The Daily Agenda for Thursday, October 10
October 10th, 2013
Other Events This Weekend: Alaska Pride Conference, Anchorage, AK; Iris Prize Film Festival, Cardiff, UK; MIX Copenhagen Film Festival, Copenhagen, Denmark; Octobearfest, Denver, CO; Ft. Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; QCinema Film Festival, Ft. Worth, TX; Black and Blue Festival, Montréal, QC; Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Seattle, WA; Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Tampa, FL.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Newsweek’s “Queer People”: 1949. In the mid-twentieth century, reactions to homosexuality fell into two camps. On one side were those who held that such “sexual perversion” was a criminal act which should be treated harshly by the courts. The other side, which saw themselves as more enlightened, saw homosexuality as a mental illness which merited pity rather than punishment. On October 10, 1949, Newsweek published an editorial titled “Queer People,” which came down squarely in the first camp:
The sex pervert, whether a homosexual, an exhibitionist, or even a dangerous sadist, is too often regarded merely as a ‘queer’ person who never hurts anyone but himself. Then the mangled form of one of his victims focuses public attention to the degenerate’s work. And newspaper headlines flare for days over accounts and feature articles packed with sensational details of the most dastardly and horrifying crimes.
The editorial reviewed The Sexual Criminal, a book by J. Paul DeRiver who headed the Los Angeles Police Department’s Sex Offenses Bureau. Newsweek lauded the “factual scientific book” with 43 case histories, including “lots of very queer people” including “the sadistic pedophile,” “zoophiles, psychopaths who performed sadistic acts on animals, and the necrophiles, who …commit acts of moral degeneracy upon or in the presence of dead bodies.” Eugene D. Williams, a California “special assistant attorney general,” wrote the introduction to the book, in which he warned that “the semihysterical, foolishly sympathetic, and wholly unscientific attitude of any individual engaged in social work and criminology to regard sex perverts as poor unfortunates who are suffering from disease and cannot help themselves, has a tendency to feed their ego.” To which Newsweek added:
A sterner attitude is required, if the degenerate is to be properly treated and cured. Williams suggests that the sex pervert be treated, not as a coddled patient, but as a particularly virulent type of criminal. “To punish him,” he concludes, “he should be placed in an institution where the proper kind of rehabilitory work can be done so that, of capable of being brought to the realization of the error of his ways, he may be brought back to society prepared to live as a normal, law-abiding individual, rather than turned out as he now is from the penitentiary, confirmed in his perversion.
East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO) Hosts Conference Calling for Direct Action: 1964. The early major “Homophile” gay-rights groups established in the 1950s saw their main purpose was not so much to advocate for changes in the law which criminalized same-sex relationships in all fifty states, but to confront the regular police abuses and day-to-day acts of discrimination which effectively kept just about everyone in the closet. The tactic those groups espoused was “education.” It was thought that by educating the general public about homosexuality and gay people, the public would come around to accepting gay people as equals. The Daughters of Bilitis’s statement of purpose, which appeared in the front of every issue of The Ladder, included the “Education of the public at large through acceptance first of the individual, leading to an eventual breakdown of erroneous taboos and prejudices.” Likewise, when the Mattachine Society was first founded in 1950, it considered it part of its mission to “EDUCATE … for the purpose of informing and enlightening the public at large.” ONE, Inc., which published the first nationally-distributed gay magazine in America, considered education so important that it established the ONE Institute of Homophile Studies.
One problem, though, was that the “education” was not always particularly uplifting. For one, the goal of education was supposed to be “understanding” of the “problems” that homosexuals faced. But in many of the early homophile literature, one could easily replace the word “understanding” with “pity,” and not alter the view being expressed one bit. Consequently, the educational approach tended to be one that valued being “reasonable” and “impartial ” over carrying any significantly useful information. And homophile organizations, eager to prove their reasonableness and impartiality, often invited speakers from “both sides” of an issue — which meant that gays and lesbians attending homophile conferences often had to sit through lawyers, mental health professionals and religious leaders explaining that gay people were criminal, sick, or sinful. As Barbara Gittings (see Jul 31) later commented, “At first we were so grateful just to have people — anybody — pay attention to us that we listened to everything they said, no matter how bad it was…. It was essential for us to go through this before we could arrive at what we now consider our much more sensible attitudes.”
By 1964, those more sensible attitudes were on display when four organizations — the Daughters of Bilities, the Janus Society of Philadelphia, and the Mattachine Societies of New York and Washington, D.C., met in the nation’s capital for the second conference of the East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO), a loose confederation formed in 1962. Attendance was light: only about a hundred people showed up at the Sheraton Park Hotel, thanks to ECHO’s difficulty in getting the word out about where the event would take place. The Mattachine Society of Washington (MSW), which was hosting the conference, saw three other hotels cancel their bookings and three newspapers refusing to run ads for the conference. Those who showed up were charged up and impatient with the old ways of doing things. The DoB’s newsletter, The Ladder, set the scene:
“I’m an activist,” said a handsome young man present at the ECHO conference for 1964. “I’ve read nearly 75 books in the New York Mattachine Society library, and I’m fed up with reading on the subject of homosexuality.” His statement seemed to typify the attitude pervading this serious conference.
Any disappointment over the small attendance (less than 100 persons) could be offset by the fact that this was a down-to-business meeting attended primarily by those dedicated to immediate action. It was a gathering of men and women impatient to remedy the discriminations against the homosexual citizen in our society.
We talked with a long-time friend of one of the sponsoring organizations, and his remarks confirmed our view. “A few years ago,” he said, “ours was a sweeter, clubbier, less insistent organization. Now there seems to be a militancy about the new groups and new leaders. There’s a different mood.”
Signs of that different mood were everywhere, beginning with MSW’s Robert King’s prescient keynote address , which described that growing new mood. He said that gay people were asking for “the rights, and all the rights, afforded the heterosexual. We are still in the asking stage. We will soon reach the demanding stage. (… A) dormant army is beginning to stir.” J.C. Hodges, president of the Mattachine Society of New York, challenged the prevailing timidity of previous homophile leaders to get involved with politics, declaring that “politics is everybody’s business.” He urged attendees to throw themselves into established political organizations. “Involve yourself if you are to have any voice on your own behalf.”
The African-American civil rights movement, which was celebrating its successful March on Washington a year earlier followed by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that summer, was held up as an example for gay activists to follow. A lawyer from the ACLU advised, “I wanted to emphasize today the importance of recognizing your solidarity with other minority groups and your vital stake in maintenance and development of a society with freedom and justice for all.” During a panel discussion about legal issues moderated by MSW’s Frank Kameny (see May 21) asked if the panelists would be willing to form a board to look at creating a “multi-attorney approached to planned legal strategy” in challenging anti-gay laws. The panel agreed, with the National Capital Area ACLU chairman, David Carliner, recommending the establishment of a legal defense fund modeled after the NAACP’s.
The conference also had a bit of fun at the expense of Congressman John Dowdy (D-TX), who had introduced legislation in the House to strip MSW of its charitable status (see Aug 8, Aug 9). That bill led to Kameny becoming the first gay man in history to address a Congressional committee when the House Subcommittee for the District of Columbia held hearings on Dowdy’s bill. ECHO issued a cordial citation in Dowdy’s honor. “We want to acknowledge that Rep. Dowdy caused more attention to be called to the homosexual problem than anyone else,” a spokesman told the Washington Post. The Post also reported, “A spokesman for the Congressman said Dowdy has not received an invitation, wasn’t going to attend in any case and viewed the award as an attempt to ‘embarrass’ him.”
But if you really want to see the stirrings of what we would recognize as the modern gay rights movement, you would look to another panel discussion — a debate, really — between Frank Kameny and Dr. Kurt Konietzko, a psychologist and member of the Philadelphia Board of Parole, which questioned the entire raison d’etre of the homophile organizations until then. The topic was “Education or Legislation,” although The Ladder said that “‘Act or Teach?’ might better describe the alternatives.” On the “act” side, naturally, was Kameny, who argued that emphasizing education, as homophile groups had done, relies on the “naive assumption that in matters of ingrained prejudice, the majority of people are rational and amenable to reason. They aren’t. Prejudice is an emotional commitment, not an intellectual one, and is little if at all touched by considerations of reason. Study upon study…has shown this.” The Ladder continued:
Dr. Kameny cited one recent study which he said “showed that tolerance is only slightly promoted by more information, that communication of facts is generally ineffective against predisposition.” Large numbers of people “hate our guts,” he warned. In terms of their deep prejudices in this area, they are “uneducable and noninformable.” Anyone doubting this need only read the transcript of the Dowdy subcommittee hearings on HR 5990. “That’s entrenched prejudice in very high places!”
He pointed out that “the Negro tried the education/information approach for 90 years and got almost nowhere. In the next ten years, by a vigorous social-protest, social-action, civil-liberties type of program, he achieved in essence everything for which he had been fighting. Let not this lesson be wasted upon us.”
Dr. Konietzko countered that he believed education was essential to “the basic human question of how we get people to live together harmoniously. He also noted that educators, particularly religious leaders, were “charged specifically with instilling in the young the attitudes of the larger society … Prejudices are learned. And if they are learned, they are taught. And if you can change the teaching, then you can change society.” Konietzko cautioned that pushing “aggressively” would result in a backlash. “The more you threaten, the less they’re able to think straight, and the less willing they become to grant you anything.” He also recommended that homophile groups rely on outside experts to get their messages across — even though, as one audience member pointed out, “the ‘experts’ are constantly making pronouncements to the public which contradict the subjective knowledge of so many homosexuals.” That’s when Kameny delivered what would be his signature rallying cry for decades to come:
A place to start is for the homophile organizations to realize that in the last analysis — and I am knowingly oversimplifying — we are the experts and the authorities. And we had better start educating the public to the fact that when they want reliable information on homosexuals and homosexuality, they come not to the psychiatrists, not to the ministers, and not to all the rest — they come to us. (Applause) We are coming to be more and more called on to speak in our own behalf, and it’s time we started a coordinated program to do so. We must get across to the public that we are the ones to come to, not the psychiatrists or all the rest with their utter lack of information and their distorted viewpoints.
Five months later, Kameny’s rallying cry would inspire a groundbreaking resolution approved by the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., which declared that “in the absence of valid evidence to the contrary, homosexuality is not a sickness, disturbance, or other pathology in any sense…” (see Mar 4). Gay activism then entered a new era as ECHO and its member organizations embarked on a string of pickets in New York (see Apr 18), Philadelphia (see Jul 4) and Washington D.C. (see Apr 17, May 19, Jun 26, Jul 31) calling for equal rights for gays and lesbians.
[Sources: Warren D. Adkins, Kay Tobin (Kay Lahusen). “ECHO Report ’64, Part 1: Sidelights of ECHO.” The Ladder 9, no. 4 (January 1965): 4-7. See Jan 5 for Kay Lahusen’s bio.
Lily Hansen, Barbara Gittings. “ECHO Report ’64, Part 2: Highlights of ECHO.” The Ladder 9, no. 4 (January 1965): 7-11, 15-20. See Jul 31 for Barbara Gittings’s bio.
Kay Tobin (Kay Lahusen), Barbara Gittings. “ECHO Report ’64, Part 4: ‘Act or Teach’?” The Ladder 9, no. 5 (February 1965): 13-17.
Jean White. “Homophile Groups Argue Civil Liberties.” The Washington Post (October 11, 1964): B10.]
5 YEARS AGO: CT Supreme Court Declares Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Unconstitutional: 2008. In Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 vote that the state’s constitution , 289 Conn. 135, 957 A.2d 407, is a 2008 decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court protects the right to same-sex marriage. The decision made Connecticut the third state, after Massachusetts and California, to have its state supreme court declare a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. California’s decision would be repealed by Proposition 8. In accordance with the Connecticut Supreme Court’s order, the state began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on November 12, 2008.
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