American portraiture, including the effects of marginalization (hence, the “hide”). Katz saw history repeating itself:

In 1989 Senator Jesse Helms demonized Robert Mapplethorpe’s sexuality, and by extension, his art, and with little effort pulled a cowering art world to its knees. His weapon was threatening to disrupt the already pitiful federal support for the arts. And once again, that same weapon is being brandished, and once again we cower.

Untitled (One Day This Kid…), 1990. Click to enlarge.

Wojnarowicz, who at 37 died of AIDS in 1992, wasn’t one to cower, although he certainly had the kind of life experiences which might have encouraged him to do so. Born in Red Bank, New Jersey he grew up with an exceptionally cruel and abusive father. After his parents divorced, he and his siblings were bounced back and forth between parents — at one point, his father kidnapped them and took them to Rural Michigan — until they finally ended up with their mother in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. By the time he was sixteen, he ran away from home and was living on the streets. He supported himself through prostitution and became fascinated with the social outcasts he met in abandoned warehouses and on street corners. His graffiti soon morphed into elaborate paintings on the walls of abandoned buildings. At one point, he spent some time in Paris with his sister, where he became more serious about photography and painting. When he returned to New York, his unique brand of confrontational street art found an audience alongside other underground artists like Keith Haring (who Wojnarowicz didn’t get along with).

Wojnarowicz had a combustable personality. When one gallery damaged one of his paintings and refused to repair it, Wojnarowicz retaliated by taking a tire iron to the gallery’s pristine white walls. In 1989, Wojnarowicz wrote a blistering essay, “Postcards form America: X-rays from Hell,” which blasted several public figures, Cardinal O’Connor in particular (“this fat cannibal from that house of walking swastikas”). The essay appeared in an exhibition catalogue, prompting the National Endowment for the Arts to rescind its funding for the show. This made Wojnarowicz the newest bogeyman for the religious right. But when the American Family Association’s Donald Wildmon copied, distorted, and disseminated Wojnariwicz’s image in a pamphlet as part of a campaign against the NEA, Wojnarowicz sued the AFA and won a historic Supreme Court case which is forever enshrined as David Wojnarowicz v. American Family Association.

Which, of course, makes the Smithsonian’s actions in 2010 all the more relevant two decades later. Here is the version of A Fire in My Belly which led the Smithsonian to crumple like a bad suit against Donohue’s charges of blasphemy. This same video was also projected onto the exterior walls of the National Portrait Gallery during a protest over the Smithsonian’s censorship.

David Wojnarowicz’s life is chronicled in Cynthia Carr’s definitive biography Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz, which was released in 2012.

Another one for his fans.

35 YEARS AGO: Ben Cohen: 1978. The former England Rugby Union player for Northampton Saints and Sale Sharks, Cohen was already a well-liked gay icon before retiring from professional rugby in 2011. He often speaks highly of his gay following, a fan base which he has rewarded by almost never wearing a shirt. In 2010, he released this video as part of the “It Gets Better” project and, since retiring, he has devoted his time to the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, which he established as the world’s first foundation dedicated to combating anti-gay bulling and homophobia. He was inspired by two things in his life: his father was killed when he stood up for an employee who was being attacked, and Cohen’s clinical deafness (he has about a 33% hearing loss in each ear) has made him keenly aware of how being different can make someone stand out.

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?

Soren456

September 14th, 2013

“. . . that house of walking swastikas” is a great phrase.

Ray

September 15th, 2013

I didn’t know Cohen was hard-of-hearing. That explains so much about him. My own experience as a deaf person was like a mirror image of my experience as a gay man so I certainly do see how he could develop empathy for gay people in that way.

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