Rally for Marriage: Springfield, IL. The Illinois House convenes a Veto Session this week, with another session taking place the first week of November. The House failed to take up a marriage equality bill last May — or, more accurately, Rep. Greg Harris, the bill’s openly gay sponsor, failed to bring the bill up for a vote, much to the consternation of gay advocates. The bill passed the Senate and Gov. Pat Quinn is ready to sign it, but Rep. Harris said that after counting the votes, he didn’t believe it would pass the House. Sixty votes are needed to get the bill through the House. Windy City Times has published its latest estimated tally as 34 yes’s, 18 likely yes’s, 41 no’s, and 9 likely no’s. Sixteen are on the fence, so it’s anybody’s guess right now what will happen.
Some are counseling caution, but the consensus emerging outside of the Statehouse seems to be coalescing around calling for a vote, come what may. Some think that with the recent momentum toward marriage equality nationwide and with history on the line, the votes will materialize. Others say that it’s just time to get everyone on the record so they will know who to work during the next legislative sessions.
Today, marriage equality supporters will converge on the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield for a rally and march. The rally begins at 2nd and Capitol streets at noon, followed by a march around the Capitol at 2:30.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Texas Health Official Seeks Authority to Quarantine People with AIDS: 1985. In the first such effort by a state health official, Texas Health Commissioner Dr. Robert Bernstein announced that he was preparing a request to the state Board of Health to add AIDS to the list of communicable diseases to be covered under Texas’s quarantine law. AIDS would join cholera, yellow fever and tuberculosis as conditions that would result in involuntary quarantine under Bernstein’s proposal. Bernstein said that the use of quarantine would be limited to what he termed “extraordinary cases”. Bernstein cited the case of a Houston hustler who continued to engage in sex with customers until he was finally persuaded to check into a hospital for treatment. “It would not be for the average or the multitude of cases of AIDS,” he said. “It would just isolate the one who are a potential risk.”
But critics of Bernstein’s proposal pointed out that quarantines were traditionally reserved for those whose disease was spread through casual contact. AIDS, they pointed out, did not fall under that category. Gary LaMarche, executive director of the Texas Civil Liberties Union said, “It’s almost a unique communicable disease. Everything we know about it suggests you have to go out of your way to get it.” Gay activist Ray Hill of Houston added, “You can’t catch it by getting breathed on. You can’t catch it by shaking hands.” Dr. Harry Haverkos, AIDS program officer at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, agreed. “You don’t pick this disease up by riding the subway into work with someone or going to school with someone. We’re talking about a different form of transmission, and quarantining individuals isn’t necessary with this disease.”
Bill Foster of the Austin Lesbian-Gay Political Caucus added that much of the problem Bernstein cited was due to a lack of social services for people with AIDS. That shortage meant that some were being forced to fend for themselves using whatever means were at their disposal. “The quarantine law may allay fears of the general public,” he said, “but would, in fact, be nothing more than a smokescreen and a misdirection of public resources.” Two months later, the Texas Board of Health gave its tentative approval to Bernstein’s proposal (see Dec 14), but as criticism grew, the board withdrew its proposal in January (see Jan 17).
Surgeon General Urges Frank Sex Ed to Combat AIDS: 1986. While the Reagan White House would become widely remembered for its reticence to discuss the AIDS epidemic, the administration’s point man on health matters, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop had no qualms about addressing the topic head on. On October 22, 1986, Dr. Koop issued what The New York Times called “an unusually explicit report to the nation” calling on schools and parents to have “frank, open discussions” with very young children and teens about AIDS.
Koop wrote in the report, “Many people, especially our youth, are not receiving information that is vital to their future health and well-being because of our reticence in dealing with the subjects of sex, sexual practices and homosexuality. This silence must end. We can no longer afford to sidestep frank, open discussions about sexual practices — homosexual and heterosexual. Education about AIDS should start at an early age so that children can grow up knowing the behaviors to avoid to protect themselves from exposure to the AIDS virus.” His report also addressed several myths that were floating around about AIDS, stressing that HIV was not spread by common everyday contact like shaking hands, hugging, kissing, coughing or sneezing, nor is it spread from contact with toilet seats, food prepared by people with AIDS, or eating utensils.
This report marked the end of a long and puzzling period of silence about the AIDS epidemic, both from the administration and from Koop himself. He later wrote in Koop: The Memoirs of America’s Family Doctor that in 1983, Assistant Secretary of Health Ed Brandt had excluded him from the Executive Task Force on AIDS, an act which was the start of a long series of battles Koop had with others in the administration who effectively muzzled him from speaking on the topic. He was even forbidden from talking to Congressional representatives about it. That exclusion finally ended in the summer of 1985 when Koop was able to join the task force and become the administration’s public spokesperson on AIDS. In February 1986, Reagan asked him to write a report on AIDS, and Koop worked feverishly not only to complete the report, but to get it past some in the administration who opposed any discussion on AIDS. After Koop’s press conference on October 22, some in the White House made a last ditch attempt to modify or “bottle up the report,” as he put it, but “eventually the presses rolled, the mail trucks ran, and the report went out.”
Lord Alfred Douglas: 1870-1945. Nicknamed “Bosie,” Douglas was best known as the lover of Oscar Wilde. Their affair began at around 1891 even though Wilde was already married and had two sons. Friends described Douglas as spoiled, reckless and extravagant, perhaps in a bid to emulate Wilde’s own flamboyance. Douglas’s father, The Marquess of Queensberry, soon became suspicious of the relationship between his son and Wilde, and tried to disown him. Douglas refused, and tensions escalated. When Queensberry publicly insulted Wilde by leaving a visiting card at a club on which he had written, “For Oscar Wilde posing as a sodomite,” Wilde responded by suing Queensberry for libel. When Queensberry was declared not guilty, attention then turned to Wilde himself, who was arrested and tried for sodomy and “gross indecency” based on evidence presented at Queensberry’s trial. Wiled was convicted in 895 and sentenced to two years of hard labor. Douglas was forced into exile in Europe.
While Wilde was in prison, he wrote his famous letter, De Profundis, to Douglas, describing in detail what he felt about him, and making clear in no uncertain terms that the two men were lovers. He was never allowed to send it while in prison, although he may have sent a copy after his release. After Wilde’s death, portions of De Profundis were published in 1912, which led Douglas to denounce Wilde as “the greatest force for evil that has appeared in Europe during the last three hundred and fifty years.” He also began a “litigious and libelous career,” suing and being sued for criminal libel over the next decade. In 1923, he was convicted of libeling Winston Churchill, saying Churchill was part of a Jewish conspiracy to kill the British Secretary of State for War, for which Douglas spent six months in prison. Apparently that experience made him more sympathetic to Wilde’s experience, and his attitude softened. He died in 1945 at the age of 74.
Robert Rauschenberg: 1925-2008. Born to a blue-collar, fundamentalist family in Port Arthur, Texas, Rauschenbeg studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, the Académie Julian in Paris, and at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. It was at Black Mountain College where Rauschenberg studied painting under Josef Albers, a Bauhaus founder, but the strict Bauhaus principles of “uninfluenced experimentation” taught Rauschenberg to do “exactly the reverse.” The otherwise experimental nature of Black Mountain however encouraged him to explore and collaborate with a wide range of interdisciplinary artists, including performances with composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham.
He had married, briefly from 1950 to 1953, and that union produced a son. After that marriage ended, he spent a year with painter Cy Twombly before embarking on a personally and professionally fruitful relationship with Jasper Johns. Rauschenberg and Johns remained together for the next eight years, exchanging ideas, critiquing each other’s work, and together establishing a new approach to art. Their personal relationship and professional collaboration would end up defining a new approach to art, one which sought to bridge the gap between art and life — especially the deeply introspective and sometimes obtuse art of Abstract Expressionists. Their approach was to combining found common objects — quilts, newspapers, tires, brooms, and all kinds of salvaged objects — with images from pop culture, as a kind of foreshadow for Andy Warhol’s work a decade later. Rauschenber called his works “combines,” and some of his most famous ones were Monogram (1955-1959, which included a stuffed goat with a tire around its abdomen) and Canyon (1959). In Factum I (1957), he created a painting that the spontaneous drips, splashes and smears of paint popularized by Action Painters like Jackson Pollack, and then questioned the entire process by faithfully reproducing his painting in Factum II.
After Rauschenberg’s relationship with Johns ended in 1961, Rauschenberg began working with silkscreen printing for a series of paintings what included news photographs. He designed sets and costumes for Merce Cunningham, and other experimental choreographers. In 1983, he won a Grammy Award for his album design for the Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues. In 1998, the Vatican commissioned a work based on the Apocalypse to commemorate the controversial Franciscan priest Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, who reputedly displayed stigmata on his hands, feet and side, and who had died in 1968. That work covers a massive window of Pio’s new pilgrimage church in Pio of Pietrelcina, which was designed by Architect Renzo Piano. The work was a particular challenge for Rauschenberg, who grew up in the austere Church of Christ and who hadn’t attended church since his twenties. “I bet you’ll be a Catholic before you finish the project,” the Franciscan prior in charge of the project told Rauschenberg. “And I suppose you’ll be an artist,” Rauschenberg replied. He died in 2008 at his home on Captiva Island, Florida.
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