TODAY IN HISTORY:
Observations about “Sexual Inversion in Women”: 1912. The journal Lancet-Clinic published an article by Dr. Douglas C. McMurtrie which tries to explain lesbianism, or as he put it, “sexual inversion in women.” McMurtrie set the stage for his discussion by observing that most physicians may know little to nothing about sexual inversion in general:
Cases of abnormal sexual development are liable to come under the observation of the psychologist as frequently if not more frequently than under the notice of the physician. That this is true is due to the fact that very few such cases are ever brought to the physician in a professional capacity. The subjects tend to conceal the fact of their condition, and are inclined to work out their own salvation. Only when their course conflicts violently with the interests of the community is the medical man called upon to diagnose and prescribe. The great majority of the sexually abnormal live their lives without ever coming in contact with the medical profession, at least in so far as their physical characteristics are concerned.
Given the relative rarity of physicians’ experience with homosexuality, McMurtrie wrote that the medical profession’s exposure to lesbianism was rarer still:
Perhaps one of the least known phases of sexual abnormality is that of homosexuality in women. There have been many studies of inversion, but practically all devote but little attention to female manifestations. …One reason for the lack of data on the subject is undoubtedly the difficulty of recognizing sexual inversion in women, due to the customs of the day which permit and even call for caresses and outward demonstrations between members of the female sex. In addition women are very generally ignorant of the details of sexual character and, not recognizing themselves the character of their tendencies, there would be greater difficulty for others to secure definite information.
Ten case descriptions followed, three of them men who were included as “of immediate interest to the subject” of homosexuality generally. Of the five women, three were prostitutes and one was an actress. Two more had scant details of only a sentence or two. One had a longstanding relationship with another woman who cheated on her, plunging her into depression. When, her lover returned after a two year absence, all was well. This woman, identified only as “G,” seemed to have a particular self-assurance about her sexuality, which McMurtrie obviously regarded with some surprise:
G. has only cared for this one woman. She describes this passion, however, as the most intense possible in life and the companionship of the loved one as the greatest happiness. She can see nothing wrong in such relationships except promiscuity, and regards the bond as being as holy as the conventional marriage vow. To this very unusual history I have only to add that the woman in question is highly regarded by all who know her, and not even her relatives and closest friends have the slightest idea of her sexual characteristics.
[Source: Douglas C McMurtie, "Some observations on the psychology of sexual inversion in women." Lancet-Clinic 108, no. 18 (November 2, 1912): 487-490.]
“Boise Underworld” Anti-Gay Witchhunt Begins: 1955. Terrible crimes were being committed in Boise, Idaho. Vernon Cassel, Ralph Cooper and Charles Brokaw were arrested and confessed to their crimes: sex acts wth at least ten local underage teenagers. Cooper, 33, had an arrest record that went back twenty years. He was quickly sentenced to life in the state pen, without the benefit of a lawyer. Ada county probation officer Emery Bess told the local newspaper to say that the investigation had only “scratched the surface” of a larger ring of several adults alledgedly molesting hundreds of teens.
Boise was a rather quiet town of 50,000, the kind of place in which everyone knew just about everyone else. News of the arrests sent shock waves through the city. The next day, an editorial in the normally mild-mannered Idaho Evening Statesman quickly amped the level of panic:
Crush the Monster
Disclosure that the evils of moral perversion prevail in Boise on an extensive scale must come as a distinct and intensely disagreeable shock to most Boiseans. It seems almost incredible that any such cancerous growth could have taken roots and developed in our midst. … the situation is one that causes general alarm and calls for immediate and systematic cauterization.
…Until the hole sordid situation is completely cleared up, and the premises thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, the job is one in which the full strength of county and city agencies should and must be enlisted. That’s what we demand: and that’s what we expect.
The three more arrests followed two weeks later: a respected lawyer, a teacher, the vice president of the city’s largest bank. With the second round of arrests, the Statesman followed with another alarmist editorial:
This Mess Must Be Removed
The decent foundations of the Boise community were joted beyond description recently withthe arrest of three local men on morals charges involving young boys. It did not seem possible that this community ever harbored homosexuals to ravage our youth. Yet it was true as conessions of both men and young boys made disgustingly clear.
…It might not be a bad idea for Boise parents to keep an eye on the whereabout sof their offspring. To date a number of boys hav ebeen victimized by these perverts. The greatest tragedy of all is that fact that young boys so involved grow into manhood with the same inclinations of those who are called homosexuals.
No matter what is required, this sorded mess must be removed from this community.
Parents did respond, by calling the police and high school officials with names of men they found suspicious: the man who paused to look at a football practice, men who were involved with youth groups, single men with no girlfriends. Calls overwhelmed the switchboards for the police, sheriff’s office, prosecuting attorney’s office, and the Statesman. Those calls led to more arrests. On December 12, Time magazine took the panic nationwide. In a story titled “Idaho Underworld,” Time wrote that the city “had sheltered a widespread homosexual underworld that involved some of Boise’s most prominent men and had preyed on hundreds of teen-age boys for the past decade.” On December 22, the city council hired William Fairchild, who had previously worked at the State Dempartment rooting out gay people as part of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s “lavender scare” a few years earlier, to head up Boise’s witchhunt. Fairfchild quickly expanded the investigation with a list of five hundred suspected gay men.
More arrests followed, and with each arrest came more names and more arrests. The terror among gay men led many of them to abruptly pack up and leaving town. (In one famous example, a teacher left so quickly upon reading the news that he left his half-eaten eggs on the breakfast table.) And by now, there was little concern whether the crimes were with teens or between consenting adults. In the end, only sixteen were arrested and charged, and only four of them were charged with crimes against minors. The others were charged with “infamous crimes against nature” with other consenting adults. As for the minors themselves, most of them ranged from high school age up to twenty-one years old. Court testimony revealed that they were gang members, either hustling, robbing, or blackmailing their sexual targets. This gave rise to numerous proposals for social programs to rehabilitate the youths and provide them with more respectable means of earning money.
But the sentiment was very different for the men who were caught up in the witch hunt. For them, the cry was the lock them up and throw away the key. Meanwhile, accusations and counter-accusations mounted, and took on political undertones, with the Statesman entering a running battle with the reform-minded mayor and specific members of the City Council. But by mid-1956, the investigation wound down, partly because of a lack of evidence to support some of the wild accusations, partly because of credibility problems with some of the gang members whose testimony was critical, partly because the national attention paid to Boise was becoming an embarrassment, and partly because Boiseans themselves began to feel that the investigations were going too far.
In the end, 1,472 people had been interviewed, countless lives were ruined, and a generally threatening cloud hung over Boise. That cloud would not go away for many more years to come. When CBS broadcast its 1967 hit piece, The Homosexuals (see Mar 7), Boise was singled out for “illustrat(ing) the fact that homosexuality cannot be stamped out; that it is everywhere, not just in the big cities.”
[Sources: John Gerassi. The Boys of Boise: Furor, Vice and Folly in an American City 2001 edition (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001).
"Idaho Underworld." Time (December 12, 1955). Available online to Time subscribers here.]
Oregon’s Measure 9 Defeated: 1992. By a vote of 56-44%, voters in Oregon rejected Measure 9, which would have amended the state constitution to prohibit the expenditure of “monies or properties to promote, encourage or facilitate homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism.” This would have banned gay groups from using city parks or books about homosexuality in the public library. The measure was an effort of the Oregon Citizens Alliance, a conservative religious right group that was closely aligned with the Christian Coalition and was headed by Lon Mabon, with Scott Lively serving as his right hand man.
The campaign for Measure 9 was particularly nasty, with the OCA releasing a graphic video depicting gays as universally debauched and corrupt, while extolling the virtues of two “ex-gays.” The campaign also saw Lively found guilty of using unreasonable force to remove a free-lance photographer from an OCA meeting which debuted the video. Typical of anything associated with Lively, the OCA refused to acknowledge the magnitude of Measure 9′s defeat, and vowed to return to the ballot box two years later. But Measure 19 in went down in flames in 1994 by a similar margin. A poll in December 1992 found that 57% of all Oregonians had an unfavorable view of the OCA, against only a 14% with a favorable view. Lively called the poll “flawed.”
Colorado’s Amendment 2 Passed: 1992. You win one, you lose one. That’s what happened in 1992. The same year in which Oregonians rejected Measure 9, voters in Colorado passed Amendment 2 to that state’s constitution which prohibited state and local governments or court from taking any action recognizing gays or lesbians as a protected class in anti-discrimination measures. The measure passed 60% to 40%.
The Amendment immediately landed in court, with the State Supreme Court ruling that the measure couldn’t pass “strict scrutiny” under the Federal Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. When supporters appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, they ruled in 1995 in the landmark Romer v Evans that the measure didn’t even pass muster under a rational basis test. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, found that Amendment 2 went far beyond prohibiting “special rights” to gay people as supporters argued. It went further by actually disenfranchising gay people — and only gay people — from an important part of the political process. While everyone else could ask for redress from local governments and courts, gay people were singled out for being barred from that right of citizenship. “(Amendment 2) is at once too narrow and too broad,” he wrote. “It identifies persons by a single trait and then denies them protection across the board. The resulting disqualification of a class of persons from the right to seek specific protection from the law is unprecedented in our jurisprudence.”
Helen Sandoz: 1920-1987. She went by “Sandy,” and she was born of hardy stock. She grew up on an Oregon farm, and after earning a bachelor’s degree she moved to Alaska for a time before moving back to Washington and Oregon where she held supervisory position in several department stores. One morning as she was driving to a bank, she rear-ended a farmer’s truck. The accident seemed minor, so she continued on to the bank. The teller saw her and asked “Miss Sandoz, did you know that there is blood trickling down your chin?” Turned out she had broken her neck and had to spend the a year in a full-body cast. She was never again able to sit still in a chair or remain mobile for any length of time, so she changed her career to one which allowed her to keep moving: she became a sign printer.
When Sandoz moved to San Francisco a few years later, she learned that a new organization for lesbians was being organized called the Daughters of Bilitis (see Oct 19). As DoB co-founder Phyllis Lyon recalled, “Sandy was one of the only lesbians we knew in San Francisco when we moved here from Seattle in 1953. Del (Martin, Lyon’s partner) knew Sandy beforehand, when she was with a woman everyone called ‘Bridge.’ We visited them and Sandy’s partner wanted nothing to do with DOB. When they broke up in 1957, we got Sandy.” When the DoB filed for a state charter in 1957, Sandoz was among the those who signed her real name. She did use a pseudonym for her public DoB work however: as “Helen Sanders” she became DoB president in 1957. That year, she represented the Daughters at the ONE Midwinter Institute in Los Angeles, where she met Stella Rush, who was reporting on the Institute for ONE Magazine. The two hit it off, and later that year Sandoz moved to L.A. As The Ladder said when she announced her move, San Francisco’s loss was Los Angeles’s gain, and Sandoz quickly set about the work of establishing an L.A. chapter for the Daughters.
She also continued to work with the DoB’s groundbreaking magazine The Ladder, contributing articles as “Helen Sanders” and as “Ben Cat,” a persona she used to explore a wider range of topics from the perspective of a house cat that she shared with Rush. Sandoz put her artistic skills to use in designing several covers, and she served as editor from 1966 through 1968.
By 1968, the DoB was being split along several lines: Between those who wanted a more activist political organization verses those who wanted the DoB to be a social club, between those who wanted a strong national organization versus those who sought greater autonomy for local chapters, and between those who saw the DoB as primarily a gay rights organization for women and those who believed that the Daughters should throw its weight behind other feminist groups like the National Organization for Women. While Sandoz believed in NOW’s goals, she was put off by some of the anti-male rhetoric. She and Rush had spent their entire lives working with male (and female) members of ONE and the Mattachine Society, and they regarded the fight for gay and lesbian rights as being one fight. Consequently, Sandoz and Rush withdrew from the Daughters after a disastrous 1968 convention in order to concentrate on advocacy for both gay men and women. Sandoz died in 1987 in Anaheim of lung cancer at the age of 66.
[Sources: Stella Rush. "Helen Sandoz a.k.a. Helen Sanders a.k.a Ben Cat (1920-1987)." In Vern L. Bullough's (ed.) Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context (London: Routledge, 2002): 145-147.
Marcia M. Gallo. Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement(Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2007).]
k.d. lang: 1961. Growing up on Canada’s western prairie in Alberta, she became fascinated with the life and music of country music star Patsy Cline. She formed a tribute band called the Reclines in Cline’s honor in 1983, but when her debut album, A Truly Western Experience was released in 1984, the ReClines became a more conventional back-up band for a most unconventional Country and Western singer. Her career was taking off in Canada when, in 1987, Roy Orbison tapped her to record a duet of his hit “Crying.” That collaboration won them a Grammy in 1989.
That award coincided with her American breakout with the Grammy Award-winning Absolute Torch and Twang, which featured such standout songs as “Full Moon of Love,” “Big Boned Gal,” and my favorite, “Pulling Back the Reins.” In 1992, she shifted gears with Ingénue an adult contemporary album shorn of her country influences, which included her most popular song “Constant Craving,” giving her yet another Grammy Award. That coincided with her coming out as a lesbian in The Advocate. That, coupled with her veganism and animal rights advocacy — her “Meat Stinks” raised a huge stink in her cattle-ranching hometown in Alberta — put her country music career in deep freeze.
But it has done little to slow down her career. If anything, it gave her the freedom to become a vocalist — not a singer, but a vocalist of the highest calibre — whose range is utterly unbounded by the petty distinctions of genre and styles. Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote, “Few singers command such perfection of pitch. Her voice, at once beautiful and unadorned and softened with a veil of smoke, invariably hits the middle of a note and remains there. She discreetly flaunted her technique, drawing out notes and shading them from sustained cries into softer, vibrato-laden murmurs. She balanced her commitment to the material with humor, projecting a twinkling merriment behind it all.”
But when it comes right down to it, words cannot express the artistry of lang’s voice. And so at this point, all I can do is to shut up and listen as she sings Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” during Canada’s 2005 Juno Awards in Winnipeg. If you know nothing else about her, then the only thing you really need to know is that she can do this:
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