Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Peterborough, ON.
AIDS Walks This Weekend: Calgary, AB; Charlottetown, PE; Corner Brook, NL; Dryden, ON; Edmonton, AB; Flint, MI; Grand Prairie, AB; Guelph, ON; Halifax, NS; Nanaimo, BC; Oklahoma City, OK; Portland, OR; Red Deer, AB; St. John, NB; St. Johns, NL; Saskatoon, SK; Toronto, ON; Truro, NS; Vancouver, BC; Victoria, BC; Windsor, ON; Winnipeg, MB.
Other Events This Weekend: Best Buck in the Bay Rodeo, La Honda, CA; Queer Lisboa 17 Film Festival, Lisbon, Portugal; OctoBEARfest, Munich, Germany; International Queer Festival, St. Petersburg, Russia.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Senator Lashes Out at “Wreckers and Destroyers”: 1954. In the past decade, we’ve seen each successive election year bring with it worse examples of character assassination, blatant bold-faced lies, and other examples of negative campaign tactics than ever before. Each time, it just seems to get worse, and we often wish we could turn back the clock to a more innocent and civil time when Americans could always find a way to get along regardless of their differences. You know, like in the 1950s.
Yeah, like in the 1950s, when Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) was labeling his political enemies radical communists and “sexual perverts.” And when Sen. Everett M. Dirksen (R-IL), who was then serving as the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the upcoming 1954 mid-term elections, declared during a meeting of 1,100 Republican women that “never were the destroyers and traitors in government so busy” as during the 20 years of Democratic rule from 1933 to 1953. He told the women that since then, Republicans like himself and McCarthy (who was Dirksen’s political ally during the previous four years) were left to root out “the wreckers and destroyers, the security risks and homosexuals, the blabbermouths and drunks, the traitors and saboteurs.”
It is important to note though that ten years later, Sen. Dirksen, who by then was Senate Minority Leader, played a crucial role in delivering enough Republican votes to break an 83-day filibuster by southern Democrats and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The press hailed Dirksen’s selfless bipartisanship for making possible one of the Johnson Administration’s signature pieces of legislation. Some things never change, but other things do.
Gay Man Saves President Ford’s Life: 1975. President Gerald Ford was in San Francisco to deliver a luncheon speech to a foreign affairs group at the St. Francis Hotel. Outside, Oliver Sipple, former Marine and Vietnam veteran, was in a crowd of about 3,000 people waiting for Ford to exit the building. Standing next to Sipple was Sara Jane Moore, although they didn’t know each other. Moore, ironically, was also working as an FBI informant, where she provided information on illegal firearms purchases. Earlier that day, she called federal authorities threatening to “test” Ford’s security, but she was ignored. The day before, San Francisco police picked her up on a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon, but they released her after federal authorities stepped in and said they would handle the matter. The Secret Service interviewed her that night, but let her go.
So there she was, and as Ford left the hotel, Moore pulled a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver from her purse, pointed it at the President, and fired a shot. As she fired, Sipple reached out and grabbed her arm. Her shot missed Ford by just five feet. It was the second assassination attempt in a month — nearly thee weeks earlier, a follower of mass murderer Charles Manson had tried to take a shot at him in Sacramento. That time, the gun didn’t fire. This time it did, and Sipple was a hero. “All I did was react,” he said. “I’m glad I was there. If it’s true I saved the President’s life, then I’m damn happy about it. But I honestly feel that if I hadn’t reached out for that arm, somebody else would have.”
Sipple had been a fixture in San Francisco’s gay community for several years. He was friends with Harvey Milk, and worked on Milk’s first unsuccessful attempt at winning a seat on the city’s Board of Supervisors. He was out to his friends, but closeted to his family in Detroit. Milk and other gay writers in San Francisco saw Sipple’s heroism as a perfect moment to gain some positive visibility for the gay community, but that was the last kind of attention Sipple wanted. When reporters asked about his sexuality, Sipple replied with a standard non-answer: “I don’t think I have to answer that question. If I were homosexual or not, it doesn’t make me less of a man than I am.”
But because Sipple was well known in the gay community — he volunteered for a gay service group and worked as a bartender at several gay clubs — it was impossible to keep the secret. Besides, Sipple hadn’t heard a word from the man whose life he saved, and Milk was convinced that it was because Sipple was gay. (The White House mailed a letter of appreciation four days after the assassination attempt.) But Sipple told friends that he wasn’t interested in the attention, “just a little peace and quiet.” That peace and quiet was shattered when The San Francisco Chronicle’s Herb Caen broke the story and it was soon picked up by wire services. Sipple’s Baptist mother publicly disowned him, and he soon found himself besieged by reporters. Sipple sued The Chronicle, Caen, and several other newspapers for invasion of privacy, but lost. The courts ruled that he had become a public figure on the day of the assassination attempt, and that his sexual orientation was part of the story.
Sipple, who was on psychological disability because of wounds suffered in Vietnam, declined in the years following the assassination attempt. He drank heavily, became obese, and expressed regret for grabbing Moore’s gun. He died, alone, of pneumonia in his Tenderloin District apartment in 1989.
Hans Scholl: 1918. Like all good German boys, he joined the Hitler Youth in 1933, where he quickly became a squad leader in charge of 150 boys. He also formed a special elite squad to train other future leaders in the movement. Reflecting, perhaps, his own growing apprehensions about the Nazi movement, his training squad became quite unorthodox. Based on a soon-to-be outlawed Deutsche Jungenschaft, Scholl’s squad took a decidedly irreverent stance. A favorite joke within the group was to ask, “What is an Aryan?” The answer was, “Blond like Hitler, tall like Goebbels, and slim like Goering.” After the Nazis launched a crackdown on dissent, Scholl’s squad was disbanded and several members were arrested. It was during those interrogations that authorities learned that Scholl was gay. He was brought up on charges of violating paragraph 175, Germany’s longstanding law prohibiting homosexuality between men. This time, Scholl was lucky: the judged dismissed Scholl’s relationship with another squad member as “a youthful failing” and acquitted him of all charges.
Scholl and his younger sister, Sophie, both became committed anti-Nazis. As war broke out, Hans was studying medicine in Munich, and Sophie joined him there to study biology and philosophy in 1941. Her boyfriend, Fritz Hartnagel, was an officer in the Wehrmacht fighting on the eastern front. Through extensive letter exchanges between Fritz and Sophie, historians have been able to piece together Sophie’s growing pacifism and Fritz’s alarm over the participation of German soldiers in mass killings of Jews and other atrocities. Meanwhile, Hans and two other students began a pacifist resistance movement called the White Rose, where they co-authored six anti-Nazi leaflets. When Sophie learned of her brother’s activities, she joined the group, which would grow to about a dozen members. As a woman, she was much less likely to be stopped by police while carrying stacks of leaflets to be distributed in several cities and through the mails.
In the summer of 1942, Hans and some of the other members of the White Rose was deployed to the Eastern Front to act as medics during the university’s summer break. When they returned, the group resumed its leafleting campaign, producing between 6,000 and 9,000 copies of their fifth leaflet, written by Hans and titled “Appeal to All Germans!”, using a hand-cranked duplicating machine. The leaflet warned that Hitler was leading Germany to ruin and urged the people to join the struggle for “freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and protection of the individual citizen from the arbitrary action of criminal dictator-states.” The sixth leaflet was written by Christoph Probst after the German defeat at Stalingrad, and announced that the day of reckoning was about to come for “the most contemptible tyrant our people has ever endured.” It was while the group was dumping thousands of those leaflets around the University of Munich that a custodian spotted Hans and Sophie. They were arrested and interrogated, along with several other members of the group. On February 22, 1943, Hans, Sophie and Probst were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.
The sentence was carried out that very same day by guillotine at Stadelheim Prison. Sophie was first to be executed. Before the blade fell, she shouted, “The sun is still shining!” Hans’s last words were “Es lebe die Freiheit!” — Long live freedom! Over the next few weeks, other White Rose members were rounded up and were either executed or sent to prison camps. But the last word would be left for the White Rose itself. Copies of that last leaflet were smuggled out of Germany and handed to the Allies, who then air-dropped millions of copies all over Germany, ensuring that the White Rose would remain an unforgettable part of German history.
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