The Daily Agenda for Sunday, October 27
October 27th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Gay Activists Protest Harper’s Magazine: 1970. The cover of Harper’s September 1970 issue was just the beginning: a closeup side view of a male chest, dressed in an unusually feminine fabric but with the shoulder pulled back to reveal a highly developed and flexed arm. Across the triceps, the magazine featured the title of only one article, Joseph Epstein’s “Homo/Hetero: The Struggle for Sexual Identity,” an incredibly homophobic tour-de-force in which the author details every encounter he has ever had with a gay man, every encounter he has ever imagined having with a gay man, and every encounter that people he knew who had contact with gay men. And every one of them are predatory, sex-obsessed, and a flagrant affront to a civilized society, exemplifying the ethos to “smoke it, swallow it, eat it, wallow in it, screw it, kick it, stomp it to death, and never mind what ‘it’ is.” After exhausting eleven pages to air his disgust, he concludes in his final paragraph:
They are different from the rest of us. Homosexuals are different, moreover, in a way that cuts deeper than other kinds of human differences — religious, class, racial — in a way that is, somehow, more fundamental. Cursed without clear cause, afflicted without apparent cure, they are an affront to our rationality, living evidence of our despair of ever finding a sensible, an explainable, design to the world. One can tolerate homosexuality, a small enough price to be asked to pay for someone else’s pain, but accepting it, really accepting it, is another thing altogether. I find I can accept it least of all when I look at my children. There is much my four sons can do in their lives that might cause me anguish, that might outrage me, that might make me ashamed of them and of myself as their father. But nothing they could ever do would make me sadder than if any of them were to become homosexual. For then I should know them condemned to a state of permanent niggerdom among men, their lives, whatever adjustment they might make to their condition, to be lived out as part of the pain of the earth.
The screed caused an uproar throughout New York’s gay community, which had been organizing over the previous year to confront a number of daily insults to the community since the Stonewall rebellion the year before. The Gay Activist Alliance formed in December 1969 by dissident members of the Gay Liberation Front who disagreed with the GLF’s disorganized decision-making process and its distractions with other non-gay political causes. Members of GAA sent a letter to Harper’s Editor in Chief Willie Morris to demand that the magazine publish a another article, comparable in length, to provide a counterweight to Epstein’s diatribe. Morris claimed to be open to the idea, but he kept rejecting each draft that was submitted.
After several weeks with no resolution in sight, the GAA had enough. Forty GAA activists — including Vito Russo, Morty Manford, Jim Owles, Arnie Kantrowitz, David Ehrenstein and GAA’s president Arthur Evan– met at 9:00 a.m. on October 27, and quietly made their way into Harper’s eighteenth floor offices, with a film crew from WOR, which the GAA had notified ahead of time, following them in. As GAA’s Peter Fisher explained, “We were very aware that if we could make something visually amusing or find some way to get the press in on it — preferably TV — that was what we had to do. One of the main thrusts was to show ourselves as individual human beings — the man or the woman next door or a coworker.” Toward that end, the group commandeered a table in the reception area and set up coffee and donuts, while others went into the office areas and scattered leaflets on the desks. As employees arrived, GAA members offered them refreshments and a greeting — and all the while, cameras were rolling.
But all decorum evaporated when, as the cameras kept rolling, Evans confronted Midge Dector, the editor of the Epstein article, and unleashed a tirade: “You know that the article would contribute to the suffering of homosexuals! You knew that! And if you didn’t know that, you’re inexcusably naive and should not be an editor. If you knew that those contribute to the oppression of homosexuals, then damn you for publishing it, and we have a right to come in here and hold you politically and morally responsible for doing that. You’re a bigot, and you are to be held responsible for that moral and political act!”
Dector denied that the article reinforced anti-gay prejudice. A decade later, she would write her own virulent anti-gay screed, “The Boys on the Beach,” for Commentary, Norman Podhoretz’s magazine (who also just happened to be her husband). The only regret that she expressed about her encounter over Epstein’s “elegant and thoughtful essay” was that the protesters lacked the “dash and high taste” she had come to expect from summers she spent earlier that decade in the Pines.
Harper’s, too, remained unrepentant. Publisher William S. Blair, in trying to both defend and distance Harper’s from Epstein’s article, flatly refused the GAA’s demand that Harper’s publish a retraction or policy statement. Blair told The Advocate, “What I said was that we would be willing to write a letter to the GAA saying that we have disagreements about the wisdom of publishing that particular piece. I hope that they don’t think this happens because we, personally, are against the civil rights of homosexuals, or fail to recognize that they are treated harshly and should not be. …. It’s a statement signed by me making clad, I hope, that our decision to publish that article was not because we in any way want to denigrate homosexuals.” Even though it is one if my favorite magazines, to this day Harper’s has never addressed or expressed regret over Epstein’s article.
But the outcry over “Hetero/Homo” did have an important galvanizing effect. Merle Miller, an author and a former Harper’s managing editor, was having lunch with two New York Times editors when the topic turned to the Harper’s article. During the heated discussion, Miller said, “Look, goddamn it, I’m homosexual, and most of my best friends are Jewish homosexuals, and some of my friends are black homosexuals, and I’m sick and tired of reading and hearing such goddamn demeaning, degrading bullshit about me and my friends.” A few days later, one of those editors asked Miller if he would write an article for The New York Times Magazine, which operated almost as a separate publication from The Times (and was therefore under different editors from The Times’ notoriously homophobic editors). His groundbreaking essay, “What It Means To Be A Homosexual,” became the first article written by a self-acknowledged gay person to be published in a major mainstream publication (see Jan 17)
[Sources: Edward Alwood. Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the News Media (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996): 103-109.
“GAA Zaps Harper’s Magazine.” The Advocate (Dec 8, 1970). As reprinted in Chris Bull’s (ed) Witness to Revolution: The Advocate Reports on Gay and Lesbian Politics, 1967 – 1999 (Los Angeles: Alyson Books, 1999):32-33
Midge Decter. “Boys On the Beach.” Chapter 93 in Larry Gross and James D. Woods (eds.) The Columbia Reader on Lesbians & Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999): 601-611.
Joseph Epstein. “Homo/Hetero: The Struggle for Sexual Identity.” Harper’s Magazine (September 1970): 37ff.
Merle Miller. On Being Different: What It Means to Be a Homosexual (New York: Penguin Classics, 2012 reissue with foreword by Dan Savage and afterword by Charles Kaiser.) ]
Murder of Radioman Petty Officer 3rd Class Allen R. Schindler, Jr.: 1992. By the time his fellow sailors got done with him, the only identifiable feature left intact was a tattoo on his arm. While on shore leave in Sasebo, Japan, two drunken shipmates followed Schindler into a public restroom in a park. Airman Charles Vins watched — and occasionally joined in — as Airman Apprentice Terry Helvey kneed Schindler in the arm, punched him repeatedly on the floor, and stomped on him with the heel of his boot. The pathologist described Schindler’s body as the worst case he had ever seen, and compared the damage to that of a “high-speed auto accident or a low-speed aircraft accident.” He also said that it was worse than another case he had seen, that of a man who had been trampled to death by a horse. The pathologist’s report chronicled a litany of lacerations, contusions and abrasions of the forehead, eyes, noes, lips, chin, neck, Adam’s apple, trachea, lungs, liver (which was “like a smushed tomato”) and, tellingly, penis. All but two ribs were broken, and both his lungs and brain had hemorrhaged.
The Navy stonewalled the investigation. The murder occurred just as the pre-DADT debate was getting started over allowing gays to serve in the military. The Navy refused to confirm how Schindler died or whether a weapon was involved. At one point, a Navy senior officer leaked the story that Schindler’s murder was the result of a romance with Helvey gone bad. Meanwhile, Schindler’s mother, Dorothy Hajdys, was kept in the dark by Navy officials about what happened to her son or about the investigation. They even tried Vins without her knowledge and sentenced him to four months in the brig. All the information Dorothy received about her son’s case came from the press. “If one more reporter calls me with information before you do,” she told the Navy commander in charge of the case, “you haven’t even heard me scream!” Two months after the murder, Navy officials finally admitted that Schindler had been killed in a gay bashing.
The Navy denied that they had received any complaints of harassment. But as the investigation continued, it was slowly revealed that Schindler’s ship, the amphibious assault ship Belleau Wood, was a living nightmare for him. His locker had been glued shot and he was the brunt of frequent comments, like, “There’s a faggot on this ship and he should die.” Schindler requested a separation from the Navy, but his superiors insisted he remain aboard ship until the process was finished. During Helvey’s trial , it was revealed that Helvey told one investigator that he had no remorse for the killing. “I don’t regret it. I’d do it again. … He deserved it.” Helvey avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to “inflicting great bodily harm,” and was sentenced to life in prison. The ship’s captain who had tried to keep the crime quiet was demoted and transferred to Florida. And Dorothy, virtually overnight, became an outspoken advocate for hate crime protections and for gays being allowed to serve in the military.
Canada Federal Court Orders Gay Military Ban Lifted: 1992. Michelle Douglas joined Canada’s Armed Forces Military Police in 1986, and she was quickly prompted to Second Lieutenant and assigned to the Special Investigations Unit, complete with a Top Secret Security Clearance. With that clearance came increased scrutiny, and in 1989, she found herself under an investigation over her sexuality. After two days of interrogation, she told investigators she was a lesbian. She was then given an honorable discharge under administrative release item 5d: “Not Advantageously Employable Due to Homosexuality.”
Douglas filed a wrongful dismissal suit in Federal Court of Canada. On October 27, 1992, Lawyers for Douglas and the federal government met in the Toronto courtroom for a trial that was expected to last three weeks. But when they emerged from that courtroom minutes later, they did so with a ruling by Judge Andrew MacKay that found that the restrictions on gays in the military violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It turns out that the military had agreed to settle the case. Chief of Defense Staff Gen. John de Chastelain quickly announced, “The Canadian Forces will comply fully. Canadians, regardless of the sexual orientation, will now be able to serve their country in the Canadian Forces without restrictions.” Douglas was thrilled with the win. “This is not only a great day for me, but it’s a win for all gays and lesbians in Canada and in the Canadian Armed Forces. It’s something I fought for a long time. It’s been a long road, a difficult road at times, but I’m thrilled today.”
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